Library Assessment from an Acquisitions Perspective
Assessment has become a major theme at our library and at libraries across the United States. At UNC the library's User Feedback & Assessment Committee has done a great deal of outreach to other library committees and departments of the library to emphasize the importance of assessment, collect data related to assessment and to assist with and participate in projects that are designated as assessment projects.
This month department heads at my library are being asked to complete an “Assessment Questionnaire.” Given a definition of assessment as as “the process of gathering and using evidence to identify needs, make improvements and demonstrate value,” the questionnaire instructs us to “think expansively” as we consider in what assessment projects we are engaged or what projects we'd like to undertake. What does assessment look like in the Monographic Services Department?
From March through May of this year, we conducted a textbook assessment project. As a pilot project, we ceased pre-order bibliographic searching on firm order requests submitted to our department that began as title notifications from our European vendors. We knew that this would save us staff time, but we wanted to know whether we would greatly increase the number of unwanted second copies of books by not searching. We suspected that suspending bibliographic searching of European vendor forms would not greatly increase our duplicates, because we have carefully crafted the notification and approval plan profiles with our three European vendors so as to minimize overlap among them, as well as with our major U.S. vendor; and each of these vendors integrates firm orders, approval plans and standing orders and offers duplication control. In other words, we did not expect to receive a notification of the same title from multiple sources very often. In the cases in which we expect to receive duplicate notification slips—for example, multi-language collections from publishers with offices in two countries—we have already adjusted our automatic shipment approval profiles and notification profiles to make sure that we are not routinely trying to acquire the same book from multiple sources.
To track unintentional duplicates, receiving staff in Monographic Services entered an internal note in order records in our ILS for and upon receiving an unwanted second copy of each book that came in as an unintentional duplicate, “UI DUP.” At the end of the study, the assistant department head, who is also the approval plan coordinator, ran statistical reports against "UI DUP" records, evaluated the rate of unwanted duplication and looked for patterns that lead to unwanted duplication. He determined that the number of duplicates we got unintentionally was small and did not justify the effort it would have taken staff to prevent unwanted duplication with bibliographic searching. He then consulted with the coordinator for general collections and they jointly made the recommendation not to continue with pre-order bibliographic searching.
While that is a clear example of assessment within the department, other examples of assessment are based less on such explicit data. For example, deciding on a new organization of our department was itself an assessment project: the evidence we “gathered” and the needs we identified included reduced staffing of the department and changing methods of acquisition for library resources; we made improvements by reassigning and cross-training staff to address urgent or high-volume work; we demonstrate our value by acquiring research resources effectively and efficiently and by helping the library expend its allocated budgets in the time allotted.
Outside of Monographic Services, other assessment projects in the library may involve surveying our community about their use of or satisfaction with services that the library offers and inform the library's decisions related to committing resources to services. As a member of the library's Ebooks [sic—I spell it “e-books”] Working Group and co-chair of the library's Diversity Committee, I have been involved with surveys of our patrons and fellow staff, respectively, whose results will be used to plan future services and programs. I'm also on the User Feedback & Assessment Committee, including its Collections subcommittee, which has been conducting interviews of staff who work in collection development and/or maintenance about their assessment activities. As the Head of Monographic Services, I have been interviewed by other members of this subcommittee too!
If assessment has become an emphasis at your library, please share your experience with us in the comments.
I'm taking some time off from work, so this will be my last blog post until the weekend of July 8. I'd like to wish many of you an early Happy End of Fiscal Year and safe travels to ALA. I'll see you in 12-13!