Recap: ARL’s Service Quality Evaluation Academy

Earlier this year, we (Lari Langford and Klara Maidenberg) were selected to attend ARL’s Service Quality Evaluation Academy, an intensive five-day training program focused on qualitative and quantitative methods for collecting and analyzing library data. The course, geared to librarians who participate in assessment activities at their institutions, was a unique opportunity to immerse ourselves in the world of library evaluation and strengthen our data collection and analysis skills. It was also a chance to meet like-minded colleagues from research libraries across Canada and the U.S.

The course was divided into three parts. The first part, taught by Bruce Thompson, Distinguished Professor at Texas A&M University, was focused on quantitative methods. Professor Thompson provided an introduction to statistical concepts and methods, and gave us an in-depth tour of the latest version of SPSS. We are happy to report that this intense session was almost painless, a credit to Professor Thompson’s humorous and engaging teaching style. Next, Colleen Cook, Trenholme Dean of Libraries at McGill, led us through the conceptual and practical aspects of qualitative research, with an emphasis on focus group methodologies. The culmination of Colleen’s session was an exercise that turned us into focus group participants discussing cuts to library budgets. The activity was a vivid illustration of the complexities of using focus groups to gather feedback, and resonated deeply with many of us. The final session, led by qualitative research expert Nick Woolf, delved into the collection and analysis of qualitative data, and included an overview of ATLAS.ti, a leading qualitative analysis software package. We’ve already drawn on this training when using ATLAS.ti to analyze the open comments from the latest implementation of the LibQUAL+ survey at the University of Toronto Libraries.

Aside from the formal learning that took place, the week provided opportunities for informal discussion and sharing around library assessment. The thirty academic librarians in attendance either hold a formal assessment portfolio in their institutions, or are currently involved in significant projects evaluating their libraries’ services, instructional programs, spaces or collections. Many were eager to share best practices and suggestions with colleagues working on similar initiatives.

ARL’s Service Quality Evaluation Academy normally takes place every two years, with candidates selected based on an application package that includes a recommendation from your library director and a personal statement describing your assessment background and current project.  Librarians interested in learning more about the course are invited to contact us: or