Megan Oakleaf, the new Library and Information Science Program Director, has been a professor in the iSchool since 2006. She formerly served as the Director of Instructional Quality and the Director of Online Engagement. Her research interests include library assessment, learning analytics, library value and impact, evidence-based decision making, information literacy instruction, and information services. Megan is the author of The Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report, Academic Library Value: The Impact Starter Kit, Library Integration in Institutional Learning Analytics, and Connecting Libraries and Learning Analytics for Student Success. She has presented at numerous conferences, including ALA, ACRL, AAC&U, ELI, EDUCAUSE, and AALHE National Conferences, ARL Library Assessment Conferences, CNI Meetings, and the IUPUI Assessment Institute. Megan won the 2021 ALA LIRT Librarian Recognition Award, the 2019 ACRL Miriam Dudley Instruction Librarian Award, the 2011 ACRL Ilene Rockman Publication of the Year Award, and was awarded the 2014 Jeffrey Katzer Teacher of the Year award. She has published articles in JASIST, College & Research Libraries, Journal of Documentation, Communications in Information Literacy, Library Quarterly, the Journal of Academic Librarianship, and Portal, among other journals. Previously, Megan was the Librarian for Instruction and Undergraduate Research at North Carolina State University. Prior to a career in librarianship, Megan taught language arts and advanced composition in Ohio public schools, grades 8-12.
Question: You’ve been at the iSchool for about 16 years now, how would you describe your passion for librarianship and information science?
I love learning and I love helping others learn. Libraries are all about learning…learning about whatever you want to find out more about, grow or develop, change, or otherwise engage with. Librarians have the opportunity to connect people with resources, spaces, and experiences that help them attain their dreams, goals, needs, or wants…whatever those are. In that way, librarians support other people’s learning. Being good at being a learning support is incredibly important as your actions or inactions quite literally can change people’s lives or help people change their own lives.
Q: Can you tell me about how your research evolved?
My focus has always been on libraries in learning environments, such as academic libraries. One key area that libraries in community colleges, colleges, and universities support is information literacy. Librarians in these contexts work hard to help learners articulate their learning goals, find resources to help them meet those goals, advise learners about what resources might best fit their learning needs, and ultimately use the information in some way. However, many librarians are unsure of how well they’re achieving the goal of supporting information literacy learning, and part of the problem they encounter is that it’s hard to measure, judge, or “assess” learning in libraries. So my first research focus, starting in the late 1990s, centered on that problem.
Later, after the economic downturn in 2008, academic librarians sought ways to articulate the impact and value of libraries to combat declining budgets that threatened to make it far more challenging to engage in learning support. The Association of College and Research Libraries engaged me to write a report on the value of academic libraries from the perspective of higher education institutions; that is, how do academic libraries support the missions of their parent institutions, including student success? This shifted my research from how librarians could know they were supporting learning to how librarians could demonstrate that they were indeed supporting learning (or if they weren’t in fact supporting learning, then find direction in turning that around).
Several years later, as higher education institutions have increasingly turned to using data to measure whether (or to what degree) student engagement in college leads to student success (defined in any number of ways), my research has centered on how libraries might be able to use data to determine whether (or to what degree) student engagement with libraries helps or hinders students’ progress toward their goals. Thus, my research has changed over time, but it has always been focused on the ways in which libraries support learning.
Q: What are the courses that you are currently teaching?
I’m professor of record for IST 605 Reference and Information Literacy Services; IST 613 Planning, Marketing, and Assessing Library Services; IST 662 Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals; and IST 674 Academic Librarianship. This spring, I’m teaching IST 605.
Q: Can you tell me about an accomplishment that you are particularly proud of?
My last research grant, called Connecting Libraries and Learning Analytics for Student Success (CLLASS) and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, developed a library-specific profile for an interoperability standard designed to capture and convey student use of libraries, which can be included in learning analytics initiatives alongside other campus data. This is a constructive move forward in helping higher education institutions understand a holistic picture of what helps students be successful as well as what might be getting in students’ ways. I’m proud of this for two main reasons. First, the Caliper library profile places decision-making for what data is gathered and what is omitted in the hands of librarians and students by setting up controls and structures to enable opt-in or opt-out choices. This will help ensure that data collection is ethical and aligned with library and student values. Second, it represents years of work by dozens of librarians and learning analytics experts in the field. It was truly a team effort.
Q: What do you hope to bring to the program director position?
It’s been a challenging few years. Under the careful guidance of the previous program director Jian Qin, we were able to help our students and ourselves through the pandemic. At the same time, the faculty came together to develop a new curricular focus on information equity, justice, community engagement, and technology. As we move forward, we’ll roll out that focus throughout all our courses and find new ways to support our students’ success. I’m looking forward to working with our faculty, staff, and students to continuously reflect on how we’re doing and what we can do better in the years to come.