Librarians’ Role in the Academic Mission of the University

We acknowledge that librarians add value to a university’s academic mission. However, there is very little concrete evidence in support of librarians’ contributions to the advancement of academic excellence, unlike the documentation of student learning, which is required for accreditation purposes. The evidence that does exist is all too often anecdotal, case studies, or broad statements of confidence that do not afford further scrutiny of facts and figures.

The pursuit of reliable quantitative data in support of librarians’ contribution to academic excellence was one of the primary motivations behind the Greater Western Library Alliance (GWLA) task force and research project on student success outcomes.  SMU began participating in this research project during the research design phase in the Summer of 2014. Over the course of the next year, 12 institutions gathered data across the nation. Those participating institutions presented academic outcomes of all first-year first-time students from librarians’ course-related instruction sessions.

GWLA has released the results in the form of a research paper entitled “The Impact of Information Literacy Instruction on Student Success: A Multi-Institutional Investigation and Analysis,” which can be found in SMU Scholar at

Significant Effects of Library Instruction

A multi-institutional study of this scope is the largest of its kind. A big challenge was compiling the data to be consistent across all 12 institutions, aligning everything into one large dataset. Compiling the complete library instruction data and student coursework data for all first-year cohorts is no small task. The goal was to find quantitative answers to these four research questions:

  • What effect does library instruction have on retention?
  • What effect does library instruction have on academic success?
  • Which specific library instruction methods have the greatest impact on retention?
  • What effect does specific library instruction interactions have on academic success?

The consistent positive results for the first year of the study are very encouraging.  Of the 12 participating institutions, 8 showed highly significant statistical results indicating a positive association between library instruction and retention. Fisher’s Exact Test is the basis for these results.

The Findings

This study used First-Year GPA and First-Year Hours Earned as the measures of academic success. Both measures showed higher results for students who had courses with library instruction than students who did not. More importantly, the statistical analysis of these measures shows the increase to be highly significant.  Students enrolled in courses with library instruction had, on average, 0.02 higher GPA than those that did not.  Students enrolled in courses with library instruction had on average 1.8 more credit hours earned in the first year than students who were not enrolled in courses with library instruction. As stated in the GWLA research paper summarizing the results, “the significance of this latter finding is extreme, (p-value) = 7.69E-102.”  The results are based on Student’s t-Test for equality of means using the combined dataset representing all 12 institutions.

What about SMU?

The research paper does not reveal specific results for SMU, but the indicators of academic success mirror the results found for the GWLA participating institutions as a whole.  On average, the GPA of students enrolled in courses with library instruction was 0.04 points higher than those not so enrolled, and they earned on average 1 full credit hour more.  The SMU result for earned credit hours was statistically significant, with a p-value of 0.002.

The complete description, analysis, and summary results for the GWLA research study can be found at

Post Contributed by CUL’s Director of Assessment Zoltan Szentkiralyi