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Library Assessment Tips & Techniques: Introduction

The following subject guide* provides guidance to those new to library assessment. In addition to a brief overview of assessment in general, one can also find specific help in the planning process, including obtaining approvals, selecting the population, and various assessment methodologies for assessing information literacy as well as library services.  Recommendations are also provided on interpreting and reporting results to encourage libraries to “close the loop” and take action on assessment findings. Further readings are provided, too. (Library collections assessment and web usability studies are complex processes that will not be covered in this guide as they were not the main focus of the Oviatt Library's former assessment coordinator.)

The following are some general questions to consider before undertaking any assessment project:

  • How much do you know about formal assessment? Consider reading a brief overview of program assessment, learning some of the key vocabulary of assessment terms, and skimming some basic readings. The time you take to do this will save you time (and frustration) in the long run.
  • Begin with the end in mind (i.e., Goals): what do you hope to accomplish by conducting this assessment project?
  • What are your measurable outcomes (i.e., Objectives to meet your goals), which may be related to student learning and/or service/collections?
  • Do you plan to publish the results of the assessment?
    • If yes, your methodology needs to be much more rigorous than what is typically required by campus for assessment. If so, read about Human Subjects before you do anything.
    • If no, your methodology does not need to be as rigorous, but it is still a good idea to consider how useful small studies will be for "closing the loop," i.e., making any changes to library services other than for a narrowly defined patron base, e.g., a librarian changing his/her style of teaching for a particular course.
  • Have you consulted library colleagues potentially most affected by the results of the assessment as to what they hope to learn about their patrons, collections, employees, etc.?
    • Buy-in is essential otherwise the data is only useful for a publication and/or campus report.
  • Have you considered the ramifications, fall-out, expectations that could be generated by your assessment project?
    • Example: Are the library colleagues/department most affected by the assessment results willing to work with negatives as well as positives?
    • Example: If you ask students if the library should be open 24/7 year-round, but there is no money for that, what is the point of asking? It is better to ask students to tell you what schedule they need at a minimum to meet their needs for study space, etc.

Bottom line:

Assessment is a political process and despite assuming that everyone thinks of the results as objective data and that one shouldn't shoot the messenger, assessment coordinators/teams can become targets on everything from what was assessed to the methodology used. In other words, everyone becomes as assessment expert when the results are not to their liking!


*This subject guide came out of the Spring 2012 sabbatical project of Katherine S. Dabbour, former Library Assessment Coordinator at the Oviatt Library, California State University, Northridge, who is solely responsible for the content and opinions expressed herein.