Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Preparing Librarians to Meet the Needs of 21st Century Teens


The information contained in this project appendix was gathered from the original project proposal that was funded in 2012 and interviews with project leaders through the end of 2014.  This appendix and the overall design principles database from the DPD project does not reflect further evolution of the project or developments after the final interview that took place in 2014. As of the final interview, the Youth Adult Library Service Association (YALSA) had issued badges and developed a functioning badge systems. Based on the information, we have classified the YALSA badge system as an implemented  (rather than a partial or suspended badge system.


A subdivision of the American Library Association, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) is a nationwide organization that supports librarians who provide services to young adults from age 12 to 18. As a grantee of the MacArthur/DML Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition, YALSA designed and implemented a badging system that provides continuing professional development to librarians and offers recognition for their learning outside of formal library schooling. The project described that recognizing skills often developed on the job “will fill a knowledge gap in the profession” as part of a “re-envisioning of libraries” as called for in studies by the MacArthur Foundation and others (YALSA HASTAC Q&A). The badge system effort aims to enhance the quality of library services and equip a greater number of librarians and library staff with the skills to serve and engage teens effectively, ultimately promoting youth growth and development for the future.

YALSA has a history of offering professional development opportunities for librarians to continue their learning, hosting conferences, literature symposiums, webinars, Twitter chats, online courses, and other initiatives. The badging project enhances YALSA’s ability to provide continuing education and offers a way for librarians to gain recognition for acquiring and demonstrating skills and competencies important to serving young adults.

Previously, YALSA developed a set of standards for librarians providing services to teens, publishing in 2010 the national guiding framework “Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth.” The developed competency framework involve a number of skillsets, which are organized into seven core areas:

1. Leadership and Professionalism

2. Communication, Outreach and Marketing

3. Knowledge of Client Group

4. Administration

5. Knowledge of Materials

6. Access to Information

7. Services

Though at first they planned “pie badges” to show pathways toward filling out each competency, as the system moved toward implementation YALSA converged on awarding one badge for achievement in each area (DPD Follow-up Interview). The project described in their DML proposal that the “competencies outline the skills and knowledge teen services librarians need to have in order to provide excellent service to this unique age group” (DML Stage 1 Proposal). The competencies form the basis for the badge system content and design.

The badging project is delivered as an online learning experience that complements library school and on the job experience. Built with Drupal, the badge system lives on the servers of the American Librarian Association (DPD Follow-up Interview). As the project implemented their badge system, YALSA mapped the badges to the pre-existing competencies and structured activities in line with these standards. To date, badge earners register on the website, work on a spectrum of activities, and create content and artifacts to upload. Activities range from setting up a Twitter account to interviewing young adults on specific topics, often with several activities leading up to a badge. The assessment process begins with self-reflection as learners apply for badges, and it involves rubric-guided peer assessment where peers vote to approve the badges with a Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down feature. (DPD Follow-up Interview).

Through the badging system, YALSA hopes to expand its professional development initiatives to build and strengthen the repertoire of librarians’ job-related capabilities and digital literacy skills. In addition, there is some interest in the possibility that library schools and professors start to think about introducing badges into their teaching. Chris Shoemaker, the Young Adult Programming Specialist for the New York Public Library, works in a library school, which may provide a possible outlet through which to bring badges to library education (DPD Initial Interview). As of January 2014, there were no internal plans to include this badge system in formal education (DPD Follow-up Interview)

Figure 1. YALSA Badge (YALSA Blog)




YALSA was founded in 1957 as a branch of the American Library Association. Awarded the MacArthur/DML grant in 2012, the project started development of a badging system for librarians. The badge system launch to the public has been slated for the spring of 2014. In the meantime, they have been testing the badging system in a soft launch as of late 2013.

Evolving Practices and Design Principles

What follows is a list of practices as they relate to the general and more specific design principles in each category of practice. The headings name a (a) General Principle, (b) Specific principle, (c) Specific practice. The paragraphs below each heading detail the project’s (a) intended practice, (b) enacted practice, and (c) how that practice relates to the specific and general principles.

Design Principles for Recognizing Learning

One of the most important decisions in what this badge system chose to recognize involved the alignment of badges to a pre-existing set of standards, developed by a previous YALSA initiative called Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth. YALSA took into consideration the diverse forms of learning to recognize that have not been credentialed traditionally. In addition, YALSA emphasized the capacity of badges to externally communicate the skills and knowledge gained by librarians and share their learning within the broader community. Further, the project noted a secondary possibility in which librarians could discover badge system design and implement their own badge systems for young adults.

Recognize diverse learning> Credential for content knowledge and skills

Intended, enacted, formal

YALSA envisioned the badges to represent both earners’ content knowledge and skills across the wide range of skills required by librarians connecting with teens. In an initial pilot, the project planned to develop a curriculum to equip learners with skills in three competencies from the seven overall areas: (1) Communication, Outreach and Marketing, (2) Knowledge of Materials, and (3) Services. YALSA described in their DML proposal the rationale for selecting these three areas as “lend[ing] themselves especially well to the need to demonstrate, through a badge program, scaffolded learning, community building, and understanding of technology use in libraries” (DML Stage 1 Proposal). Having focused on the three areas at first, the YALSA team planned to concentrate their efforts on developing a set of activities that demonstrate the competency outcomes.

With competencies that comprise a multi-step process, YALSA aimed to issue sub-badges that lead up to an overall badge representing a specific competency. YALSA’s 2011-2012 President, Sarah Flowers, wrote, “In each area, learners will complete four sets of “minor” badge activities, after which the learner will earn a gold badge for that content area” (Flowers, 2012). The project aspired to design pie badges that outline the process to the main badge with sub-badges, with the plan to award sub-badges or mini badges for varying skills that add up to a major badge.

Some platform inflexibility ruled out the possibility of the pie badges early on. Instead, as implemented by YALSA, there is one badge for each competency area. The project started by releasing three badges: one simple, intermediate, and complex, one for each of three competencies (DPD Follow-up Interview). In early 2014 YALSA described that they are in the process of rolling out the rest of the seven badges, one for each of the competencies. The project initially planned for 21 badges, but as enacted, YALSA is incorporating a multi-step process for each badge in order to cover most of the same material. Learners create learning artifacts based on a rubric and post it, and the community will then go in and evaluate it with a “Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down,” as detailed in the assessments section below (DPD Initial Interview).

YALSA developed badges to represent a combination of content knowledge and skills in the seven competency areas. In the badge system, learners interact and complete activities on topics that are related to a competency, reflected in the rubric (DPD Follow-up Interview). YALSA Project Manager Linda Braun offered an illustration in which “a badge-earner [learns] about action research as a part of the administration competency/badge” (Braun, 2013a). The badges represent skills that are typically learned on-the-job and that would have previously gone unnoticed. Nicole Munguia, Program Officer of Continuing Education, asserted that topics such as Personal Learning Networks (PLN) are not typically covered in the average Master of Library and Information Sciences program, and badge earners could learn where to access resources and develop collaborative skills in building a network or community of knowledge sharing (DPD Follow-up Interview).

The principle of “recognize diverse learning” is illustrated by YALSA’s practice of “credential for content knowledge and skills.” The badge credentials are based on YALSA’s developed set of competencies, which encompasses not only traditional but also nontraditional skills, such as social media and technological savvy, that have figured more prominently in modern society.

Use badges as a means of external communication of knowledge and/or skills > External recognition

Intended, enacted, formal

Because many of the skills librarians depend upon are developed on the job, they are not credentialed specifically in those librarians’ formal education. YALSA intended for the badges to recognize these skills and for librarians to be able to share them alongside their formal credentials. YALSA described the value of the badge system’s recognition choices as covering previously unrecognized skills:

Due to the nature of the kinds of work that librarians do, much of their learning happens on the job and through various experiences and interactions. This on the job learning has also become more interactive, informal and creative. Learning for librarians must also be a lifelong pursuit, as the nature of the work requires them to constantly gain new skills. At this time, however, there is not widespread recognition of these competencies and skills among library directors and administrators. Therefore YALSA’s Badges for Learning can help librarians get recognition for these new forms of learning. (DML Stage 1 Proposal)

YALSA’s goal is to have the badges become a valuable part of the credentials that their earners show to employers and library schools. YALSA 2011-2012 President Sarah Flowers asserted that “badge earners can be innovative in how they use the badges: in virtual resumes or portfolios, in their yearly employee evaluation or goal-setting process, on web pages or blogs, or in some other way that showcases the work they’ve done” (Flowers, 2012). She articulated the continual growth and commitment conveyed by the narrative of a badge. The project aimed to design badges specifically designed to communicate essential young adult librarian skills.YALSA explained on their website:

By displaying these badges in these virtual spaces you will be able to easily and visually inform colleagues, employers, potential employers, and others about your teen services skills and knowledge. You can also point colleagues in and outside of teen services to the badges so that they too can learn how to best work with teens. (YALSA website)

As designed in the badge system, YALSA credentials serve to communicate essential young adult librarian skills both to current and possible employers and schools of library science. Badged activities are also a source of professional development for current librarians. The project stated,

Once a badge is earned learners will have the chance to “push” the badge out to Mozilla’s open badges backpack. This will enable anyone to take their badge beyond the YALSA badges website and post their badge on various web and social sites. It will be a great way to show potential employers, current employers, colleagues and others what library staff are skilled at when it comes to working with teens. (Braun, 2013a)

The project built this functionality to communicate to employers, organizations, and institutions the skills and knowledge of librarians as represented by badges. Incorporating this feature, badges communicate externally the skills acquired by earners.

The project’s practice of “external recognition” exemplifies the principle of “use badges as a means of external communication of knowledge and/or skills,” a principle the DPD Project reserves for initiatives that make a special effort to encourage and show the value of sharing credentials outside their learning community. YALSA’s many statements about the uses to which earners will apply their credentials shows a commitment to design a system focused on shareable value. Badge earners can share their badges in formal processes like job application or performance reviews as well as informal channels like social media. YALSA describes that learners would be able to add the badges to their blogs and social media profiles, show employers the badges they have earned on their page on the YALSA website, and integrate badges to their resume (YALSA Website). Additionally, badges provide evidence of earners’ learning and professional development that are not recognized elsewhere in the library education system or through the on-the-job training where youth librarians learn many of these skills. The project aims to expand the recognition given to librarians among the directors and administrators of libraries and broader learning ecosystem.

Promote discovery > Discover learning opportunities > Open up potential learning pathways

Intended, enacted, formal

YALSA’s badges were also intended to become a means for developing librarians to discover the competency framework and find out what they should learn about serving young adults as well as discover opportunities to develop skills. Badges can provide what YALSA called a “vehicle” for badge earners to discover learning opportunities in advancing their skillsets (DPD Initial Interview). In their DML proposal, YALSA described that the badge system:

provides the Association with a significant opportunity to help a wide-range of library workers develop or further their understanding of and ability to provide excellent services to young adults. YALSA’s competencies set a national standard for library staff working with teenagers. Badges are an excellent way not only to reach those who might not otherwise have access to continuing education but also to help them gain the recognition that comes with acquiring the skills. (DML Stage 1 Proposal)

Badges are intended to serve as both a credential and a vehicle through which one can gain competency knowledge. The project viewed badges as more than a way to recognize learning, but to actually catalyze learning and serve as a valued credential symbolizing the skills and knowledge an earner possesses (DPD Initial Interview).

As the badge system was implemented, YALSA worked on getting the word out and helping library staff discover the opportunities offered by the badge system (DPD Follow-up Interview). Nicole Munguia explained that the process of discovery is bigger than earning the badge itself; part of it is gaining the knowledge and skills via the badge is just as important as the skill cultivated in itself (DPD Follow-up Interview).

Design Principles for Assessing Learning in Digital Badge Systems

YALSA developed assessments for nontraditional learning and skillsets, based on the competencies. The project aligned badges and curriculum to the competencies. To assess new forms of learning, YALSA explored the kinds of measurements they can employ to capture the skills and knowledge being acquired. In addition, YALSA developed rubrics and implemented them in assessing the quality of the learning, when users submit their learning artifacts to the badge system. Peer assessment is also incorporated into the badge system through a “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down” functionality. From the initial plan, the proposal had not established a formal method for assessing learning, but it was asserted that badges and curricula were to based on the competencies.

Promote “hard” and “soft” skill sets > Combination of collaborative learning and discrete skills > Badges promote traditional and non-traditional skill sets

Intended, enacted, formal

As a part of their vision, YALSA articulated that the badge system will enable librarians and library workers to “gain recognition for the new competencies, capacities and skills they are developing in a nontraditional setting” (DML Stage 1 Proposal). With badges, YALSA aimed to promote both traditional and nontraditional skills and content knowledge, prompting the project to think about creative ways to assess these forms of learning. In the DML Proposal, they explained their initial plans:

In order for YALSA’s badges to hold real value and carry the weight of more traditional degrees, YALSA recognizes that assessment and quality is critical. YALSA seeks assistance in developing an effective and efficient method for assessing learning in order to determine if a learner has achieved the necessary skill, capacity or competency so that a badge can be issued. (DML Stage 1 Proposal)

YALSA planned to develop assessments that measure the outcomes of learning not measured in librarians’ traditional schooling, exploring different assessment forms and avenues for effective measurement of the skills and competencies. The project articulated in the DML proposal that:

One key need is to match the appropriate type of assessment, whether it is stealth, portfolio or something else, with the type of learning that is taking place. Some badges will likely contain multiple levels of assessment, depending on the use case or audience. Determining the logistics to support these processes is needed. (DML Stage 1 Proposal)

By considering the assessment appropriate to a specific context, YALSA hoped to develop a better handle at measuring the performance of users and their mastery of the professional competencies represented by the badges.

In the badge system implementation,YALSA designed assessments of learning based onthe competency standards, which promote the acquisition of a diverse set of skills from leadership and professionalism to knowledge of materials and understanding how to access information. The assessments are largely based on rubrics to measure learning and performance. YALSA scaled back its development of multiple assessment levels because of the Learning Management System constraints. Instead, depending on the badge, badge earners post one to five documents, and the “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down” feature is the only mechanism for assessment (DPD Follow-up Interview).

The principle “promote ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skill sets” is demonstrated by YALSA’s practice “badges promote traditional and non-traditional skill sets,” showing the sub-principle of “combination of collaborative learning and discrete skills.” The project developed assessments for the broader infrastructure, which aims to enable badge earners to learn nontraditional skills through a combination of collaborative and online learning.

Align assessment activities to standards: create measurable learning objectives > Internal standards > Breaking competencies into content areas to build specific skills and knowledge

Intended, enacted, formal

YALSA intended to break up the activities of the competencies into sub-tasks that can be more readily assessed.The project stated, “Competencies outline the skills and knowledge teen services librarians need to have in order to provide excellent service to this unique age group. YALSA’s Badges for Learning will be directly connected to these competencies” (DML Stage 1 Proposal). Competencies contain content areas in which earners build specific skills and knowledge, and content areas have specific outcomes defined and activities which exemplify a particular those outcomes. To take a case in point, one of the core competencies, “Communication, Outreach, and Marketing,” emcompasses the use of social media and blogging skills to communicate with young adults and promote literacy development. The competencies outline specific things librarians with each competency will know how to do (YALSA’s Competencies). The tasks required by the badges aim to help students demonstrate these outcomes. YALSA hoped to provide more badge opportunities once this initial phase of the project is completed with more badges focusing on more competency skills being added over time.

As the badging practices are carried out,the project still intends for these competencies to guide their curriculum and the badge earning process of the core competencies. YALSA explained, “Once a badge-earner is ready he or she will have a chance to show what they know by creating an “artifact” to post on the YALSA badge website. Many of the artifact creation activities require badge-earners to get involved with teens and their local and/or professional community in order to gain skills and knowledge” (Braun, 2013a). Learners can post learning “artifacts” as evidence of their learning for assessment within the professional community. Everything would lead back to the competency, and the assessment process of peer approval was implemented as intended (DPD Follow-up Interview).

The sub-principle “internal standards” of the general principle “align assessment activities to standards: create measurable learning objectives” is shown through YALSA’s practice of “breaking competencies into content areas to build specific skills and knowledge.” The project based its learning outcomes and activities on the core competencies and developed measurements to assess various skills.

Use rubrics > Rubrics developed for assessment for specific artifacts > Use rubrics to assess learning

Intended, enacted, formal

YALSA intended to develop rubrics for assessing specific learning activities. One example was that they planned to have learners create a video elevator pitch for administrators, develop a rubric, and help people understand where they are in that rubric (DPD Initial Interview). YALSA explained, “Development of assessment tools that will help guarantee that prior to a badge being awarded, the learning demonstrated is high-quality. YALSA seeks assistance in designing the technological infrastructure for the assessments as well as the rubrics to be used in assessing student work” (DML Stage 1 Proposal). For the elevator pitch example, which was part of leadership and professionalism, other users would watch the video as well as comment and judge based on the rubric with “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down” buttons. Rubrics are being developed based on materials aligned to the competencies and other YALSA materials; each badge has two or three demonstrated qualities but whole rubric hasn’t been defined yet (DPD Initial Interview). Additionally, in the peer assessment process, rubrics will be provided to give Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down and a request to comment (DPD Initial Interview).

During the implementation process, YALSA developed rubrics aligned to the competencies, providing a common basis for understanding and reviewing learner artifacts. The elevator pitch is no longer part of the activities (DPD Follow-up Interview). YALSA thought deeply about “how to guarantee feedback provided is high-quality” and to support assessment that is “objective and consistent between feedback providers” (Braun, 2012). The project integrated rubrics to advance this end.

YALSA asserted that when a badge earner goes through the learning process, he or she has a rubric to look at along the way. Similarly, when a peer or community member comes in, they are expected to look at the rubric and see what the rubric defines in making comments and providing feedback (DPD Follow-up Interview).

The principle “use rubrics” and sub-principle “rubrics developed for assessment for specific artifacts” is reflected by YALSA’s principle “use rubrics to assess learning.”The project has been developing rubrics for the assessment process.

Use mastery learning and use formative functions of assessment > Peer feedback and judged by a combination of human and computer experts > “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down” features in peer assessment

Intended, enacted, formal

The project articulated a mix between mastery learning and formative assessment in peer feedback. YALSA explained that this aspect depends on the kinds of comments that surface (DPD Follow-up Interview).

As the project was developing its assessment, it explored the potential of peer assessment. YALSA Project Manager Linda Braun wrote about using “social tools – like Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down – as a feedback mechanism and as a way to get the community involved with badge earning and learning” (Braun, 2012). The Thumbs Down feature may encourage people to pay more attention to their product; this process would take place within a community of practice involving youth librarians in the badge system with the expectation of certain behaviors (DPD Initial Interview). In addition, the project also wanted to be able to provide multiple levels of feedback (DPD Initial Interview).

The project implemented the practice of including a “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down” feature that peers will use as they assess learning artifacts such as earners’ videos and interaction with social media using a rubric (DPD Initial Interview). These “Thumbs” send a message to the earner about the quality of their video and the skills they have demonstrated, hopefully inspiring them to revisit and improve their work. Peer assessors are encouraged to leave a comment with their “Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down” so the earner may learn where they can improve.

Braun asserted that an important aspect of the badges is that:

participants will get the chance to show what they’ve learned by creating artifacts. They’ll share those artifacts with other library staff serving teens. And, they’ll get feedback from those staff who will be members of the YALSA badging community. That’s a great way to learn and a great way to improve what you do. Badge-earners will have the chance to update their artifacts based on community feedback. (Braun, 2013b)

This shows YALSA’s intent for learners to receive feedback on their artifacts, so that they can apply it to improve their work. To date, YALSA is still implementing the “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down” feature of assessment. The project indicated that there is a mix between mastery learning and formative assessment (DPD Follow-up Interview). The possibility of expert assessment is a valid idea, but there is no capacity or standards committee to carry this out (DPD Follow-up Interview).

The general principle “use formative functions of assessment” and specific principle “peer feedback” is illustrated by the project’s practice of “‘Thumbs Up’ and ‘Thumbs Down’ features in peer assessment.” Learners can continue to revise their work as they receive feedback from their peers. In the badge system, users can provide one another with comments and feedback on learning artifacts as well as make use of the “Thumbs” voting functionality.

Design Principles for Motivating Learning

Today’s librarians need to equip themselves beyond book-finding skills and offer more to their teen patrons; technological skills are becoming a greater part of librarians’ jobs. To meet the changing expectations, most librarians continually invest time in professional development activities. Unfortunately, many of these activities leave participants with nothing to show for their work but participatory ribbons. YALSA seeks to offer badges to librarians so that they can show their real world library skills, and bases much of their understanding of the system’s motivation on the value of the credential. Open Badges provide librarians with a representation of their practical skills, activities, and experiences, one that can easily be shared with co-workers and administrators.

Build outside value for badges > Real-life application of knowledge > Professional development

Intended, enacted, formal

YALSA intended for badges to motivate earners by helping them provide evidence of participation in professional development activities. The project stated in their DML proposal that “[d]ue to the nature of the kinds of work that librarians do, much of their learning happens on the job and through various experiences and interactions,” describing this learning as “more interactive, informal and creative” (DML Stage 1 Proposal). They articulated that while “[l]earning for librarians must also be a lifelong pursuit,” currently there is not “widespread recognition of these competencies and skills among library directors and administrators” (DML Stage 1 Proposal). YALSA aimed to build a badge system that provides continual training that enables learners to upgrade their skills while receiving credit and recognition for it.

YALSA stated, “So much of continuing education and modern library school and MLS is very vague in the actual accomplishments. Our goal is that administrators have buy-in to YALSA badges and a greater understanding of the skills of their employees and potential employees” (DPD Initial Interview). As implemented, badges provide evidence and recognition of acquired professional skills and experience. Program Officer of Continuing Education, Nicole Munguia, further stated:

It’s almost like if you’re taking a regular face-to-face class. Sure, you can walk away with an A, but that itself doesn’t exhibit what you learned in the process, the papers you write and the projects, and being able to tie it back to a syllabus and learning objectives that are part of that degree program or the learning objectives for the course. So it’s not just the image of the badge, or the grade you received in the class, it’s the actual work and being able to show artifacts of that work… that would impress upon an employer or supervisor the most. (DPD Follow-up Interview)

YALSA asserted that the value is not only in the external sharing of the badge but also the creation of the artifacts.

The general principle “outside value of badges” and sub-principle “real-life application of knowledge” is shown in the practice of “professional development.” YALSA aims for the badge system to provide learners with professional development training with value that would extend outside of the badge system. Program Officer for Continuing Education Nicole Munguia asserted, “The badge will help the earners not by the ability of them to show a potential employer or supervisor but through the creation of these artifacts that are part of the process of earning the badge. There are concrete things that they can take away and show their supervisor or potential employer… that they have achieved a certain level of mastery of these skills. So it’s not just saying you have the badge, but by earning the badge, they have to complete certain projects, and there are certain things that they walk away with, that I created this. This is what I created as part of this badge. They can show them the rubric–these are the steps that I had to take. They can show, these are all the people who reviewed my work and deemed it worthy. . . .you’re not just showing them an image, you’re actually showing them all of the work, and the rubric and criteria that went into the earning of the badge” (DPD Follow-up Interview).

Display badges to public > Learners can choose to share their badges with others > Share badges in social and professional networks

Intended, enacted, formal

The project intended for learners to be able to show the badges to any librarians in public and academic settings, including a large professional audience and administrators. YALSA Project Manager Linda Braun asserted, “It will also give them the chance to show off, to be able to tweet and Facebook that they’ve gotten these badges” (DPD Initial Interview). In the process, they aim to obtain buy in and a greater understanding of what the badges mean. YALSA Project Manager Linda Braun stated that as users can show off their badges through tweets and and sharing to facebook, the web-based interface will be key (DPD Initial Interview). She described, “Our members are enthusiastic about collecting ribbons already, so this is a nice way to translate the showing off of ribbons into a more practical and widespread field” (DPD Initial Interview). Badges offer a way to present evidence of learned skills and professional development.

YALSA implemented this practice in its badge system, enabling participants to share badges out to their social and professional networks. Badge earners can share not only badge but also the evidence of their learning and the learning artifacts created.

The principle of “display badges to public” is displayed by YALSA’s practice “share badges in social and professional networks.” Learners could send their badges to their backpack as well as social media websites. The YALSA badges are specifically intended to appeal to audiences of employers and library organizations, allowing earners to present the evidence of their learning and professional development in categories valuable to these groups.

Providing incentives > Peer mentorship > Mentoring privileges

Intended, enacted, formal

YALSA states that the badge itself is a privilege (DPD Initial Interview). Added to that, the project hopes to have an expert super badge if users earn all 7 badges, thereby allowing for mentoring privileges. The inflexibility of the platform initially used (Badgeville), however, have made it difficult to carry out this practice (DPD Initial Interview). In rebuilding the site around a custom solution, practices were simplified, and metabadges were not introduced yet (DPD Follow-up Interview).

The project halted formal development on providing incentives along with badge earned. However, some privileges are offered informally as a result of participation in the badge system (DPD Follow-up Interview).

The principle “providing privileges” is demonstrated by the project’s practice “mentoring privileges.” While formal privileges are not awarded in the enacted system, the informal nature of the privileges offer an incentive to participate in the badge system.

Design Principles for Studying Learning

Although YALSA did not specify in their proposal any intended practices for studying learning, the DPD project collected data on the research analysis they employed in the system. In addition, the project has expressed an intention in conducting research on its badge system as it is implemented. YALSA has carried out different forms of research on the badge system, iterating and adjusting its design. They have taken their findings and applied them to enhance the badging system. The project also held a soft launch to test the system, part of which involved collecting data and user feedback, in Winter 2013 before its official launch in Spring 2014.

Improve badge impact > Research for badges > Gather user data and feedback to inform badge system development

Intended, enacted, formal

YALSA did not indicate intended practices on research analysis in their DML proposal. While research practices were not stipulated, the project later articulated plans to study its badge system given the capability. They stated, “Once the badge project is up and running, if our technology allows, we will keep track of the process of badge earners including how long it takes to complete a badge, how often an earner starts a badge project and doesn’t complete it, how involved in the community the badge earners are, how many badges earners work on, and how often badge earners revise their work based on feedback from the community” (YALSA HASTAC Q&A). In conducting research, YALSA sends out emails asking for feedback on the badge system. The project is in the process of asking testers to fill out a formal feedback form on the amount of time taken and how the process is working.

The project carries out solicited targeting in collecting data and gathering findings on the badge system from its soft launch (DPD Follow-up Interview). With the badge system in the testing phase, the initiative plans to investigate people and how they revise their artifacts based on the feedback they receive on the site. In this respect, YALSA hopes that the feedback generates revision.

The practice “research for badges” illustrates the principle “improve badge impact” by illustrating how user data can inform the development of the badge system. From examining the interactions that emerge, YALSA applies their findings toward the adjustment of the badge system and refinement of the user experience.

Challenges this Project Faced

YALSA encountered platform constraints that posed challenges in developing the assessment and motivation aspects of the badge system. The badge system features a “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down” feature, which shapes the kind of feedback produced and quality of interaction that emerges. In addition, the project raised the issue of communicating the value of a badge to librarians. YALSA took approaches to convey the affordances of a badge to the broader community.

Infrastructure constraints and challenges in assessment

In the process of building the badge system, YALSA faced a technology hurdle that thwarted their efforts to carry out their initial design concept. The original plan included the development of pie badges. However, the project’s technical partner, Badgeville, was unable to implement this functionality. This presented the alternatives of either the platform developing the functionality or YALSA rethinking badges without the “pie” feature (DPD Initial Interview). Moreover, with a focus on gamification, Badgeville suggested the use of a “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down” feature as a mechanism for feedback. In specific, this had important implications and effects on the design of the assessment capabilities. This presented the challenge of putting into practice an assessment and feedback process that YALSA envisioned would be open-ended and learner-driven.

As the project progressed, YALSA changed tech platforms from Badgeville to Mozilla’s Open Badger. Specifically, the gamification focus of the platform imposed constraints on the design of the project structure and community assessments. This project sheds light on responses to contextual factors, as the practices were influenced by the context in which they developed.

YALSA Project Manager Linda Braun related, “that developing a project of this kind requires being open to failure as well as success. . . .When there is no roadmap you have to try things out and see what happens. Sometimes what you plan works and sometimes what you plan doesn’t, and you have to go back to the drawing board” (Braun, 2012). Even with these challenges, the DPD project noted that YALSA demonstrated an ability to respond and bounce back from technological hurdles. Braun described their approach “Failure isn’t a reason to give up, it’s a reason to re-think and re-work and try again” (Braun, 2012). YALSA has allowed room for failure wherein the project can make mistakes and draw insightful lessons that can inform the continual adjustment and iteration on the design of the badging system.

Motivation challenges: Communicating the value of a badge

The project faced a challenge in communicating the value and meaning of what a badge represents to librarians. They approached this through a range of communication and outreach activities. The project has sent emails, published about the badge system, and hosted conferences to provide an overview of the badge and get across what it means to the broader community (DPD Follow-up Interview). Nicole Munguia described:

We’re still in the process of communicating that value. Obviously, we’ve kind of done written communication route with articles and making presentations at conferences and trying to get the word out, but honestly I feel that YALSA staff kind of have one-on-one communication at conferences and so forth, but I think that also an important chunk of communicating the value is going to take place at ground level where librarians who have earned badges communicating with their peers, and also getting the word out to state youth consultants, and supervisors and administrators, and them communicating, and then individual librarians communicating with their supervisors, so I think a lot of it is going to be face-to-face individual meetings and word of mouth at least in the early stage. I think that’s going to be a big part of it. (DPD Follow-up Interview)

YALSA took a proactive approach in announcing their badge system launch and creating events and materials for individuals who want to learn more about badges. In specific, Munguia stated, “You can’t just look it as a badge, but a badge becomes a part of your personal narrative to a certain extent, so you are telling the story of you and your work experience, and badges are a part of that overall story” (DPD Follow-up Interview). To this effect, the project aims to convey the potential of badges to tell the ongoing story of librarians to employers, organizations, and the broader community.

Assessment and motivation challenges

YALSA is concerned about motivating the community to provide earners with feedback along with their assessment of the artifacts. They are also deciding whether a community member needs to log in to leave a comment or if the assessment can be anonymous. The project expects community members to be thoughtful in their assessments rather than just giving an artifact a “Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down” without recommendations for improvement (DPD Initial Interview). However, challenges arise with community assessment and the nature of peer feedback, as this practice is largely constrained by technical considerations. Moreover, the inclusion of a “Thumbs Down” feature contains implications for the motivation of learners. Overall, this design posed an obstacle in implementing the badge system, limiting the form and structure of community assessments. The project observes the interactions of users as they carry out their test launch of the badge system.


Badgeville. (2012b). DML Stage 2 Partner: Retrieved December 10, 2013, from

Braun, L. W. (2013a, August 27). Going back to school with badges [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Braun, L.W. (2013b, September 23). Rethinking what we do: Professional development [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Braun, L.W. (2012, September 25). YALSA badges: Lots learned so far [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Flowers, S. (2012, April 20). 30 days of innovation #20: Learn something new [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Project Q&A with: Preparing librarians to meet the needs of 21st century teens. (2013, July 1). HASTAC. Retrieved from



YALSA’s competencies for librarians serving youth: Young adults deserve the best. (2010, January). Retrieved from

YALSA. (2012a) DML Stage 1 Proposal: Retrieved December 9, 2013, from

YALSA. Badges for learning. Retrieved December 9, 2013, from:

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Mozilla Open Badges
Digital Badges are web-enabled credentials of learning or accomplishment. -Erin Knight, director of the Badge Alliance
Badges contain detailed claims about learning, links to actual evidence of learning, and they're shareable over the web. -Dan Hickey, DPD Project Lead Investigator
To me, digital badges represent the bridge between formal learning & informal structures. -Alex Halavais, DML research competition winner
Open Badges can help people tell a verifiable story about their accomplishments. -Nate Otto, DPD Project coordinator
Regardless of where you start, it’s more than likely you’ll end up somewhere other than your intended destination. That’s okay. Systems are living things, and your badge system needs to be flexible. You must embrace a bit of chaos in its design. -Carla Casilli, Director of Design + Practice at the Badge Alliance