Library Assessment · 11
Executive Summary
To assess, in general, is to determine the impor-
tance, size, or value of; to evaluate. Library staff
assess operations by collecting, interpreting, and
using data to make decisions and to improve cus-
tomer service. They study internal processes, levels
and quality of service, and library impact on insti-
tutional goals.
The number of assessment activities undertak-
en in libraries over the last decade has grown ex-
ponentially. Libraries of all kinds are looking more
closely at how and how well they are serving their
users. What may have begun as the occasional as-
sessment duty assigned to the library staff member
with the most interest or greatest statistical acu-
men, has blossomed at many institutions into a
formalized library assessment position, committee,
department, or all three.
Although this growing area of library manage-
ment has become recognized as a legitimate use of
limited budgets and time, there is not as yet a good
overview of precisely how library assessment ac-
tivities are being implemented or developed. This
survey sought to address that missing piece of the
puzzle—to examine the current state of library as-
sessment, as well as to provide a starting point for
those seeking to develop a library assessment pro-
gram at their own institutions.
This survey was distributed to the 123 ARL
member libraries in May 2007. Seventy-three li-
braries completed the survey for a response rate
of 60%. Only one library indicated that it did not
engage in any assessment activities beyond collect-
ing annual data for the ARL statistics, though no
reason was given as to why this was the case.
The respondents are primarily from US aca-
demic libraries, 63% in public institutions and 22%
in private institutions. Twelve percent are libraries
in Canadian academic institutions, all of which are
public. Public libraries account for only 3% of the
respondents. This closely reflects the membership
distribution of ARL.
Assessment Activities
Survey results indicate that while a modest num-
ber of libraries in the 1980s and earlier engaged in
assessment activities beyond annual ARL statistics
gathering, the biggest jump in activity occurred
between 1990 and 2004. The overwhelming major-
ity of responses indicate the impetus was service
driven and user centered and came from within the
library itself rather than from an outside source.
Respondents’ top impetus for beginning assess-
ment activities (63 respondents or 91%) was the de-
sire to know more about their customers. Based on
responses to a question about their first assessment
activities, over half began with a survey, almost all
of which were user surveys.
It is clear from the survey results that respon-
dents use a wide variety of methods in their as-
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