What to Expect When You’re Expecting the ABA

Has it been a while since your school’s last ABA visit? Or maybe you’re like me and you have never been a part of a visit at all. In either scenario, you may be wondering what to expect in this current age of revised accreditation standards and experiential learning.

I work at Southern Methodist University, Dedman School of Law, and our site visit was just a few weeks ago in October, 2018. Preparations for the visit were going on all around me for well over a year, but as a reference librarian, I frequently wondered what all the stress was about. What would I be asked to contribute? What should I expect during the actual visit?


Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash

For those of you nearing a site visit, I thought I would share my reflections and suggestions. As background, the library Director and school administration will be asked to complete a Self-Evaluation Questionnaire (“SEQ”) which can be 100+ pages of narrative responses. The data provided in the SEQ will be supported by additional materials and facts – that’s where you as a staff member come in.  Below are a few items, in no particular order, that I contributed and would advise getting in order sooner than later.

  1. Marketing materials. Do you create flyers, ads, handouts, a newsletter or brochure? The site visit is a great time to showcase the library’s marketing and outreach efforts. For example, I am responsible for a monthly newsletter called the Loo News (yep, this goes in the bathroom stalls). As silly as it might seem, the newsletter is a prime example of our outreach efforts and we chose to include the last six months of the newsletter in our presentation materials. As with most things on this list, the more organized your files are ahead of time, the easier it will be to compile sample materials.
  2. Random statistics. It seemed like once a week our Director would email asking about another random service – How many research lectures did you provide last year? How many trainings did you provide to law review students? Save all the data. Count all the things. Organize, organize, organize!
  3. Syllabi. The law school administration requested syllabi for every course taught at the law school. If you’re self-conscious of your syllabus for whatever reason, now is the time to perfect it. Personally, I love the suggestions described here for creating a learner-focused syllabus.
  4. Speaking of teaching, the administration may ask for sample course exercises (formative assessment) or sample final projects (summative assessment). Teaching librarians are often leaders in the classroom and incorporating formative assessment is just one of many ways we lead. Our legal research courses at SMU are designated for experiential learning so the administration was quick to ask us for examples of our formative assessment e.g. in-class quizzes, rubrics, games, and more.
  5. Your current resume. Each ABA inspection team includes a librarian. The librarian visitor will likely want an introduction to the library staff before visiting so we each supplied a current resume. If it’s been awhile since you’ve dusted off this bad boy, get at it!
  6. “Swag”. What better way to demonstrate library services than through library swag? Each fall semester, we hand out coffee mugs, school supplies, and more during an annual Welcome Week event. We were sure to save one of each item ordered to show the inspection team what we offer.
  7. Perhaps most importantly, the librarian visitor may ask for example contributions to faculty output. During the actual visit, we were each asked for an example of how we have aided in substantial faculty projects e.g. faculty visits to Congress or research that was cited by SCOTUS. I suggest keeping an ongoing list of major faculty projects at all times to make this task a little easier. No one likes being put on the spot, and it would be shame to blank on your one opportunity to brag about your work and contributions to faculty.
  8. In that same vein, each librarian provided examples of thank yous and praise from either faculty or students. If you don’t already do so, save positive emails to a separate folder. I also like to keep hand-written thank yous from students and I scanned these to PDF to provide with the SEQ.


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Whatever your role is in your next ABA site visit, know that the anticipation and preparation is much more stressful than the actual visit. The inspection team will be inquisitive but kind. And before you know it, it will all be behind you — for ten years at least when it will happen all over again.

I served on our school’s ABA Standards and Compliance committee so if you have any additional questions, please ask!

This entry was posted in ABA, employment & reference librarians, Legal Education Standards, Planning, Time Management and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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