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Assessing to Empower Learners: What Do We Mean by Assessment in the Library?

Let's talk a little bit about what we actually mean by assessment in the library. First of all, let's talk about the meaning of assessment. Assessment doesn't mean just evaluation. We're really not talking about assigning grades or evaluating we're talking about a thoughtful reflective process that continues throughout the process of learning and it enables us to look at student work and then provide feedback and help them modify and then do additional work.

It's a growth process for our students. The first thing we need to remember is that as librarians were assessing skills not content. We want our students to be able to learn independently, to follow a process of learning, to employ creative and critical thinking skills, and we want to be sure that when we teach them, they're actually learning them.

What does effective assessment in the library look like? Well, first of all, it's reflective. It's reflective on the part of librarians and on the part of students. It's metacognitive. What we're teaching are thinking skills we need to think about thinking. That's the level that we're using assessment for. That we understand how our students are thinking and how we can impact that.

Assessment needs to be timely. We don't want to wait until students are through learning and then see what they learned in the past. But we can influence it as it goes along.

One of the other aspects of effective assessment in the library is that it needs to be authentic. It's important that we associate our assessment with authentic intellectual work. And what that means is that students are actually constructing knowledge. They're not just copying from somewhere else. That's bottom line for us as librarians. Students need to be able to connect their learning and their skills to the real world. They need to be able to see the value of their thinking that's going to go way beyond what they're using it for in school.

We also need to think about assessment as involving thinking while they're doing the assessment. So that idea of tests that just copy what maybe they already learned and they just write it down, that's not what we're talking about when we talk about assessment. We're going to develop engaging assessment products that enable students to think their way through to actually use the thinking skills while they're doing the assessment. And, finally, authentic work requires disciplined inquiry.

Let me give you just a couple of examples of authentic assessments so you know where I'm coming from. It's the idea of students being able to find an appropriate website versus just listing the steps to find a website or evaluate a website. It's being able to discover answers to questions rather than just copying whatever information that happens to come up first on the source that they find. It's being able to write a speech that a historical person might have delivered versus writing a report about a historical person. So you can see the reality, the authenticity, and the ongoing process that is involved in assessment in the library.

About the Author

Barbara K. Stripling, PhD, is Senior Associate Dean and associate professor emerita at the School of Information Studies, Syracuse University. She earned her doctorate in information management from Syracuse University. Stripling is the author of numerous books and articles on school libraries, advocacy, inquiry, assessment, learning, and primary sources.

Stripling was the 2013–2014 president of the American Library Association. Previously, in her 40-year library career, Stripling has been Director of Library Services for the New York City schools, a school library media specialist and school district director of libraries in Arkansas, a library grant program director in Tennessee, and director of library programs at a local education fund in New York City. Stripling is a former president of the American Association of School Librarians.

Select Citation Style:
Stripling, Barbara K. "Assessing to Empower Learners: What Do We Mean by Assessment in the Library?" School Library Connection, November 2019,
Stripling, Barbara K. "Assessing to Empower Learners: What Do We Mean by Assessment in the Library?" School Library Connection, November 2019.
Stripling, B. K. (2019, November). Assessing to empower learners: What do we mean by assessment in the library? School Library Connection. Retrieved from

Entry ID: 2228070

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