Trends, Achievements, and Perspectives
It is February 2016. Snow drifts on the sidewalk; darkness deepens before 6:00 PM and the cross country ski trails are in excellent condition.
The past few months were full of rewarding activities and interactions. The English faculty have informed me that our collaboration to integrate information literacy into the curriculum has been a success. With that achievement, I no longer instruct information literacy sessions in that subject area, but I do continue to develop online learning objects, subject guides, and some print support documents for the English literature faculty. My professional development activities focused on courses to fulfill the requirements for a Certificate in Library Instruction. Other online courses on leadership development, communication skills, cultural competency, and indigenizing curriculum kept me busy and engaged. I staff the reference desk five times per week for 4 hour blocks, leaving 3 1/2 hours each day available for student support. From September to December I provided 186 in-person, specialized reference and research consultations (an increase from 58 during the same period in 2014).
In April 2015, I was tasked with a project to assess the print collection at our college library. After much determination and long hours, I completed the assessment in three months, producing dozens of Excel worksheets and graphic representations.
Assessing the print collection is a major project. At larger academic libraries this task is performed by a committee of librarians.
Library colleagues informed me that a collection assessment had never been undertaken within their collective memory, suggesting that it had been more than 25 years.
Collection development is “the decision-making process by which libraries seek to accumulate and disseminate useful resources over time” (Albitz, Zabel, Avery, 2010, p. 13). Collection development practices vary between academic institutions and have evolved considerably in the last 5 – 10 years. Methods and policies used in the evaluation and management of library collections in the 1990’s and 2000’s are no longer relevant nor valid for collections in 2015 and beyond. During those years, academic library collection analysis was grounded in the idea of the collection’s quality; however, in current collection analysis practices, the “real objective is to measure the collection’s utility”; specifically, how effective is the collection in satisfying the information needs of the college community, curriculum, subject areas, research, and courses (Johnson, 2013, p. 297). Measurement of usage alone does not provide a clear picture of the academic value of the collection for the entire community of users.
Collection assessment and collection evaluation, while often used interchangeable, are quite distinctively different. Assessment aims to “determine how well the collection support the goals, needs and mission of the library” or college, and is assessed in the local context ((Johnson, 2013, p. 298). Evaluation aims to examine or describe collections either in their own terms or in relation to other collections and checking mechanisms, such as lists, rather than considering its use and users.
Libraries assessing a collection aim to consider its use and its impact (Johnson, 2013, p. 2). Though the aim of the library is to create a robust collection that supports research and the instructional needs of the campus, any activities to fulfil that intent are moot if the library does not know details of that need, does not understand the “relationship between library resources and the fulfillment of acknowledged needs” (Albitz, Zabel, & Avery, 2014, p. 16).
Assessing the collection can be a large undertaking and one which I take seriously. During my tenure as academic library branch manager, I assessed and weeded a small 17,000+/- item collection. During that process I learned that usage data was not a valid measurement. Checking lists of collections held by other similar libraries is useful. Scanning the shelves looking for gaps can be useful. However, truly understanding the teaching curriculum, course requirements, scope of topic/subject, student information behaviour practices, and faculty expectations provides the opportunity to critically assess a collection holistically and realistically.
I had some uncertainty and many questions at the outset of this particular project. What data is needed? What are the important criteria? From whom would I seek data? From the data collected, I learned that the physical print collection held approximately 32,000 items. That total does not include materials for the Adult Basic Education programs nor journals and magazines. Connecting with members of my community of practice proved most beneficial. Many of those colleagues are experienced collection development librarians with recent collection assessment and evaluation projects completed.
To complete the assessment, I formulated several steps that helped to frame the process.
Step ONE (April, 2015)
I found Suzanne Ward’s work “Rightsizing the Academic Library Collection” extremely useful as I set parameters and goals for this assessment.
Step TWO (May 2015)
Step THREE (May 2015)
Our college is very small and I needed only to ask for help from the Junior Technician responsible for cataloguing to access to the modules with the data I needed. They easily pulled the necessary data and answered any questions I had about some of the cataloging practices and usage records.
Step FOUR (June 2015)
Step FIVE (July 2015)
To ensure a report is aligned with professional standards and provides actionable items, I requested feedback and input from the library manager and other colleagues initially in June and July 2015 and again in November and December 2015. Collaboration and consultation are core workplace attitudes and processes to which I adhere. Without feedback from others, I believe the report lacking.
This collection assessment project is at Step Five awaiting input, direction, and feedback from the library manager. In the five months since the completion of the assessment, I have continued to research best practices and trends while reviewing professional literature.
These seven steps, while rudimentary and sparse, provide a flexible framework for assessing the print collection. There is much to learn of both my own abilities and understanding and of the information needs of this teaching and learning environment.
Albitz, B., Zabel, D., & Avery, C. (2014). Rethinking collection development and management. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited. Retrieved from eBook Collection.
Bushing, M., Davis, B., & Powell, N. (1997). Using the conspectus method: A collection assessment handbook. Lacey; WA: OCLC
Disher, W. (2014). Crash course in collection development. Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited. Retrieved from eBook Collection.
Gregory, V. L. (2011). Collection development and management for 21st century library collections: An introduction. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. (2001). Guidelines for a collection development policy using the Conspectus Model. Retrieved from http://www.ifla.org/files/assets/acquisition-collection-development/publications/gcdp-en.pdf
Johnson, P. (2013). Is Weeding an Unnatural Act? Technicalities, 33(5), 2-4.
Singer, C. (2012). Fundamentals of managing reference collections. Chicago, IL.: American Library Association.
Ward, Suzanne M. Rightsizing the Academic Library Collection. Chicago: ALA Editions, an imprint of the American Library Association, 2015.