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Library Assessment Fundamentals

Using the Assessment Guide

This guide provides an overview of basic assessment terminology, methods, concerns, and ethics. It is an informational guide for those new to assessment or who wish to refresh what they know. The other tabs explore methodology, metrics, and resources in greater detail. 

The resources on this guide are organized by level of specificity. Resources that are focused on more specific topic areas will be placed within those areas. For example, a resource on visualizing collection data may be placed under Objects of Assessment > Collections instead of the more broad Methods, Data, Ethics, & Planning > Data Visualization area. 

Assessment Terminology

A short list of common assessment terminology:

  • Assessment: Research used to provide feedback for making improvements. Assessment is intended to lead to improvement. 
  • Direct Assessment: The use of tests or other methods to directly assess the skill or thing being measured, such as student learning. 
  • Formative Assessment: Research conducted throughout a project, course, etc., to measure how progress is being made or how someone is learning. 
  • Evaluation: Research used to collect data and make judgments about performance. Evaluations are intended to lead to decision-making.
  • Indirect Assessment: A survey, rating, or other instrument used to infer impact on the skill or thing being measured, such as student learning. 
  • Mixed Methods Research: This type of research uses a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. 
  • Needs Assessment: A needs assessment compares the current state of learning or of a project with the desired future state, in order to determine the steps or actions needed to progress towards that future state. 
  • Reliability: The measure of how consistent a test is. 
  • Summative Assessment: Research conducted at the end of a project, course, milestone, etc., to measure how much progress or learning has occurred. 
  • Qualitative Research: This type of research relies on non-statistical data collection. It uses things like impressions, opinions, and views in order to describe a phenomena or understand its context.  Qualitative methods often include focus groups, in-depth interviews, and review of documents.
  • Quantitative Research: This type of research relies on structure data and numbers. It uses fixed responses or hard data to test or measure something in a replicable way. Quantitative methods often include surveys, structured interviews, and review of usage data. 
  • Validity: The measure of whether or not a test is measuring what it is intended to measure. It measures accuracy. 

Common Acronyms Related to Library Assessment

  • ACRL: Association of College & Research Libraries
  • AIR: Association of Institutional Research
  • ALA: American Library Association
  • ARL: Association of Research Libraries
  • CBA: Curriculum-Based Assessment
  • IFLA: International Federation of Library Associations
  • IPEDS: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System
  • LLAMA: Library Leadership and Management Association
  • NISO: National Information Standards Organization
  • UI: User Interface
  • UX: User Experience

Assessment Examples

Direct Assessment (Direct examples of the work/results)

  • Capstone projects
  • Exhibits
  • Test scores
  • Statistics measuring program improvements (program attendance, leadership skills demonstrated, etc.)

Indirect Assessment (Indirect measures that are not direct examples of work)

  • Surveys
  • Exit interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Feedback surveys

Formative (Measurements of how a person is learning through a lesson or course)

  • Quizzes
  • Short essays
  • Discussions
  • Reflection questions

Summative (Measurements of how much a person has learned through a lesson or course)

  • Research papers
  • Final exams
  • Speeches
  • Portfolios