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Tracking student learning outcome engagement at the reference desk to facilitate assessment

Michael D. Current (Library Department, Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 25 October 2022

Issue publication date: 7 March 2023




This paper presents a novel approach to associating patron interactions with specific student learning objectives (SLOs) incorporated into reference transactions in an environment where learning, as opposed to usage or user satisfaction data, is considered a benchmark of success.


As part of the routine process of recording reference transactions into a tracking database, reference librarians associated each of their patron interactions with library programmatic SLOs they perceived addressed through the teaching they incorporated into the interaction. Reporting functions of the transaction database software were utilized to uncover notable patterns of teaching.


The most and least addressed programmatic SLOs were identified. The distribution pattern of SLOs addressed was found to be consistent over time. A correlation was found between the length of interactions and which SLOs were addressed in the interaction. Citation assistance was found to be often incorporated into complex research questions. SLOs addressed varied slightly by day of the week. The distribution patterns of SLOs addressed were found to vary greatly by the librarian.

Research limitations/implications

It is difficult to verify the quality of tagging data. Strategies for addressing such concerns include ensuring participating librarians agree on the importance of creating reliable data and ensuring they have solid and similar understandings of the program's SLOs.


This project demonstrates that actionable findings can be derived from tracking the specific programmatic SLOs being addressed in reference interactions. Formal assessment projects and other targeted efforts to improve learning in reference interactions in response to such findings are suggested as positive contributions to the overall reorientation of academic libraries toward measuring successful librarianship in terms of student learning.



Current, M.D. (2023), "Tracking student learning outcome engagement at the reference desk to facilitate assessment", Reference Services Review, Vol. 51 No. 1, pp. 13-32.



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