Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Library Assessment

This posting is thanks to the great session on library assessment at a recent CATLA Conference led by Robert Roethemeyer from Concordia Theological Seminary.

Over the past decade or so, theological schools have been adapting from an assessment process that tended to be quantitative to a process that is now more qualitative -- outcomes-based assessment that demonstrates how an institution is living up to both local institutional mission statements as well as national standards. As Mr. Roethemeyer pointed out in his presentation, most of the library statistics that we gather and report each year are focused only on quantitative measurements. Our door counts, circulation counts, and budget counts all tell what we did during the past year; they do not really tell how well we did our work.

One of the things that I learned at the CATLA conference was that in September 2006, the Association of Theological Schools published section 9 of their Handbook of Accreditation, Guidelines for Evaluating Library and Information Resources. These guidelines include a long list of questions to assist in qualitative library assessment. For example:
  • Does the institution have a written plan with criteria for information resources, information technology, and policies for information management?

  • How are software, hardware, and network resources evaluated and regularly upgraded in response to emerging technology?

  • How does the library integrate print collections, access to electronic information, and other resources to foster information literacy? Are there adequate policies to guide this integration?

  • How are librarians and information specialists directly involved in shaping the use of resources and in fostering the informational literacy of students and faculty? How are they involved in long-range curricular and institutional planning?
Questions that are easy to ask, but harder to answer. I left the CATLA conference reminded of two things that I have known but still do not always heed:

1) The library collection development policy remains a critical institutional document to assist with answering many of these questions. "Collection development policy", though, seems too limited in scope to address all the issues being raised today. I really need a "Library Service Plan" or an "Overall Informational Resources Master Plan for Getting Everybody the Information That They Need When They Need It". (Yes, I have applied for a trademark for that last one.)

2) Statistics have to be accompanied by narrative information. Library statistics alone will not demonstrate competence in providing library services. Part of my job as library director is to think about and record that narrative--no one else is tasked with the responsibility of focusing on these questions.

Like New Year's resolutions to lose weight or to refrain from frowning when singing praise choruses at church, I cannot promise that I will always heed these two items. But I thank Robert Roethemeyer and CATLA for keeping me mindful of them.

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