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Library Assessment Fundamentals

Introduction to Assessment

Assessment is the measurement of your library resources and services in order to evaluate or improve them. This can include assessment of instruction, programming, outreach, professional development, user experience, reference, website usability, and so much more. Librarians use many tools including statistical analysis, surveys, usability testing, focus groups, and more. The type of tool and approach that the librarian uses depends on many different factors.

First - what question are your trying to answer and why? The purpose of your assessment determines the method and timing of your assessment. This purpose can vary quite a lot. If your goal is to measure the educational impact of your instruction program in order to determine its educational value, then you may decide that you need a summative assessment tool such as using pre and post quizzes. However, if you want to evaluate your instruction program in order to improve upon the instruction being done, you may decide to use formative methods throughout the lesson to identify what and when students are learning. 

The types of tools and approaches will also vary greatly depending on your area of focus. The tools for collection assessment are quite different than those for usability testing. There are a few simple steps that can be followed in trying to plan out your assessment process:

  1. Identify the area of assessment desired (collection assessment, instruction, etc.).
  2. Review the assessment practices used by others in that area. Don't re-invent the wheel if you don't have to!
  3. Include stakeholders and determine the purpose of your assessment. What information are you trying to gain and why? 
  4. Use that purpose to identify the data you want. Don't worry about whether you can obtain it or not yet, just list what data would be useful!
  5. Decide which data you can obtain and how you can best obtain it (identifying methods, data collection instruments, and timing). 

Many common purposes of assessment include: 

  • Improving a program or project
  • Measuring a program's effectiveness or impact
  • Measuring student engagement
  • Measuring affective traits of students or staff (such as feelings of being welcomed, job satisfaction, etc.)
  • Evaluating student or staff learning
  • Evaluating user friendliness or usability of a service, resource, etc. 
  • Conducting a needs assessment to identify gaps and areas of improvement
  • Reporting/communicating library impact to stakeholders

Assessment can be used to gather data that informs decisions to improve or cut programming, to begin new projects, and to communicate resource needs to stakeholders. Once you have identified your areas of assessment focus, the various pages of this fundamentals guide can serve as a useful starting-off point to explore common practices. 

Additional Resources