In the final year of our research+practice partnership grant, researchers from the Capturing Connected Learning in Libraries (CCLL) project partnered with the IMLS-funded Future Ready with the Library (FRwtL) project to support public library staff serving middle school-aged youth in rural libraries. The partnership focused on assessment and evaluation for new connected learning programs, which these staff are designing and leading in their efforts to promote learning opportunities that tap into young people’s interests and aspirations.

The research team brainstormed a variety of tools and methods that the library staff could use to assess their programs. The team also devised more data collection plans than would be practical to implement, as a way to imagine the possibilities. Ultimately, the evaluation plans were not taken up in full, due to limited time and capacity in these partnering rural and small libraries, but the collaboration process allowed the research team to learn best practices about research+practice partnerships with small and rural libraries, and how to better integrate assessment and data analysis tools into these spaces. In this case study, we share with other researchers and evaluators lessons learned from our partnership and provide examples from small and rural libraries, in order to contribute to the literature around successful (and sometimes unsuccessful) research+practice partnerships.

*Note: The collaborations detailed here took place pre-COVID-19. Given the social distancing measures that have been put into place, there are new lessons to be learned about supporting programming in rural libraries. First, online collaborations among rural library staff are more important than ever. FRwtL cohort virtual discussions served as an essential support system for library staff as they figured out how to adapt to a new distanced world of providing services, resources, and programming. Second, the closing of library buildings and other community organizations has challenged and rearranged relationships across youth-serving organizations, which now need to be coordinated mainly remotely.

Written by: Anna-Ruth Allen, Amanda Wortman, Sari Widman, Vera Michalchik, William R. Penuel.

The Capturing Connected Learning in Libraries (CCLL) project—a research and practice collaboration between the Connected Learning LabCU BoulderSRI InternationalLos Angeles Public Library (LAPL), YALSA, and YOUmedia—enables libraries to better assess learning outcomes for their connected learning programs and spaces, and it boosts their ability to use evaluation data to improve their programs. It is focused on identifying challenges connected learning programs face and helpful ways of addressing those challenges. This project is generously funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.