Because law libraries play an important role in legal informatics in many countries, this blog will occasionally comment on developments in law librarianship.
Marvelously intriguing comments—in connection with the upcoming AALL Workshop on the Academic Law Library of 2015—by Dean Judith Wright, Jonathan Franklin, and Barbara Garavaglia about the assessment of U.S. academic law libraries on the AALL ALL-SIS listserv [subscription required] on May 27, 2009 suggested to me the following further thoughts:
I think [the] present assessment challenges [facing U.S. academic law libraries] arise from the effects of several factors on the relationship between the academic law library and the law school: the acceptance of user-centered library service design principles, the rise of outcomes-based education, the pervasiveness[---]and improvements in discovery[---]of online digital information, the improvements in readability and navigability of resources on the major CALR services and other online scholarly resources, and the relaxation of accreditation standards and reporting requirements.
The result is that the academic law library is given enough flexibility that it can be designed to precisely meet the needs of [its] parent organization, not unlike the way a bespoke garment fits its owner. The law library’s strategic plan and services, staffing, space, and tools can be precisely aligned with the strategic plan and actual programs of the law school. This state of affairs seems highly desirable respecting user satisfaction, as a library designed exclusively to meet the actual information needs of its patrons seems more likely to succeed in satisfying those needs than a library that must also serve interests unrelated to those needs. If academic law libraries pursue this path, no two such libraries will look exactly alike or offer precisely the same services or feature precisely the same staffing, space, or tools. (This is very similar to the developments in private law libraries in the last decade.)
In this environment, precise minimum standards applicable to all academic law libraries might not be optimal. Instead, one might wish to organize library assessment into two categories of measures: (1) measures that identify users’ needs and the library’s actions intended to satisfy those needs (e.g., qualitative reporting and inspection to determine (a) the parent organization’s strategic plan and programs, and (b) the extent to which the library’s strategic plan, services, staffing, space, and tools are aligned with them); and (2) measures intended to determine (a) actual use of library services, and (b) users’ perceptions of how well the library has satisfied their needs (e.g., statistics on usage of services, both in-person and online; and [data derived from] social science [research instruments] [e.g., surveys, focus groups, and interviews] to determine users’ satisfaction with the library’s services). Overall, this assessment program looks like the qualitative/descriptive portions of the periodic ABA accreditation self-study and inspection documents, coupled with usage statistics and the kinds of user survey data generated by ARL’s LibQUAL+ instrument.
Collaboration with our medical school library peers might be useful, as well. The Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries appears to be dealing with very similar issues, primarily through their Assessment & Statistics Committee  (scroll down). [The AALL ALL-SIS Statistics Committee's] communicating regularly with the AAHSL committee respecting assessment might be beneficial, as each committee might save time and effort as a result of learning from the other’s experience. (Similar collaboration appears to be occurring among law school and medical school deans and clinical faculty in connection with the skills-based instruction movement [see . . . the linked report [at 25]].) Three documents related to the work of the AAHSL assessment committee may be of particular interest [to U.S. academic law libraries respecting assessment]: their recent report, [Gary D. Byrd & Steven J. Squires,] Transforming the Evidence Base for Effective Academic Health Sciences Library Services and Resources ; Douglas J. Joubert & Tamera P. Lee, Empowering Your Institution Through Assessment, 95 J. MED. LIBR. ASS’N 46 (2007) ; and the committee’s 2008 annual report .