By assessing your collection you can find out which areas are well covered, where gaps exist, and how well it provides for the needs of your students.
Why assess your library collection
Benefits for your learners
How often to assess your library collection
Preparation for collection assessment
Assessing your collection can provide evidence of:
- topic coverage – how well your collection supports the school’s curriculum and the range of topics your teachers will be focusing on for student inquiry or research in any given year
- genre / format coverage – how well your collection provides a broad reading experience
- reading levels catered for – how well your collection supports and extends your readers in fiction, non-fiction and e-resources
- resource use by teachers and students – how much your collection is borrowed or, in the case of digital items, how often they are accessed
- the value your learners get from the investment in a quality library collection.
Regular assessment of school library resources will help you target your funding and selection. This is vital if you want a balanced, inclusive and relevant collection that supports your school curriculum and students' interests.
A great collection will:
- reflect strong partnerships between library and teaching staff, and support your school's teaching and learning programmes, including new curriculum developments
- reflect increasing availability of digital resources and changing ICTs
- take advantage of new approaches to buying and accessing resources
- respond to the needs of teachers, individual students and identified groups of students within the school, to cater for cultural and ethnic diversity, ability levels, and special needs.
The School Community profile provides a template to help you identify the characteristics and needs of your community.
Assessment, like weeding, is most manageable when you undertake it as an ongoing process. Focus on specific sections of the collection as needed, remembering to include online and print resources. Depending on the size of your collection, with careful planning you’ll find you’re likely to achieve assessment of the entire collection over 3-5 years.
If the collection has not been assessed at all in the last 5 years, then you'll have some important decisions to make in consultation with your school leaders. A full collection assessment can provide you with a baseline for further collection planning. However, this may not be viable, especially in a large school with a sizeable collection.
If you choose to assess specific priority areas (for example, science resources or picture books), it’s important to discuss this with syndicate leaders (primary) or Heads of Department or specialist subject teachers (secondary). They may want to work with you to evaluate the existing resources, especially in secondary specialist subject areas. This enables everyone involved to become familiar with the range of resources in the library – whether it’s been assessed on an ongoing basis or not. Ask for their priorities for topics and look at the school’s curriculum plan or departmental plan for broad topics being taught. By working closely with teachers you’ll ensure that you're all aware of the priority gaps. You'll then focus the budget on these, so that the library can provide better support for your school's teaching and learning programmes.
Review and revise your School community profile. Find out from teaching staff the current range of students’ reading levels.
You can generate reports from your library management system to give you valuable data about:
- levels of use
- the age and number of resources in whatever section you decide to focus on.
Surveying teachers and students is another way to find out how well your resources match their needs. Survey responses can help identify gaps in topic coverage, authors, series or genres.
Arrange for resources from the section you're planning to assess to be returned to the library. Make sure shelving is accurate, and integrate any displays into the collection if they're from that subject area.
Before embarking on any assessment, it’s important to remove any old, outdated and worn out items in the prioritised section/s. This makes the standard of what remains and the gaps in coverage more obvious. Weeding can take the form of a practical workshop, involving your teaching staff, or a one-on-one with a subject specialist. Teachers often find resources they didn’t realise the library held as they handle each book during the weeding process. The conversations which take place during weeding can also lead onto planning for the assessment of priority sections and into developing a collection requirements plan.
Any weeded items should be deleted from your library catalogue, unless you're planning to buy replacements.
These processes apply to all online and print non-fiction in your collection including reference and magazines, any graphic non-fiction and your main non-fiction sequence.
As you evaluate a specific section of your non-fiction, whether accompanied by teachers who have in-depth knowledge of the topic or not, you'll be assessing the coverage of the topic in light of teaching and learning needs and levels, as outlined earlier. To record your findings, one way is to use a simple chart that allows you to note what your library already holds, whether it's at the right level for the students, and what might still be needed (or whether there's a complete gap). Another is to use the Collection requirements plan template - although that's really designed as a tool for recording your needs after you've assessed them, and have discussed with teachers whether their students need more online or print resources for that topic. Whether you use a pen-and-paper approach, or set it up on a laptop, is over to you.
Your student librarians may prove helpful in assessing any high interest non-fiction bought to support leisure reading rather than curriculum topics.
Fiction assessment calls for a student-centred approach, drawing on the library team’s knowledge of student reading interests and of the range of relevant fiction available. You'll also need to incorporate teacher knowledge of student reading levels and curriculum reading requirements (especially at NCEA level).
These processes apply to all online and print fiction in your collection from picture books to chapter books, graphic novels to senior fiction.
To prepare for assessing your fiction:
- Use the Reports function of your library management system to list fiction titles published over 8 years ago. Check their circulation statistics. If items haven’t been borrowed much in the last 3-5 years, try various ways of promoting them. If they still aren’t read or consulted, weed them.
- Check items in your fiction collection are at an appropriate range of difficulty for your students to read, ensuring your collection supports student reading levels and interests you've already investigated. Find out what the current fiction trends and growth areas are – your student librarians may be able to suggest titles, authors and genres that are popular.
- Decide, in consultation with your teaching staff, which areas of the fiction to focus on. Invite teachers to assess sections of the fiction collection with you.
- As with the non-fiction, note your findings as you go, using a simple form. Later you can collate your assessment results into the Collection requirements plan, as you plan your library expenditure.
Once you’ve completed the assessment of a section you can:
- add the priority areas that need attention as well as suggestions from teachers and students, into your Collection requirements plan. This will then feed in to your budget proposal.
- list any worn-out titles that you'll try to replace, or popular titles where heavy demand would justify ordering extra copies.
- find out whether online resources (including curated content) would be more appropriate for a given topic, especially in subject areas where knowledge is changing fast.
Image: School library display at Ohaeawai School in Northland, by Jo Buchan