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CofC Libraries Instruction Assessment: Archives

CofC Libraries are committed to ongoing assessment of our instruction services.

Spotlight: Assessment of Archival Instruction

The goal of archival instruction sessions taught by Special Collections faculty is to give students the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to effectively and efficiently find, interpret, and use archives, manuscripts, and other types of unique primary sources. In addition to these archival literacy competencies, registration, proper handling of materials, research techniques, search strategies, intellectual property principles, and reproduction policies are highlighted.

Our sessions are tailored to the needs of particular classes or special interest groups and serve as an introduction to highlights from the holdings of both the College of Charleston and the South Carolina Historical Society related to a course topic. Special Collections archivists can also give informational seminars intended for departmental faculty and staff who wish to incorporate primary source materials into their course work.

After an archives instruction session, students will be able to:

  • Describe the procedures for using Special Collections and archives in order to properly access and handle primary source material in the holdings of both the College of Charleston and the South Carolina Historical Society
  • Apply evaluative criteria in order to identify if source material is a primary, secondary, or tertiary information
  • Search archival holdings in the online catalog and finding aids in order to retrieve holdings information necessary for completing call slips

Effectiveness of archival instruction sessions and research consultations is assessed using one or more of the following tools and strategies:



Mary Jo Fairchild's picture
Mary Jo Fairchild

Assessment of Research Services in the Archives

Assessment Plan for Archival Instruction and Research Services
College of Charleston Libraries


This plan outlines the process by which a team of instructional archivists and librarians at the College of Charleston will define and deploy a unique set of assessment tools and student learning outcomes for information and archival literacy instruction across the entire library system. Our library-wide set of student learning objectives, scaffolded upon the 2015 Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, enables us to code qualitative feedback gathered from our suite of assessment tools. Building instruction sessions and assessment tools upon this common foundation allows us to aggregate feedback and results for a significant sample size and subsequently implement changes in response to assessment with more agility.

Assessment of student absorption of archival literacy skills need not be exceptional; rather evaluation of instructional effectiveness can successfully be accomplished in tandem with traditional library research and instruction since archivists have been included in instructional design and assessment planning from the start. This holistic approach allows for more significant and lasting impacts on the fabric of the student research experience.

The inclusive set of student learning outcomes guiding instruction at the College of Charleston Libraries embraces skills and research strategies that are applicable across the broad spectrum of discipline-specific information seeking behaviors and needs. These include developing compelling research questions; identifying contextually appropriate tools and sources for answering these research questions; critically evaluating information according to discipline specific parameters of authority; employing efficient search strategies; using information ethically; and contributing to ongoing scholarly conversations by producing new information or building upon previous work. These touchstone threshold concepts are the basis for a number of activities that not only promote archival and information literacies, but also advance metaliterate learning in the process.


Propelled by the emphasis on assessment in higher education, professional literature on instruction, learning outcomes, and evaluation has proliferated in the realm of academic libraries in recent years. However, there is no established standard for assessing archival instruction. Despite this, we feel that the highly theoretical nature of the ACRL Framework encourages universal application of threshold concepts into all manner of instruction interactions, including those that take place in the realms of archives and special collections.

Our goal of assessment in archives is to set a baseline for what archival instruction at the College of Charleston Libraries consistently teaches or demonstrates. The assessment of archival research and researcher behavior is primarily based on two paradigms, archival intelligence and artifactual literacy.  Archival intelligence, as defined by Elizabeth Yakel and Deborah A. Torres, includes the understanding of archival theory, practices and procedures; the creation of strategies for reducing uncertainty and ambiguity; and intellective skills. Yakel and Torres assert that archival intelligence is a continuous process developed over time, and not tied to a specific instruction session or archival institution. Such skills are transferable and consistent with the idea of “threshold concepts” as articulated in the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.  Assessment of archival intelligence requires intentional and frequent instruction in Special Collections and Archives, tracked over a longer period of time.  While we are invested in cumulative and transformational student growth and learning, our first assessment target is limited to direct archival instruction accomplished within the College of Charleston Libraries.

Artifactual literacy is the ability to interpret and analyze primary sources.  Once a student has requested materials for use in the reading room, the identification of whether she has materials of use to her research is dependent upon her ability to recognize pieces of evidence within the documents and apply the six concepts that anchor the frames revolving around authority, the process of information creation, the value of information, inquiry, scholarly dialogue, and strategic search and discovery. The abilities to synthesize this information, use it effectively in support of a thesis, situate it within its historical context, and articulate this clearly in a final product are outside the scope of Special Collections’ instruction. Our assessment must be confined to activities that we can credibly include in our limited instruction time with students.  


Archivists from Special Collections and the Avery Research Center collaborated with librarians from the Research & Instruction Services division to articulate student learning outcomes for information literacy instruction in 2015.  These outcomes include skills and attributes of mutual interest to archives, information literacy and subject-specific library instruction.  Sources consulted during their creation include the ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (2015) and Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (2000)

In addition to contributing information to the Library’s annual Assessment Report, archivists intend to incorporate assessment activities into our instruction programs for our own awareness and improvement.  Archival instruction at College of Charleston libraries incorporates more than primary source analysis for students of history; it also includes exercises that hone visual learning skills, geospatial analysis, intellectual property awareness, and many other multi-disciplinary competencies. These proficiencies are central to students’ ability to use archival and information resources in their coursework. Assessment tools such as surveys and activities will allow us to measure change after students interact with archival materials of their own choosing.


Performance Target 1: Assessment of Archival Instruction Sessions
Create tools to assess formal archival instruction in Spring 2016; Deploy assessment tools for all sessions in Fall 2016; Incorporate conclusions drawn from assessment tools into subsequent sessions.

While the library and archives literature calls for meaningful assessment of deep learning, there are no published tools currently available that do so, in part due to the (sometimes justifiable) claim that all Special Collections and Archives departments are unique just like their holdings, and that there are no one-size-fits-all instruction or assessment models.  In this void, most assessment of student use of archival materials has relied on surveys, questionnaires, and likert scale evaluations.  While researcher comfort level is an important step in internalizing archival policies and procedures, we are also interested in more substantive cognitive and performance-based assessment of instruction. To move beyond measurement of affective change in student experience, we designed a set of activity templates to enhance and assess students’ ability to evaluate primary sources, analyze finding aids, critically address sources in context, and create citations. Each activity is matched with one or more of our library-wide student learning outcomes and with one or more of the frames. The activity templates are available in a private research guide hosted by the College of Charleston Libraries at

Performance Target 2:  Assessment of Archival Research Services
Create a tool to assess research services in Spring 2017; Deploy assessment tool for research services in Fall 2017; Incorporate feedback consistently.

Current metrics for collecting data on research services in the archives are collected using LibAnalytics. This data set provides information on institutional affiliations and research interests of our patrons, frequency at which different resources are used, and collections that are most requested to inform processing and cataloging workflows. Moving forward, we will create a tool based on the findings of the SAA-ACRL/RBMS Joint Task Force on the Development of Standardized Statistical Measures for Public Services in Archival Repositories and Special Collections Libraries.  Our tool will focus on reference interactions within the archives and special collections.


Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Chicago: American Library Association, 2015.

Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.  Chicago: American Library Association, 2000.

Bahde, Anne, and Heather Smedberg. “Measuring the Magic: Assessment in the Special Collections and Archives Classroom.” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage 13:152-174, 2012.

Carter, Linda. “Articulating Value: Building a Culture of Assessment in Special Collections.” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage 13:89-99, 2012.a

Chapman, Joyce and Elizabeth Yakel. “Data Driven Management and Interoperable Metrics for Special Collections and Archives User Services.” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage 13:129-151, 2012.

Duff, Wendy M., and Joan M. Cherry. “Archival Orientation for Undergraduate Students: An Exploratory Study of Impact.” The American Archivist 71: 499-529, 2008.

Krause, Magia G. “Undergraduates in the Archives: Using an Assessment Rubric to Measure Learning.” The American Archivist 73: 507-534, 2010

Pugh, Mary Jo.  Providing Reference Services for Archives and Manuscripts. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2005.

Robyns, Marcus C. “The Archivist as Educator: Integrating Critical Thinking Skills into Historical Research Methods Instruction.” The American Archivist 64:363-384, 2001.

Yakel, Elizabeth, and Deborah A. Torres. “AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise.” The American Archivist 66:51-78, 2003






Spotlight: Assessment at Avery Research Center, 2015-2016

The Avery Research Center's Assessment Plan covers formal and informal instruction of patrons, students, and researchers utilizing archival collections in the reading room, and visiting the center for tours, workshops, and other educational and public programs such as lectures, conferences, and symposia. Methods of assessment planned for 2015-2016 include the following:

  • Patrons utilizing the archival collections and or taking individual or group tours of the facility will be encouraged to complete an evaluation at the end of their visit.
  • Research patrons will be asked to complete an evaluation once their research is complete, and then sent a follow-up email with a link to an online survey to capture their experiences, suggestions, and further research areas.
  • Teachers, student group leaders and teacher-training coordinators will be sent pre-visit questionnaires about the focus of their visit so that the Reference and Outreach Archivist may tailor programs, tours, and or workshops to suit the needs of their constituents, and a post-visit survey will be given at the end of each tour and educational program to determine the quality of educational workshops and the effectiveness of ARC workshop and tour formats.
  • Conference and public programs attendees and all College of Charleston faculty, staff, and students will be encouraged to complete surveys at the end of their visits. Conference attendees and presenters will be sent a follow-up email with a link to capture their experiences, suggestions, further research areas, and their thoughts on need areas of improvement.

Manager of Archival Services

Aaisha Haykal's picture
Aaisha Haykal
Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture
125 Bull Street
Charleston, SC 29494