Leading with creativity and innovation: ACRL, 2010–15

Frances Maloy

Higher education was still feeling the effects of the Great Recession with endowment returns still well below their 2007 high1 and unemployment peaking at just under 10% of the population in 2010.2 Budget cuts, hiring freezes, workforce reductions, and department and school closures were the norm. Despite double-digit endowments returns in the past two years, overall returns for the past ten years averaged only 7%, and endowment returns need to average at least 7 or 8% over ten years to grow their principle.3 Enrollment has been a challenge at many institutions, with enrollments decreasing slightly each year since 2011.4 Thirty-eight percent of private colleges and midsize state intuitions failed to meet their 2014 goals for both freshmen re-enrollment and net tuition revenue.5 The budget shortfalls from endowments, tuition, and alumni giving affected all units on campus, including the library.

Impact on libraries

Demonstrating outcomes, sustainability, and value to the institution was the top challenge for the profession as academic libraries began to reinvent themselves to better align with institutional priorities. The biennial ACRL “Top Ten Trends” reports and environmental scans reflect the effects of these pressures on academic libraries.

Technology also continued to be a major driver of change. Students and faculty expected easy access to information anywhere anytime on their mobile devices.6 Librarians responded to these pressures by embracing DDA and PDA, e-books, shared print collection trusts, discovery layers, RDA, born digital collections, GIS, big data, open access, open education, IRs, merged service desks, no service desks, BYOD, DLOs, OERs, MOOCs, DH, and by collaborating with campus units who share our mission.

ACRL leadership

ACRL flexed its collective skillset and knowledge to help librarians navigate this disruptive change. Creating and updating standards for academic libraries has been a cornerstone of ACRL’s value to its membership and to the field. In 2011, one of ACRL’s most important standards, “Standards for Libraries in Higher Education,” underwent a significant revision to reflect changing accreditation assessment practices. In 2011, the Board also approved a new Plan for Excellence with three goal areas, including the value of academic libraries, student learning, and research and scholarly environment.

Value of Academic Libraries

Under the leadership of Lori Goetsch, the ACRL Value of Academic Libraries initiative (www.acrl.ala.org/value) was launched in 2010 with the publication of the widely acclaimed “Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report.” With IMLS funding in 2011, ACRL and three other higher education organizations convened two national summits to address the profession’s need to develop skills to document and communicate library value, alignment with institutional goals, contributions to student learning, and published a follow-up report in June 2012. The same year ACRL also received a three-year IMLS-funded grant for the Value of Academic Library Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success project. The grant supports a 14-month program where librarians are trained in assessment practices and given a project to complete on their campus (www.ala.org/acrl/AiA). Now in its third year, the program is meeting its goal to train 300 librarians in assessment techniques designed to demonstrate how libraries impact student success. More than 200 institutions will have gone through the program by the end of the grant period.

Student learning

Since 2010, ACRL expanded this initiative into a suite of reports, presentations, and programs, with an added a focus on how libraries support student learning. “Academic Library Contributions to Student Success: Documented Practices from the Field” provides documentation for the work of the above-mentioned IMLS grant and serves as a database of ideas for the practicing librarian.

The ACRL Student Retention Discussion Group, founded in 2012, supports the continued learning and growth of librarians in the field. These initiatives complement and extend ACRL’s already robust Immersion Program. The new Framework for Information Literacy will allow the profession to create wider conversations about student learning, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and the assessment of learning on local campuses and beyond.

Research and scholarly environment

ACRL demonstrated its commitment to open access by lifting the six-month embargo on College and Research Libraries making it freely available in 2011. Supporting open access and new forms of scholarly communication was also evident in ACRL’s legislative agenda, programs, and publications. ACRL put tools in the hands of librarians through the creation of the comprehensive Scholarly Communications Toolkit and ACRL Scholarly Communication Road Show workshop, Scholarly Communication: From Understanding to Engagement. ACRL also published important works on scholarly communication, including Common Ground at the Nexus of Information Literacy and Scholarly Communication.

Professional development and training

ACRL continues to serve as a leading provider of professional development for academic and research librarians. The ACRL conference has become a premiere learning experience for academic and research librarians with more than 5,000 library professionals, exhibitors, speakers, and guests from around the world attending the ACRL 2015 conference in Portland, Oregon.

ACRL also celebrated its 75th anniversary by raising more than $56,000 in scholarship funds for the 2015 conference as an investment in the profession’s future leaders (and their libraries) as they seek to advance learning and transform scholarship in the 21st century. Since 2010, ACRL Interest Groups have grown from six to more than 15 in 2015, on topics ranging from digital curation to health sciences. ACRL has also built a strong communication program to deliver content using social media, blogs, and podcasts, e-Learning seminars and webcasts, and virtual institutes.

A bright future

ACRL has spent this year proudly celebrating its 75-year history. Thanks to dedicated members and staff, ACRL is strategically positioned for the next 75. Congratulations to ACRL.


See NACUBO Public NCSE Tables, retrieved July 20, 2015, from http://www.nacubo.org/Research/NACUBO-Commonfund_Study_of_Endowments/Public_NCSE_Tables.html.


U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, retrieved July 20, 2015, from http://data.bls.gov/timeseries /LNS14000000.

3. Rivard, R.. , “Endowment Returns Up Again. ,” Inside Higher Education, November.4. 2014 ,
retrieved July 20, 2015, from [Full Text] .
4. Chronicle of Higher Education, Almanac of Higher Education 2014 ,
retrieved July 20, 2015, from [Full Text] .
5. Scott, C.. , “Goals for Enrollment and Tuition Revenue Elude Many Colleges. ”, Chronicle of Higher Education, October., 13. 2014 ,
retrieved July 20, 2015, from [Full Text] .
6. ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee, “Top trends in academic libraries. ,” C&RL News 75, no. 6 (June. 2014 ): 295 .
Copyright © 2015 Frances Maloy

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