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Megan Oakleaf

Agreement Description

Library assessment is not an optional activity; assessment is a librarian’s professional obligation. Assessment enables librarians to articulate member needs and organizational goals and allows them to know whether both are met effectively and efficiently. Librarians who assess also maximize opportunities to demonstrate library value and impact to their stakeholders—and they are ready with evidence to bolster requests for additional resources as needed.

Assessment, like many library activities, is not a single event. Rather, it is an ongoing cyclical process. The process begins with the identification of goals or expected outcomes of a library service or collection. Historically, librarians have focused on “input” or “output” measures, such as the number of books circulated, the cost of databases per use, or the percentage of students receiving information literacy instruction. While critical for managing library services, collections, and other activities, such measures do not provide librarians with the information they need to assess library impact. In contrast, outcome measures reveal information about library value in many forms, such as the effect of circulated resume books on job seeker success, the role of medical journal articles in patient care, or the increased ability of students to select and use credible information resources. Librarians seeking to investigate outcomes, rather than input and output measures, should consider writing goals in the language of educational objectives: “The member will be able to + ACTION VERB PHRASE.”

The member will be able to articulate the impact of library resources on his or her job search.

The member will be able to identify journal articles relevant to diagnosis of patient health issues.

The member will be able to locate credible online information.

The member will be able to engage in face-to-face conversations about new fiction publications.

The member will be able to contribute new information to online discussion forums.

Taking the time to craft explicit outcomes enables librarians to articulate the value they provide to their members. Once librarians have clearly stated their outcomes, they enact the services, collections, or other activities that are necessary to achieve them.

In the next step of the assessment process, librarians collect, interpret, and analyze evidence to ascertain whether their activities are achieving the intended outcomes. Evidence collection can take many forms, and most of them involve members in an assessment “conversation” either directly or indirectly. For example, surveys, interviews, and focus groups allow members to self-report how they have felt the impact of the library. Artifact analysis is another method for collecting evidence; librarians can observe or evaluate member-created documents, such as blog posts, multimedia presentations, or bibliographies to determine the ways in which the library facilitates information use and knowledge creation.

Finally, librarians use evidence analysis to make decisions and take actions to achieve the main purpose of assessment—to increase library impact on members. In this step, sometimes called the “closing the loop” stage, librarians use assessment evidence to improve library activities and increase library value. In addition, librarians can use assessment evidence to “tell the story” of the library to stakeholders, either to celebrate successes or leverage problem areas to gain additional resources.

With so much benefit to be gained from assessment, why do some librarians avoid it? Librarians commonly cite these barriers: lack of time or resources, lack of a coordinated structure, lack of experience or knowledge of assessment processes, and fear of negative results. Although challenging, these assessment barriers are not insurmountable. They can be addressed using a few key strategies: prioritize, coordinate, educate, and communicate. Librarians who are short on time or resources for assessment must prioritize. What is important must be accomplished. Thus, if librarians acknowledge the importance of assessment, then they must minimize, reassign, or eliminate another work duty or resource cost. Fortunately, assessment often reveals which library activities are most valuable and which may be terminated without a significant decrease in library impact. Librarians who need supportive structures can coordinate with others who engage in assessment within the library, in other areas of their overarching institution, or in a professional association. If know-how or experience is a barrier, librarians should educate themselves by identifying professional development opportunities focused on assessment, participating in assessment communities online, or seeking out seminal readings on the topic. Finally, communication is the best way to address librarians who fear negative results. Librarians who conduct assessment must communicate with their colleagues and stakeholders clearly—not only about how assessment results will or will not be used but also about what information will be shared beyond library walls.

Armed with these strategies and the steps of the assessment cycle, librarians are well prepared to engage members in library assessment and use the results to continuously improve library services, collections, and other activities. This is the professional obligation of all librarians—to increase library value.

Conversation Starters

  1. What outcomes do our libraries seek to achieve? Are we being ambitious enough?
  2. What tools will enable us to know whether we have achieved our outcomes? Do they actively involve members in the process?
  3. What does achievement of our outcomes look like? What does a member who has been impacted by our library look like?
  4. What will we do if we find out we have not yet achieved our outcomes? What do our next steps look like?
  5. How do we articulate library value to members?

Related Artifacts

ALA Connect. (2010). Assessment and evaluation. Retrieved January 25, 2010, from

American Library Association. (2010). Selected outcomes assessment resources. Retrieved January 25, 2010, from

Association of Research Libraries. (2010). Library assessment conference. Retrieved January 25, 2010, from

Association of Research Libraries. (2010). Statistics and assessment. Retrieved January 25, 2010, from

Harada, V. H. (2005). Working smarter: Being strategic about assessment and accountability. Teacher Librarian, 33(1), 8–15.

Horowitz, L. (2009). Assessing library services: A practical guide for the nonexpert. Library Leadership Management, 23(4), 193.

Kyrillidou, M. (2010). Library assessment blog. Retrieved January 25, 2009, from

Maki, P. L. (2004). Assessing for learning: Building a sustainable commitment across the institution. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Oakleaf, M. (2009). The information literacy instruction assessment cycle: A guide for increasing student learning and improving librarian instructional skills. Journal of Documentation, 65(4).

Oakleaf, M., & Kaske, N. (2009). Guiding questions for assessing information literacy in higher education. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 9(2), 273–286.

Rubin, R. J. (2005). Demonstrating results: Using outcome measurement in your library. Chicago: ALA Editions.