This guide takes you through the purpose and processes involved in formally assessing your school library collection.
Defining collection assessment
Benefits of collection assessment
Different types of collection assessment
Preparation for collection assessment – key decisions
Processes for collection assessment – non-fiction
Processes for collection assessment – fiction
Collection assessment is an organised and ongoing process that uses a variety of methods to determine the strengths of a collection and to identify areas needing improvement. It is best performed in conjunction with weeding to allow easy identification of gaps.
The process determines how well the collection satisfies the needs of the users, its relationship to the New Zealand curriculum and to your school curriculum, its use and age and, in the case of physical items, its condition.
It presents a snapshot of your existing collection and provides a means to compare what is to what ought to be for your library. The information gathered will assist you to document your resource needs when writing your collection requirements plan and your budget proposal.
Regular assessment of school library resources will enable you to target funding and selection to achieve a balanced, inclusive and relevant collection which supports your school curriculum and student interests.
Such a collection will:
- reflect new curriculum developments
- reflect increasing availability of digital resources and changing ICTs
- take advantage of new approaches to purchasing and accessing resources
- respond to the needs of both identifiable groups of students with the school (e.g. cultural and ethnic diversity, ability levels, special needs within the school community) and individual students
Refer to the School Community profile for a template which will help you identify the characteristics and needs of your community.
A qualitative assessment of the collection enables the library team to evaluate topic and reading level coverage and to identify collection gaps. It enables you to take a close look at how resources are used by staff and students, and it provides the information required to prioritise ongoing resource needs.
A quantitative assessment involves counting numbers of resources and establishing the median age of your collection. This method may be useful for highlighting an outdated non-fiction section or to support a request for increased funding, but it is very time consuming and should not be undertaken before seeking advice from a school library adviser (0800 542 5463 / 0800 LIB LINE).
Teacher and student surveys or questionnaires are another way to obtain information about suitability of resources, and help set purchase and selection priorities.
Will I assess the whole collection or part of it?
If the collection has not been weeded and assessed in the last three to four years, then a full collection weed and assessment can provide a baseline from which further collection planning can proceed. Assessing the whole collection, digital, audio-visual and print, enables you to become familiar with all the resources and to develop a collection requirements plan which focuses on a holistic approach to collection development.
If the collection has been assessed and weeded more recently or on an ongoing basis, then the library team may choose to focus on specific areas. Assessing part of the collection (for example science resources) enables the assessment task to be spread over a period of time and allows your team to focus on priority areas such as new curriculum topics or special programmes.
How often do I need to assess my collection?
Consider doing a full weed and assessment of your collection once every three to four years. Otherwise, like weeding, assessment should be an ongoing process, focusing on specific sections of the collection as needed, remembering to include digital, audio-visual and print resources.
What should I do before starting?
- Decide which areas of the collection to focus on
- Arrange for relevant resources to be returned to the library
- Ensure shelving is accurate and integrate any displays into the collection
- Prepare relevant assessment tools - see collection assessment templates
- Review and revise the School Community profile
Process for primary and intermediate schools
- Library staff decide which sections of the collection will be assessed in any one year, and develop an assessment timetable to ensure that all sections are covered over a set period, for example three to five years
- Library team decide who will be involved in the assessment – librarian, library team members, teaching staff, any subject specialists
- Library team agree on a date for the assessment
- Ensure that members of the assessment team are aware of:
- the range of resources required to respond to the needs identified in the School Community profile
- the role and purpose of the non-fiction collection in their school, through discussion with senior management and with reference to the collection guiding statement
- Library team undertake the assessment using the assessment template (DOC) for primary and intermediate schools
- This process will then enable the library team to list areas needing updating or further resourcing (gap analysis)
- Library team take this list to staff and outline a procedure for identifying and prioritising areas for development.
- Library team incorporate this list of priorities, along with suggestions from staff and students, into the collection requirements plan
Process for secondary schools
- Library staff familiarise themselves with the role and purpose of the non-fiction collection in their school – through discussion with senior management and reference to the school’s collection guiding statement
- Library staff decide which sections of the collection will be assessed in any one year, and develop an assessment timetable to ensure that all sections are covered over a set period, for example three years
- Library staff invite relevant curriculum departments to assist in the process
- Library and departmental staff set a time to carry out the assessment
- Library staff provide each group with a list of Dewey areas to be assessed
- Library and departmental staff assess the relevant section/s of the collection. The desired outcome of this process is that items no longer relevant or appropriate to their current teaching programme are weeded, and suggestions are made for new purchases (topics or titles) that better support the current teaching programme (Invite your Heads of Department to prioritise this list of suggestions).
- Library staff will incorporate departmental priorities into the collection requirements plan, along with suggestions from students
- Library staff will regularly assess those sections of the library that are not included in the timetable for assessment by curriculum departments
- Involving student librarians in the assessment process will ensure that student views are taken into account
These processes should be applied to all print, audio-visual and digital fiction resources including:
- Graphic novels
- Short stories
- Picture books
- Sophisticated picture books
Fiction assessment calls for a client-centred approach. In order to carry out an assessment the library team may use a mixture of strategies to reach an understanding of what is needed as part of the fiction collection for their particular school.
Library teams may:
- request school-held data relating to reading levels so that they can build a profile of the school reading community. Does the fiction collection reflect this data and profile? Where are the current growth areas?
- consult with the English Department (in secondary schools) about requirements for NCEA wide reading
- use staff and student satisfaction surveys to identify gaps in terms of authors, series or genre. This website has examples of student interest surveys or utilise an online survey tool such as Survey Monkey to gather information relating to the match between the interest and ability levels of students and the resources available
- obtain circulation statistics from the library management system. This data can be helpful in that it can measure use. However it will not account for in-house use of materials, or explain why in-house users fail to take the next step of borrowing the item
- check up-to-date lists, bibliographies and catalogues, for example:
- recent award-winners
- recent New Zealand publications
- ‘Too good to miss' titles
- Publications by recognised children’s authors
- Retailers' ‘Top 50’ lists
This method is often recommended in the literature, but comes with a caveat. Each item selected in this way needs to fit the role and purpose of the fiction collection in the school and to meet the needs of staff and students.
- consult with staff, resource retailers and public library staff to identify popular titles and authors
- carry out a visual inspection – allows identification of high-demand or worn titles (for duplication or replacement)
Once the team has identified needs, they are then able to check these against the current collection and list the priorities for development.