Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why I Like Assessment


I know I've published a post about assessment and research in the past, but I've been thinking about it a lot lately so I wanted to share.

Before I get into why I like it, I want to share two of my pet peeves about assessment:
  • Assessing "because we have to." This can take a number of forms, but in my part of librarianship it mostly takes the shape of a looming threat from an accrediting body. Because of poor (or good?) timing on my part as I've moved from job to job, I've managed to be on the ground for three major reaccreditations and even more minor ones. Middle States twice and NEASC once. One thing I've learned from these experiences is that assessment must be for a purpose, and for a real purpose, not just because Mommy Middle States and Daddy NEASC are gonna spank you otherwise. Besides, they will notice if you assess but don't do anything with the data.
  • And that's my other pet peeve: assessing and not doing anything with it. Let me repeat: they will notice. This is how you actually piss off an accrediting agency - gather info but never do anything with it. You MUST close the loop, otherwise why are you gathering the data in the first place? (Other than the obvious things that everybody who gathers stats wants to know, like reference transactions and such. But that's a pet peeve for another day.)
Now onto the reasons I enjoy doing that word that so many pronounce as though it's an invective:
  • Assessment can help you improve. The whole point of libraries, in my mind, is public service. Say what you will about preservation of the scholarly record or the democratization of knowledge, because even those boil down to public service. Whether your "public" is a bunch of lawyers who need help identifying the relevant case law or a bunch of toddlers trying to learn their ABCs, librarians and libraries are in this to help - and looking at how we've done in the past can help us do it better in the future.
  • Assessment can help you prove the things you already know. We are doing a space use survey and will be doing a kindness audit in advance of reworking how we use the space in my library. I already *know* that we get filled to the brim with students since there are few spaces on campus where small groups can work and even fewer spaces allocated for quiet study, but in order to get permission from the powers that be to reapportion the space, I need to be able to prove the need. So... space use survey it is!
  • Assessment can be a marketing tool. I've talked before about marketing and it's once again germane to this conversation. We're in the process of evaluating a new database provider and I'm fairly set on switching to them from our current provider for a number of reasons (more complete coverage that will support departments that haven't before been supported, cost savings, better product, etc.). Rather than just dictate WE ARE CHANGING from on high, I've asked members of the community to look at the new database and to fill out a survey about what they like and dislike. I have been able, in some cases, to answer people's concerns directly. I'm even running a drawing for prizes like a $10 gift card to our bookstore as a way to get people to participate. Marketing is a conversation, and soliciting feedback is a fantastic way to get the conversation started.
So, how about you? Are you an assessment lover already? If so, why? If not, why the heck not (and did I maybe convince you to change your opinion)?


  1. I'm a rookie-year librarian, and because of reasons, the only librarian currently in my library. We should be getting a new library director over the summer, but I'm not waiting around for that to happen before getting proactive. I'm very much pro-assessment, but I confess that the "knowing where to start" part tends to freeze me up. We're also in the run-up to our own NEASC accreditation, and I know I want to get some data in the bag, but without much guidance or experience, I'm not certain what kinds of data I should focus on.

    1. Best advice I ever got on assessment: "start small so you are actually starting." What are some things you want to know about your library? Want to know what the heavy traffic times are? Do a head count. Want to know why people are coming to the library? Try putting a white board with a dry erase marker and write "Why are you in the library today?" Let me know if you need other suggestions? And good luck.

  2. Just echoing Jessica but ... pick one question you have, identify data that would help you answer, collect, analyze, answer question best you can, and then repeat. "Start small, but start!" is my mantra!