Librarian How To: Preparing for Department Accreditation

Dear Internet,
We’re gonna shift a bit from existential crises and go into work details. One topic I have yet to see covered in my trolling of academic librarian Internet is putting together support for academic departments when they are in accreditation years. Since I completed such a thing and recently took a survey that was pushed out to an academic mailing list on this very topic, this proved to be an opportune time to get something written up.
In my current position, I am a liaison to many departments on campus, which align with my education background and interests. One of those departments is the Visual Arts department along with certain sections of Fashion and Interiors (Interiors) and Computer Information Systems (web design) are accredited by National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). What does accreditation mean? NASAD explains:

…is a process by which an institution or disciplinary unit within an institution periodically evaluates its work and seeks an independent judgment by peers that it achieves substantially its own educational objectives and meets the established standards of the body from which it seeks accreditation.

To clarify: in addition to making sure that the department and programs associated with that department are academically on par for what they are being promoted as, it also makes it whole lot easier for students transferring from one accredited school to another.
What the hell does this have to do with the library? As the often main support unit for these departments, the main function of the library is to illustrate and provide documentation, usually in written form, of that support.
For MPOW’s 2014 accreditation process, my documented support came in at a 15 pages. Your mileage may vary.
Now  I will tell you that as someone whose academic life has mainly been in the humanities, I am the effing champ at writing tight copy in cases like this, so I knocked the writing out fairly quickly. However, I was foolish enough to not prepare this long before I should have and blindly/naively believed previous years documentation was going to be readily available. Let us be surprise that it wasn’t, so in the end it was the gathering of data that dragged on rather than the writing itself. This guide is geared to those who will find themselves in similar situations and need help.
Before You Begin
This guide is being written having been the basis for the NASAD accreditation. If you’re not writing for NASAD, you will need to check with your department to find out the accrediting body and what they require for support. NASAD had very specific formats and formulas for their documentation, so the onus is on you to make sure you get the right guide and format for your documentation.
Budgeting Time
I am going to assume you have already spoken with your department head that is under accreditation to find out due dates. You may also need to have regular meetings to go over details. In my example, I received a packet from the department support in mid-November 2013. I met with the department chair within a week and was told the final due date for submission from me was January 31, 2014. I gave myself a soft deadline of January 15. I turned in the documentation on January 29, 2014 and had zero revisions.
You should budget roughly 40 hours between research, meeting, and writing the support. It will vary from department to department and school to school, depending on how hands on/off the department is and what has already been done. Some departments schedule a year for data collection and writing, mine was only a few months.
Another note: In addition to the library’s support, the Visual Arts department also has a private library available only for VARTS students and faculty. This may vary from institution to institution. Thus, many of the collection and monies spent was separated by what the college library (me) spent and cataloged in addition to what the VARTS department bought and cataloged.
Data You Are Collecting
For the NASAD, I was not only collecting data on entire Visual Arts department, but also sections of Computer Information Systems and Fashion and Interiors. Now our set-up does not allow for splitting out titles from Fashion and Interiors that are only for Interiors, so I had to lump those together unless I wanted to count by hand, which was not going to happen. Now going forward I could manually track specifically what I was buying for that side of the department, but when running stats, it would not be possible.

  • Total volumes This refers to print and ebook, which I was able to separate out by department and then gave the combined totals
    • This also includes a subject inventory, broken down by call number (print) and LC subject (eBook) and the number of holdings for each section
  • Total periodicals This refers to print, electronic, and microfiche, again separated out by department and then a combined total
    • I broke this down by access type (print, online, microfiche, or some combination) and access years
  • Audio/Visual This was not required by NASAD but I provided it anyway, with just the combined total
    • Similar to the volumes set up, broken down by call number (physical copy) or LC subject (streaming) and the number of holdings for each section
  • Streaming Audio/Video Again, not required by NASAD but I provided it anyway with combined total
  • Slides Required by NASAD, but the library does not have them, the VARTS library does
  • Databases Listing of subject specific and general databases, with direct links to our holdings
  • Other libraries available This was an in-depth list of all local libraries, special history, archives, museums, and consortia our students and faculty could freely visit. So this list included titles, URLs, and a brief description of each. In my list I included local library systems, colleges, public museums and the like. Since this list more than likely won’t change much, this is easy to pull and update.
  • Budgets You’ll need to pull reports on money spent for each department (in my case there are three) individually for designated years and the projected budget for the current year. You will also need to note current fiscal year budget for the library as a whole and money allocated to staff, maintenance, and other areas as dictated by the accreditation agency.
  • Volumes per year In addition to how much you spend per year, you’ll need total number of volumes bought per year per each department you’re supporting for the accreditation.
  • Number of staff assigned/liaisoned to the department and their credentials In this section, you’ll add your name, titles, and your education/expertise as well as any other persons from the library who act as support to collecting, budgeting, etc.
  • Policies and procedures for collections, preservation, and replacement of materials Pretty self-explanatory. Here you will give a brief overview of your library’s collection policies, preservation of the collection, and how materials are replaced plus any other related materials

NASAD wanted a listing of ALL volumes owned by the library to support documentation. I wrote something along the lines of, “with nearly 13,000 volumes, it would be unrealistic to produce a listing due to the sheer mass of material.” I did, however, break down the volumes section by call number and the number of holdings for it for print titles and combined the LC subjects associated with each major section (Visual Arts, Interiors, Web Design).
Now that’s the general jist.
And yet there is more! Of course there is! NASAD also wanted:

  • Governance/overall requirements/facilities Example would be: size of the facility, how many computers are available for students to use in the entire library, is there WIFI available, printer/copiers, what software is available on the machines, any special software (Adobe Creative Works, CAD, etc) available specifically for VARTS students, what is available on each floor in terms of collection, and the breadth of the library’s collection as a whole. So essentially all of the library’s services and what/when/how/why.
  • Administration of the collection What parts of the collection are available at the library proper versus what is being kept at the VARTS library
  • Needs of student/faculty How can students/faculty get materials on/off campus, type of access that is available, how can they make suggestions for new materials, and so forth
  • Services How long the library is open each week in total hours, how the library’s resources are divided between print and electronic (ex: X books are in print, X books are online, we have X number of databases) and so forth. How the library operates its communication channels of new materials, and here I mentioned the library’s use of social media and listed our social media accounts with links.
  • Value of the collection By this it is meant, how can the campus community get access to and find materials? I wrote about keyword searching, using LC subject headings, using Dewey Decimal System, and Subject Guides. I broke down how each worked and for the Subject Guides, included all of the tabs we streamline across the guides themselves and links to each department’s own Subject Guide.

Here is a list of things I came across that put a hitch in my giddy up:

  • Support from the last accreditation in 2003 and the follow-up in 2007 was sparse. I was given a binder of printed off emails which was essentially chatter going back and forth between people in the various departments but not a lot of substance. I found one document from 2007 for follow-up support but there was no full report written from 2003 available electronically or only pieces of it in print. I had to start from scratch. Solution: I saved everything from my go round in clearly labeled text documents in a centralized location on the library’s intranet and backed up copies to a cloud service. This also includes the finalized document I turned in to NASAD.
  • We changed how we track funding for various departments at least twice between 2003 and 2013. We now use fund codes for each department to track spending but before, not so much. Solution: I, with the help of our cataloger, created complex search routines in the ILS to find items purchased between specific dates for various call numbers and/or LC subject headings to get what I needed. This also solved the problem with getting the totals of what was spent from each department. Going forward, I will be running yearly searches to have materials easily on hand.
  • Electronic books do not include call numbers but only LC Subject Headings, which slowed down searching for items. Solution: Again, using search routines in the ILS, created often dozen plus long lines of search queries to get list of items. Saved list of items can be re-used in the future to update on the fly.
  • The departments were without a liaison for a few years, collection development and maintenance was erratic. Solution: Noted this in the support, but since I came on in 2011, I’ve been furiously buying to support all of my departments, replacing what is damaged, and keeping in touch with my faculty to make sure their needs are met.
  • Support documents available from the past reviews was filled with flowery language and supercilious commentary. Solution: Cut that shit out. Literally. This is not a creative writing contest, you do not need to describe your collecting process done with “great and overly joyed enthusiasm.” Be direct and to the point.

With all of that being said and done, here a process I would recommend you should be doing to keep this up to date so you’re not scrambling when the time comes to write-up the support. It should be noted again that you should have the found and formatted the accrediting body’s requirements into a working document.

  • Most of the above can easily be collected at any time because the values are not going to change. You are more than likely not going to lose computers or you are not going to suddenly lose a whole floor. So even if it is not your accreditation year, you can start gathering the easy stuff first and writing it up so it will be on hand when you’re ready to rock.
  • Harass your faculty as often as you feel comfortable with on requests for new materials as your buying materials. Example: one of my photography professors recently sent me a list of over a 100 photography books he wanted. I was able to order over 50% of those (the rest were out of print or unavailable or yet to be published). Stress they can make suggestions for ANYTHING: books, ebooks, film, journals, databases, etc. Many of my faculty are often surprised at what how in-depth we’ll get for their needs
  • Keep your faculty abreast of what is coming in by sending them monthly reports of materials that have arrived so they know and can tell their students. Use social media/Subject Guides to advertise the new materials
  • Run yearly reports of each department of funds spent and items received so you have them easily available for the yearly breakdown
  • Find ways to streamline your searching in the ILS. Would appending call numbers to electronic materials helped? Hell yes. Creating search with dozens of lines to match the LC subject headings took forever and could have been made a lot easier.
  • Weed often. Weed with care, but weed often. I have titles about the Internet going back to 1994 but I could not pull from the print stacks because I did not know if my totals were going to be high enough. NASAD required for a BA level school to have 10,000 volumes combined, and we’re an AA level school with 13,000 volumes combined so I would have been beyond okay. But with lack of liaison for several years before I came along and how the job has changed, there has been no real time to weed. Now I make time so next time this comes around, the collection is fresh and currency is high.
  • Take copious notes on everything; make those notes available at a shared and central location. We have a shared accreditation folder since several librarians are liaisons to accrediting departments and the NASAD folder was sparse. I created a child folder specifically for FY 2014 and dropped everything from NASAD’s notes on prep to pulled lists to the finalized document.

One last thing. NASAD had two sections required to be filled out that were both damn near repetitive in the questions. The idea, apparently, is the first section would be a brief intro while the second separate section would be the in-depth, so you may end up repeating yourself. NASAD does prefer you reference other sections if need be, so keep that in mind.
And seriously, one last thing. Keep in touch with your department head spearheading this for any questions you may have while you’re writing. Get clarification to your answers before committing and make sure to also follow-up with them after the report is submitted.
Now go forth and get accredited!