Accreditation (2.0)

I don’t know how many of you grew up going to private schools, but I have strong memories of the process of accreditation back from when I was a student. Teachers were nervous. Visitors watched our classes. Rumors flew that the school could be shut down.

Now that I’m on the adult side of the equation, accreditation is much less mysterious. Sure the process is stressful, but it’s ultimately helpful for us to reflect on and clarify our goals. I think it’s good for students to know that experts are examining how we operate; many didn’t realize that we voluntarily work with accrediting organizations (for us, FCIS, SAIS, FKC, and SACS) to demonstrate that we are meeting our mission. For this most recent visit, which concluded six days ago, we began preparing in earnest January of 2014. Our headmaster likened the experience to when visitors come to your house for dinner. Even though they won’t leave the kitchen, when you’re setting up, you’re fluffing the pillows in the bedroom and lighting candles there. That analogy totally worked for me.

In the libraries, we caught up on all sorts of tasks. We revamped our Policies and Procedures Manual. We updated the organization of the library’s electronic subscriptions webpage. We completed a thorough inventory and subsequent weeding. We expanded the Lower School library into an adjacent former computer lab. We felt pretty much ready for anything.

Except this form, which was the only information specifically requested from the libraries. (Perhaps I should clarify that this was the five-year check up visit, not the full one. However, with all of the information other departments were asked to provide, this still seems sparse.)

 Number of librarians:_____                            Number of clerks: _____

 Amount spent on books and periodicals: _____

Average monthly circulation of books: _____

Number of volumes: _____     Number of subscriptions: _____

Number of volumes per student: _____         

Number of volumes added last year: _____

Seating Capacity in library: _____

 Please tell me that some of you are cringing a bit right now. This isn’t the 1950’s. We’re a 1-to-1 iPad school. I don’t think that my print circulation statistics or the number of seats in my library hold the key to the success of my library program. In fact, I don’t even think they shed light on that success. I dutifully filled out the form, and with it, I included the following information to the school’s accreditation chairs.

 This is the type of document that makes me realize how much libraries have changed in the past few decades! Collection numbers aren’t representative of the library as much as how we are teaching students to wade through resources available to them in whatever format they find most beneficial. For example, our EBSCO database subscription contains digital access to thousands of magazines through its databases, but that isn’t reflected in our total number of periodicals. My circulation numbers are lower because we often reserve shelves of books for in-class use so students aren’t hoarding books that have a few pages on a subject when all members of a class are researching similar topics. (What about when students take pictures of pages with their iPads instead of checking out books?) Even items like library seating are less helpful when you’re working with a preschool population! 🙂 I think that our number of volumes per student is going to be lower than some schools because we’re a younger school, but we do seem to be doing pretty well overall.

So I’ve been thinking about questions that are imperative for libraries today. I understand the need to keep everything easy to browse, but I think a narrative approach (one paragraph short answer) would provide more substantive answers. Fun questions like:

How do you balance digital and print resources in your collection?

Describe a time when you collaborated to teach library skills.

How do you respond when people say libraries aren’t necessary because of the Internet?

 These are just some ideas I’ve been throwing around half seriously. I’m sure anything that was used officially would need to be more quantitative, but we’re more than our measurements. 🙂 Think about it before your next accreditation year. What do you think needs to be part of a library accreditation in the years 2015 and beyond? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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6 Responses to Accreditation (2.0)

  1. Claire says:

    Great post, and lots to think about. One thing I find especially disappointing re accreditation is how few librarians participate in the process as accreditors. We need to get ourselves onto the committees etc. to make the results meaningful and relevant.

  2. Christina Pommer says:

    Thanks! I didn’t want the post to get too long, or I was going to put in my thoughts on this. I’m on my first team this March, and when I first spoke with the woman in charge of organizing everything, she said that she loves having librarians because they are detailed and organized. 🙂
    So if anyone has thoughts on what it’s like to be on a committee, send them my way.

    • Faith Ward says:

      I also found this post really valuable. I am on my first Middle States evaluation this month too! Similar to your feedback, I got the same response about overall ability to organize and attention to detail but I also added how as a Librarian we have great perspective on the curriculum as a whole within a division. We see everyone! After the visit, I would welcome the opportunity to swap stories on our experiences!

  3. Great posts!! How do you actually get appointed to be on an Accreditation Committee? This is something that I would definitely like to participate in.
    I have almost 20 years of librarian experience, most of which have been in an independent school setting.

    Thanks!

    • Christina Pommer says:

      Hi Rachel,
      It’s different for each state, so I can’t speak universally. Here’s my experience. I attended a session at the annual FCIS conference last year that indicated interest and gave a general overview of the process and what to expect. I also told my head of school that I was interested. In Florida, you fill out a form, meet with someone to learn about the process, then wait to be asked.

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