Collection assessment is an essential activity which is conducted periodically by libraries. However, techniques and strategies for that activity depend on the goal of that assessment. In general, the aim of collection assessment or evaluation is to determine the strengths of a collection and to identify areas needing improvement. What is more, it determines the level of users’ satisfaction; the suitability of the collection to programs, curricula or community’s activities; the collection’s physical condition and age; and especially the use of the collection. This paper discusses aspects relating to surveying the use of the collection which can be considered as a foundation for the library’s acquisition policy and strategy.
Structurally, this paper is divided into three parts. The first one discusses the goal of this survey. This is followed by the second one which studies the assessment techniques. The last part contains some recommendations relating to the survey.
1. Determining the goal and considerations.
Identifying the goal is always the first steps of an evaluation process. The collection evaluation itself can provide a board rage of information for the library’s collections development. However, the result of the evaluation can be more effective if the goal of the collection is stated focally and specifically. Kachel D. E. (1997, p. 14-17), when considering the collection assessment for school libraries, argues that three reasons which make the collection evaluation need to be conducted are: supporting the curriculum (or meeting the community’s needs or goals); making the best use of budgetary funds (or examining if the financial investment in purchasing materials is effective and suitable); and to help the library to understand cooperative collection development. The assessment of the use of the collection is one of the most important aspects which can be used for investigating the effectiveness of the library’s budgetary funds. This paper focuses on this approach of the collection evaluation.
In this sense, the overall objective of this evaluation should be: investigating the use of the collection in order to justify purchases to the library’s board. This objective then needs to be analyzed into specific questions involved with the use of the collection and pointing out accurate and appropriate directions in planning and conducting the assessment. Clearly, this affects information selected and methods and techniques which can be used in the assessment process.
However, before determining the specific questions for the survey, the librarians should review the collection development policy statements for the collection evaluated. According to Hall B. H (1985, p. 2), this is “important because the data obtained from collection measurement can only be interpreted in terms of the collection purposes”.
Based on that general goal, the library should consider aspects relating to the use of its collection as following:
The collection’s circulation
This can be seen as one of the most important parameters used for evaluating the use of the collection. The circulation frequency (the number of circulation) and quality (the number of successful circulation where the users’ needs are satisfied) show the effectiveness and efficiency of the collection. In other words, this is a representative of the interaction between the library’s collection and its clients. The more frequently the materials are circulated and users’ information queries are met, the more useful and effective the collection is. Money can only be invested in the collection which is used productively and effectively. It is also noted that the collection’s circulation depends on many aspects such as: the library’s technical supports, users’ information literacy and the users’ information behavior. Therefore, an objective view is required when evaluating the collection’s circulation.
The collection’s ability to satisfy the users’ information needs
While the circulation data refers to the quantitative approach of collection evaluation, the determination of users’ satisfaction is used for assessing the quality of the collection. Ultimately, the aim of the collection is to provide users with useful and suitable information exactly, timely and effectively. However, to assess the use of the collection, users’ feedback about their satisfaction of information resources and their opinions about parts of the collection which need to be improved and complemented immediately should be focused. In surveying information satisfaction, both qualitative and qualitative approaches must be ensured. That means users must be provided with suitable information resources adequately. This can be seen as a determinant of the library’s effectiveness as well as the library’s development. Therefore, it would be an essential foundation for the library’s board to decide the budgetary funds for the library’s collection development.
Coverage of the collection
According to the collection development policy, the coverage of the collection can be identified. This is the foundation for the library to examine if the collection is covered or constituted adequately. Any neglect or ignorance can lead to the fact that the user information needs are not satisfied. This is also reflected in the users’ enquiries which is not answered or met. Those problems, if occurring, should be solved timely in order to ensure that the goal of the library’s collection is achieved successfully. What is more, the collection’s integrity is guaranteed.
Techniques for collection assessment have been studied by many authors. Depending on the aim of the assessment and the features of the library, the evaluators can choose suitable techniques. Among those, collection-centered and user-centered techniques can be considered as appropriate ones for evaluating the use of collection. Using these techniques, the library can gain the quantitative and qualitative data about the use of the collection. In addition, this makes the assessment objective and comprehensive. However, Hall B. H. (1985, p.4) recommends that “the important caution to remember in selecting measuring techniques is to be certain that they are reliable and valid for producing the kinds of information required. When possible, try to use both collection collection-centered and client-centered methods that can provide a check against each other”
2.1. Collection-centered techniques
These techniques focus on direct examination of the collection’s content such as coverage, currency, and number of circulations. Kachel D. E. (1997, p. 20) suggests that the library should take following aspects into account:
– Number of copies or items and percentage of collection: this provides information about the availability and coverage of the collection. According this information, the library can understand its collection’s structure and have a plan to balance the collection suitably.
– Number of copies or items added per year and rate of growth. If used along with the data on the use effectiveness of the collection, this data is very important for the library to determine a suitable strategy of the collection development and budgetary funds use
– Age of materials: to evaluate the update of the collection. It is also a foundation to weed or deselect out-of-date or unnecessary materials.
– Circulation statistics: the call numbers of the materials which are required by clients and satisfy the users’ needs. Aspects such as: subject, format and scope of circulated materials should be calculated as well. The important thing which should be taken into account is that the assessment needs to combine both circulation counts from the library’s circulation units and in-house data identified by users’ use of some special information resources inside the library and not be able to be calculated such as serials, reference collections, reserved collections, and online databases.
– Items per patron, which can be measured by materials’ format (books, periodicals, CD, etc), subject, or format per subject. Although this data is general, it shows the level of availability of the collection and ability of the library to serve the community.
To gather information about that, the evaluators should use resources as following:
– Direct examination: direct approach to the collection is the best way to make an over view of the use of the collection, in terms of checking physical status of the collection; counting the items required; checking the “best-used” subject lists; and observing the circulation of materials in a specific period of time.
– Analyzing the annual usage reports: this data is useful for the library to make a comparison of the current use to the previous one(s). This data is very important because it helps the library to clarify and understand the progress of the collection development. According to that, the effectiveness of current budgetary funds can be assessed.
– Analyzing data on interlibrary loan and unsatisfied information enquires: this data contains records of patron requests for materials which are not satisfied by the library; and patron’s interlibrary loan requests. This can be used along with internal circulation data and others in order to make an overall assessment of the use of the collection. Hall B. H. (1985, p. 13) indicates three activities that should be done when evaluating a subject collection by that kind of data as following:
1. Categorize these records by subject and date.
2. Count the request for desired time periods.
3. Total all the requests.
2.2. Client-Centered Techniques
Client-centered techniques focus on how the users use the content of the collection. In this sense, information about the collection’s usage; interlibrary loan requests; and users’ satisfaction is considered.
These techniques should be taken into account because the use of the collection depends on both users’ subjective and library’s conditions. The effectiveness of the users’ use may not be like users expect because of limitations of their information literacy or perception of the information resources and services. The assessment must collect information about the clientele in order to have a comprehensive evaluation of the use of the collection. As Hall B. H. (1985, p. 28) asserts that “only by measuring the actual and perceived use can the utility of a collection development program to present and future patron be determined”. As a result, a user survey should be conducted in order to identify the users’ needs and satisfaction; and measure the library’s success in meeting its users’ information needs. What is more, the library needs to evaluate the collection’s readiness and availability in satisfying the client’s enquiries. Specifically, following information should be retrieved:
– Measuring percent of relative use (Kachel, 1997, p. 30): This variable is used for evaluated the interrelation between the use of the collection and its ratio in the collection. That means it shows the current status of materials and the collection’s possibility of providing such materials or groups of corresponding titles. Kachel also indicates a formula used for working out that ratio:
(Percentage of circulation for the collection) / (Percentage of the collection it represents) x 100
In there, the expected use of a particular subject is 100 percent. The higher this ratio is, the heavier the use of corresponding areas of circulation is. According to this data, the library’s board can determine areas of materials which need to be invested more as well as those which should be reduced.
– Investigating the satisfaction of the users (user survey). This technique is very suitable to evaluating the use of the collection. This is because it helps the library to obtain users’ feedback of “their needs for various types of materials and services; their perception of how well the library is meeting their needs; and their idea on how the library can improve its collection, service and policies” (Hall B. E., 1985, p. 28). Covey D. T. (2002, P. 8) explains assessed elements more specifically as following:
• Patterns, frequency, ease, and success of use
• User needs, expectations, perspectives, priorities, and preferences for library collections, services, and systems
• User satisfaction with vendor products, library collections, services, staff, and Web sites
• Service quality
• Shifts in user attitude and opinion
• Relevance of collections or services to the curriculum
Obviously, the general aim of the user survey is to work out the ability of the collection to meet the users’ enquires. This is another essential variable for the library managers to determine the purchases for the collection.
The core of the user survey is the development of questionnaires. Suitable questions can be created by analyzing the corresponding objectives of the assessment. What is more, objectives help the librarians to determine the information gathering methods, timeframe, community or client groups asked, and the types of questions used in survey.
However, it would be subjective if user survey is used dominantly. This is because there are many elements affecting the users’ responses; and, to a certain extent, the users’ feedback itself is subjective. To evaluate the use of the collection comprehensively and objectively, user data should be combined with collection data. What is more, Covey D. T. (2002, p. 15) recommend the library to work with focus groups. This is actually a discussion between the evaluators and a group of seven to ten users, which is used for clarifying the users’ feedback or doing a deep research on user satisfaction. That means the library and its client have chances to understand each other more. Covey D. T. (2002, p. 15) also indicates that “The purpose of a focus group is to test hypotheses; reveal what beliefs the group holds about a particular product, service, or opportunity and why; or to uncover detailed information about complex issues or behaviors from the group’s perspective” and “Focus groups are an effective and relatively easy way to gather insight into complex behavior and experience from the participants’ perspective”.
The result of assessment of the use of the collection is more comprehensive and convincing if the data of the library’s outcomes is also studied. While the use assessment provides the information and statistics about the collection and users, outcomes study focuses on the effectiveness of the collection. Covey D. T (2002, p. 89) argues that “outcomes assessments can indicate how well user needs are being met, the quality of library collections and services, the benefits or effectiveness of library expenditures, or whether the library is accomplishing its mission.”. This is not purely an information satisfaction of user, outcomes represent information about what users get and achieve when using the collection. Convey D. T. also recommends following aspects:
– Learning and Research Outcomes
– Service Quality and User Satisfaction
– Cost-Effectiveness and Cost Benefits
It can be easily seen that users are always put in the center of the assessment. Therefore, it would be useful and suitable if the library can create and update frequently its user profile which may contains information about the users’ information needs and behavior. What is more, to make the collection receive the use heavily, user education programs and a suitable marketing strategy for the library services should be taken into account. This is because when the users are provided with information literacy and knowledge of the collection, they can use the collection more frequently and efficiently. Therefore, the library’s investment is more effective.
In conclusion, survey the use of the collection is a complex task which requires many different information flows and assessment techniques. Depending on the library’s status and features, assessment techniques and information should be applied and used flexibly and suitably. The money can be continuingly invested in the collection which is used effectively and benefit the library’s users.
Huy Nghiem (2005)
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