Improving Accessibility through Strategic Planning, Assessment, and Collaboration

Anne Cooper Moore, Dean, J. Murrey Atkins Library, holds an MS in Library and Information Science and PhD in Educational Management and Development. She enthusiastically strives to shape library facilities, collections, and services that meet the continuously evolving needs of a diverse and inclusive public university community. Her research interests include assessment of library activities, library facilities, and information literacy. She has designed study, collaboration, academic support, and classroom spaces in four different academic libraries. She has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in college skills and writing, information literacy, management, and research methods at five different universities. She has been continuously active in RUSA, ACRL, and LLAMA and is currently President of LLAMA. She is also chair of the UNC System University Library Advisory Council.

Dr. Rebecca (Becky) Croxton is the Head of Assessment for J. Murrey Atkins Library at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She earned a PhD in educational studies, a doctoral minor in educational research methods, and her MLIS degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). Becky is also an adjunct lecturer for the UNCG MLIS program and has taught a variety of courses including Data Visualization and Media Production Services. She previously worked as a Reference Librarian at both Johnson & Wales University’s Charlotte campus and Central Piedmont Community College. She is an active researcher and has published numerous articles and presented nationally on a variety of topics including quantifying the value of the academic library, online learning, professional identity development, and information seeking needs, preferences, and motivation of undergraduate students. She is a member of Association of College & Research Library’s Value of Academic Libraries Committee and is actively involved in the Library Leadership & Management Association (LLAMA) Assessment Community of Practice.

At a large research university in the southeast, strategic planning and a culture of assessment are key factors that drive the library’s efforts for continuous improvement and change. The library’s strategic plan is organized directly from the university’s Academic Affairs Plan, which flows from the university’s Institutional Plan. The Institutional Plan is a subset of the state’s university system plan. The University Library Advisory Council (ULAC), which consists of the deans and directors of the state’s 17 university system libraries, created its own strategic plan structured on the system plan; hence, all of the plans are aligned. The cohesion between the individual libraries and system goals has led to significant progress in major initiatives across the libraries.

Increasing accessibility is a major goal in all of the plans. In support of the library’s strategic goals to improve accessibility, several efforts have been underway, including:

1) Establishing a library Accessibility Committee,

2) Collaborating with the university’s Office of Disability Services to survey students to identify physical access barriers in the library (to be addressed in 2020),

3) Maintaining representation on the campus disability services/accessibility committee, which monitors physical and online accessibility best practices (these connections are helping the library address major accessibility issues to an early-1960’s building), and

4) Completely redesigning the library’s website with a user-centric, task-oriented approach after a year of usability testing.

Simultaneously, the ULAC Accessibility Committee assessed and developed best practices for the 17 system library accessibility web pages. In Summer 2020, the chair of the library’s Accessibility Committee will supervise a library school fellow to review the system library web pages and provide feedback to each library. The fellow will also draft an accessibility plan for the library.

The outcomes of the accessibility initiatives demonstrate a culture of assessment in an individual library, a university, and a system to the direct benefit of students. Connections with the Academic Affairs accessibility team, Disability Services, and Facilities are helping improve library accessibility. At the ULAC/System level, accessibility initiatives have provided consistent information on how to access system libraries for all populations.

Planning and intentionality are key to the success of the accessibility projects at multiple levels. Engaging a library-wide Strategic Planning Committee to identify the goals, objectives, expected performance outcomes, and tasks and tracking/adjusting them throughout the year helps keep the library moving steadily forward. Linking planning and assessment reinforces the importance of assessment in everything we do. Presenting reports from assessment projects to library staff, campus committees, and system leaders creates understanding of the importance of the assessment cycle, closing the loop, and library improvement. The library, campus, and system clearly understand the power of the assessment cycle to continuously improve efficiency and student success.

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