Saturday, September 15, 2012

Research Journal--Measuring the impact of libraries through the CCSSSE

This morning on the radio (KPFA/Pacifica radio, a local public radio station), the hosts were discussing a $79/parcel tax that will be on the ballot in November in San Francisco. They said that the Community College of San Francisco (CCSF) is at risk of losing accreditation if they are not able to raise significant funding. Students can't get the classes they need, and sometimes those classes they need aren't even running during certain semesters. It is shameful that the community college budgets in California are being so thoroughly slashed, and the radio piece made me feel very disappointed. It's hard to believe that the parcel tax will pass, because $79 seems like a lot of money. Time will tell.

After hearing this piece, I read an article by guest blogger Troy Swanson on Michael Stephen's blog, Tame the Web. Swanson talks about the great importance of the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), which is administered every year to many community colleges. He states that it is one of the main ways that his campus determines their level of effectiveness and it's a very important tool for them. However, he expresses frustration that it doesn't have any library-specific questions. The CCSSE has questions about schoolwork such as researching and writing papers, computer labs, advising, and even tutoring, but it manages to leave out any mention of the college library. Swanson and his colleagues talked with the organizers of the CCSSE and recommended four library-related questions, but in the end the surveying organization didn't include any of those questions. Swanson recognizes that "adding a couple questions to a survey is not the only or even the most important avenue in assessing the ways that my library engages students on the campus" (2012). But he also says that it's pretty hard to argue with the idea that when you're talking about engagement with the community, it is simply wrong to leave out any mention of the library. He then goes on to say that engagement and community building are basic tenets of the community college philosophy.

I saw a link between the Pacifica piece and Swanson's blog post because it seems that the CCSF needs tools to show its relevance and demonstrate its value in the community. Convincing 67% of property owners in a city to spend an extra $79 per year on a service that most of them don't use is not an easy task--I know this because a parcel tax to fund my own job (as well as other school district essentials) is on the ballot in another city. Survey data is used in many different ways in politics, and I don't actually know what is being used to convince voters to vote for the CCSF parcel tax. However, as Swanson points out, sometimes things that should be measured don't even get measured, which certainly doesn't help a community college, or any type of institution, to prove its relevance.

Service-oriented professionals who want to provide the highest possible level of service will always hunger for feedback on what is going well, and what they can improve. We also need survey data to show others what we are doing and what we can improve. It is crucial that we ensure that our institutions include us in measuring this type of effectiveness--and that we support our institutions when they struggle to survive.

Swanson, Troy. (2012). My frustration with CCSSE, student engagement, and libraries. [Blog post]. Accessed at on Sept. 10, 2012.

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