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An assessment model that is also a process...
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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 17 February 2017


See also COUNTER (Counting Online Usage of Networked Electronic Resources) | Information literacy | Library workshop evaluation | Research Portal for Academic Librarians | Social media evaluation

"...for a scholarship of assessment to thrive, we must align faculty culture, institutional structures, and leadership for change. The importance of this point cannot be overstated. A meaningful assessment program is more than just a new activity to be undertaken, it is a change in how we think about what we do in higher education..." — Haviland, 2009

Academic librarians have engaged in library assessment for years but have traditionally focused on collections, reference services and instructional activities not to mention acquisitions and cataloguing. In part, the range of these library-related activities is assessed by numbers, statistics and budgets and scarce resources are consequently carefully allocated to projects that are innovative or new that depart from them. And so it should be. Historically, the idea of assessing the vast collections in libraries goes back to Ivy League libraries of the early 20th century. Some of these libraries formed the nucleus of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) in 1932. After ARL took over the job of gathering statistics on behalf of its 123 members in the United States and Canada (in the 1960s), assessment practices witnessed a large upswing in the 1970s (ARL, 2010) to the 1990s. Over time, assessment practices have taken hold, and are now a critical part of what we do as academic libraries, and professional librarians. Assessment, in 2015, continues to focus on inputs and outputs for comparative statistics. Changes to academic libraries coupled with new ways of benchmarking and systematic reviewing of services (including the rise of evidence-based librarianship) have forced some major changes in the way that library assessment takes place across academia, and its related constituencies. One notable and obvious trend is the hiring of specialized assessment librarians who work on library assessment in a full-time capacity. Library assessment (especially bona fide programs such as StatsQUAL® and LibQUAL+®) provide further impetus to work on these data. The academic focus on research has further made it necessary for librarians to pose new questions arising in service provision and to develop expertise around assessment.

Assessment of information literacy

Academic librarians add value to the teaching and learning missions of their institutions though information literacy programs. To demonstrate the full impact of librarians on students in higher education, librarians need comprehensive information literacy assessment plans, composed of instructional program and outcome-level components that summarize the purpose of assessment. Moreover, the purpose of assessment must also be grounded theoretically with specific goals and outcomes as well as major assessment methods and tools that will be used to capture evidence of learning.

Generally, the goal of librarian-led teaching is to teach the skills of information literacy (IL). Digital literacies (sometimes called transliteracies) are related to information technologies and web trends such as web 2.0 and are defined as "the intellectual framework for understanding, finding, evaluating, and using information". The types of instruction employed by academic librarians include lectures and presentations, hands-on workshops, and discussion-based activities around finding and evaluating information. Instruction may include group instruction in e-classrooms and web tutorials. From its inception, IL has been a part of assessment of library programs (Bober et al, 1995) and most survey instruments have been created to assess their impact and value. The early instruments yielded results of dubious reliability and efforts to address their shortcomings led to the development of several assessment tools such as Project Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy (SAILS), iSkills, James Madison University’s (JMU) Information Literacy Test and the South Dakota Regental Information Literacy Exam (SDILES). Those data gathering and analysis tools are based on the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (ACRL, 2000).

Assessment activities are related to some of the broader research and scholarly work of academic librarians. For more information, see library workshop evaluation.

Canadian context 800px-Flag of Canada.svg.png

The CACUL Task Force on Standards for Libraries in Higher Education has developed a toolbox in order to assist academic librarians in locating standards that can be used in assessment. Also, WASSAIL a project out of the University of Alberta, recently was awarded the ACRL Innovation Award for their work on Information Literacy Assessment. In 2012, Libraries and Archives Canada ceased to be a member of the Association of Research Libraries.

Providing online access to library collections beyond regular opening hours is a challenge due to technical issues but also due to the costs that are associated with licensing and networking of resources. The literature increasingly mentions the importance of teaching library users how to use e-resources which is, in part, why health librarians see requests for their teaching increase considerably after the acquisition of e-content. Different resources, platforms and access methods are all potential technical areas that can confound users. LibQUAL is a standard technique for assessing the quality of libraries according to users' satisfaction. Physical spaces, information control and staffing are three critical areas. In several quality assessment studies, students mention that they are not as concerned about collections as they are about the physical surroundings of their libraries and the creation of social spaces.

Assessment-related blogs & websites

eBook metrics

  • The Association of Research Libraries New Measures Initiative was set up to deal with the demand for libraries to demonstrate outcomes/impacts in areas important to the institution; of particular interest are electronic metrics which is an effort to explore the feasibility of defining and collecting data on the use and value of electronic resources
  • an international initiative serving librarians, publishers and intermediaries by setting standards that facilitate the recording and reporting of online usage statistics in a consistent, credible and compatible way
  • NISO is the National Information Standards Organization of the United States. COUNTER has worked with NISO on SUSHI (Standardized Usage Harvesting Initiative) for a protocol to facilitate automated harvesting of usage statistics from vendors; it can be found on the NISO/SUSHI website


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