A Process for Collection Assessment

We have now discussed methods of assessing your collection.  In this section, we will discuss how a collection assessment can be completed.  There are many different ways of organizing the work of a collection assessment, and you may find other ways of performing this process that suit the needs of your library better.  However, each of the steps outlined below should be performed at some time during the process.

Step 1.  Review your collection development policy.  Make sure that the collection development policy is up-to-date and reflects the current guiding principles for building and maintaining your collection.

Step 2.  Plan the assessment.  Determine how much time you and other staff members will be able to give to the project.  Divide the collection up into reasonably sized sub-units.  (This is often done by classification number.)  Make sure that you include print and non-print items covering the same subject area in the same assessment section, so that you get a complete picture of how well the library meets the information needs within that subject area.   Based on the amount of time available and the size of your collection, estimate the total time that will be needed to finish a complete cycle of collection assessments.  If you have never performed a collection assessment before, pick a sub-unit that is relatively small and easy to complete to begin the process.  Create a plan that will allow you to build on success.

Step 3.  For the first section, perform an in-depth review of the collection development policy for this subject area or type of material.  Make sure that you understand what you are trying to do in the section before assessing it.

Step 4.  Review pertinent use information.  What is the turnover rate for this section compared for the library as a whole and for similar sections?  For example, if you are looking at the physical sciences, how does their usage compare with the biological sciences?  Check on the interlibrary loan statistics for the section.  If the turnover rate is low and the interlibrary loan rate is high, this may say that there is something wrong with the collection, and this should be investigated.  If the turnover rate is high and the interlibrary loan rate is low, you probably have a collection that meets your community's needs.

Step 5.  Shelf-scan your first section for appearance.  As you look at the items on the shelf, ask what they tell you about the section.  Do the materials look up-to-date and inviting?  Do materials appear to be in need of rebinding?  Ask yourself, if I was interested in this subject, would I think that this collection had something to offer me based on appearance alone.  If the appearance of the section is unattractive, consider weeding the section before continuing your assessment.

Step 6.  Perform a shelflist count on the section.  If you have an automated system this should be relatively easy.  If not, employ the method of counting or measuring your shelflist outlined previously.

Step 7.  Determine the acquisition rate for the section for the previous year.  Compare this rate with the rate of the library as a whole and other similar sections.

Step 8.  Determine the mean and median age for the materials in the section.  Automated systems can help here.  If your system cannot give you this information, you may need do an item-by-item assessment or a random sample if the section is quite large.

Step 9.  If feasible, perform an analysis of the collection using a standardized list.  If there are specific items from the standardized list that you think should be added, write these down for future reference.  Since this step can be particularly time consuming, you may skip this step if all other indicators are that the collection is well-used and meets the needs of the community.  

Step 10.  If you believe that the collection is inadequate at this point, you may seek out an expert to suggest materials that would make it more sufficient.  This would be especially important if there were unique local conditions that would affect the needs of the collection.

Step 11.  Outline your assessment of the section in a brief report, which includes recommendations for improvement.  This report should be used when you are considering materials to be added to the library or a weeding program.

Step 12.  Move on to the next section.


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