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Amanda Credaro 1999, 2000, 2001

"Collection evaluation is the process of assessing the effectiveness of a collection to meet the identified information needs of the school community. It is a continuous process which reflects changes in teaching/learning programs and user needs."
(NSW Department of School Education, 1996: 25)


The organised process (Arizona Department of Library, Archives and Public Records, c1998) of systematically analysing and describing a library collection, and thus assessing the quality of a library collection, may be variously referred to as collection evaluation (Mount Saint Vincent University Library, c 1998), collection assessment (Perritt, 1993), or collection analysis (Middle Tennessee State University, c1996). However, Dillon (1996: 131) notes that these terms may be used synonymously.


Collection assessment may be a time consuming (Gaskell, 1995: 3), and thus expensive, operation. As events in contemporary society have produced an changes in formerly static data such as political boundaries (Cerny, 1991: 130), and curriculums are revised (Peters, 1998: 1), there is a continual need to ensure that the library collection is current, relevant and accessible.

A proactive role in all aspects of librarianship is required (Eisenberg, 1989:5), with collection assessment identifying strengths and weaknesses in the collection (Saskatchewan School Library Association, 1989:6). Further, the analysis produces results that are appropriate for use in future planning and development (ASLA/ALIA 1993: 20).

The emergent trend for all libraries to shift their focus from the collection to the user (Brennan, 1991: 1) indicates the need to identify the informational and recreational needs of the school community.


Tanner (1995:17) states that collection evaluation may be either client-centred, based on usage, or collection-centred which is based on the actual resources. User-centred methods include Circulation Studies, Citation Studies, In-house Use Studies, and Survey of Opinion Studies. Collection-centred methods include the use of Standards, Direct Examination (by an "expert"), and statistical analysis (Dillon, 1998: 139 - 149). Further, the methods employed may result in either qualitative or quantitative data (Dillon, 1998: 137).

Yet another mode of classifying evaluation techniques may be to consider the comprehensiveness of the method. The entire collection may be considered, or merely a sample. Additionally, if a sample only is employed, that sample may be randomly selected, systematically identified, or be produced via a stratified methodology ( University of Wyoming Libraries, 1998: 2).

For the purposes of this study, one user-centred, one collection centred, and one combined method are examined.

Method 1: Survey of User Opinions

A user-centred method, this process assesses the extent to which the collection is meeting the school community's information needs. It may be conducted informally by oral means, or formally by written questionnaire.

Method 2: Conspectus Approach

Set in a "national" context, the conspectus approach uses a very detailed set of subject descriptors, with standard codes allocated by the library to indicate the depth of coverage of a particular subject. Completed via published worksheets, the results are collated by a national organisation, and held for reference use by participating libraries.

Method 3: Cumulative Approach (CA)
This method combines a number of other procedures, in an effort to overcome the shortcomings of that exist in each of the traditional methods (Victoria University of Technology Library, c1998). The core of this approach is based on the requirements of the curriculum, but divides the collection into sections according to format. Monographs (including audiovisual and multimedia items), reference, and electronic databases are assessed individually. Further, the results are then compared to a similar institution's collection. This will result in a quantitative measurement, a comparative assessment, and an indication of the scope and depth of the collection with regard to supporting the curriculum.


The ability of a method to be customised for an individual library is a fundamental requirement. Conspectus is dictated by a remote organisation, and does not allow for the local conditions. In Australia, the Australian Libraries Gateway (1998: 1 - 8) modified the RGL model for Australian conditions, with the substitution of Dewey Classifications for Library of Congress headings. Several other modifications were made concerning states and provinces, but essentially the document remained one of a national standing, rather than one specifically modified for an individual school library. Survey methods provide an analysis of local holdings in local context. With its relationship to curriculum mapping, CA undertakes evaluation with reference to the local requirements.

Specific problems may be identified by all three methods. However, Survey may provide an indication of the clients' preferred solution (University of California, San Diago, c1998: 1). The other two methods indicate where a deficiency or oversupply may exist. Conspectus, provides a numerical indicator as to the extent of such an anomaly and adjustment is at the discretion of the library management.

The identification of the needs of the user is paramount to addressing those issues. In school libraries, unlike tertiary educational institutions, the majority of the library users are informationally "unsophisticated" (Harris, 1991: 130) and thus a survey may not adequately indicate their success at fulfilling the educational outcomes of their access. CA, with its reliance on reference to the curriculum, is better able to identify areas of the collection that require attention. Conspectus, having been developed for use in academic libraries (Library and Information Co-operation Council, 1992: 1), is of less relevance in a school library, despite its identification of "level of use" (University of Texas, 1998 1).

Conspectus relies on controlled vocabulary(University of Michigan DL, 1995: 1). This is possibly an advantage from the point of view of standardisation, but a disadvantage where local terms have been employed to reflect the context of the school library.

In comparison, the 'ultimate' free text employed in a survey allows library users at all levels of vocabulary development to make their opinions known. Vocabulary is not an issue with CA, employing the local terms in the local context.

All three methods rely on subjective judgments to some extent. Conspectus requires the assessor to make evaluations but provides guidelines for those opinions. CA requires an assessment to be made with professional judgment, but has the advantage of 'local knowledge'. Survey is almost entirely subjective, especially in a school context.

Formulation of the assessment instrument varies between the three methods. Whilst conspectus is prepared by a professional body in
cooperation with the participants, CA is created on site by the assessor. Collaboration with teaching colleagues in completion of the task of identifying teaching units and curriculum objectives (Dawson, 1996, 17 - 21) is necessary, but it is in the creation of formal surveys that major problems may be experienced. The need for neutral questions (Grover and Carabell, 1995; 1) and an understanding of information psychology (Grover, 1993: 1) are required. Further, respondents may be passive (Dillon, 1998: 149), uncooperative, or facetious.

Time constraints are a major consideration in a library. Extra staffing is generally not available, so existing personnel must undertake collection evaluation as and when time permits. All three methods allow for the collection to be dissected into smaller "pieces" (Loertscher, 1986: 45 - 54).

Analysis and interpretation of data from a survey may be challenging. Conspectus provides unambiguous information that is readily analysed, whilst CA produces data that can be manipulated in numerous ways to serve different purposes. Survey presents multiple difficulties in reporting of results.

The frequency of use of resources (Parks and Environment Library, 1996: 2) is not assessable by either CA or conspectus, whereas the survey method may indicate resources that are in high or low demand. This facility of survey in turn will identify user satisfaction with the resources that is not possible with either of the other two methods.

Patron input (Washoe County Library, 1995: 2) instils a sense of ownership (Kansas City Public Library, 1996:2) for library users which non-survey methods do not provide. This is particularly important for a school library in an area where respect for property may not be optimal.

The needs of the non-user may be more readily identified by surveys, depending on the mode of delivery of the instrument. Neither conspectus nor CA can achieve this goal.

Survey, conspectus and CA will all identify strengths and weaknesses in the collection, although the latter two will do so from a theoretical perspective. Survey will additionally identify current trends in user satisfaction, and may more rapidly expose any short-term weaknesses that occur as the result of any teacher-initiated shift in curriculum interpretation or application.

Library automation has an impact on the ease of evaluation methodology for both conspectus and CA. However, survey is not effected. Specialised software is available for conspectus methods (OCLC/WLN, 1998), which greatly reduces the demand on human resources.

Cooperative use of resources is supported by conspectus. However, it is noted that in Australia, the National Library was maintaining the database, but as of November, 1998 it ceased accepting new data (National Library of Australia, 1998:1). This very much defeats the objective of maintaining current information, in the interests of cooperative use. As libraries are constantly 'developing' (Doll, 1997: 96), information on the collection must be as current as methods allow.

Results of surveys may be shared for comparative purposes between school libraries, so that where some resources may become 'unpopular', whilst retaining currency and authority, they may be exchanged for items of the same status from other libraries. The CA approach requires the identification of a "similar" institution, and thus a cooperative bond may develop through the collaboration necessary to undertake CA.

The American Library Association states that conspectus is suitable for libraries "of all sizes" (ALA 1996: 22), and is defended by Mount Saint Vincent University Library (MSVUL) on the grounds that it "serves as a catalyst for systematic collection development" (MSVUL, c1998: 1). However, this is equally true for the other two methods under examination.

However, conspectus is notable for the complexity of its application. Whilst simple in principal, the extensive procedural guides outlined by the National Library of Australia (NLA, c 1997: 1 -?) render it the most time-consuming method of the three. The provision of the most comprehensive evaluation (University of Michigan-Flint Thompson Library, c1997:2) is of little compensation for the amount of human resources required to complete the assessment.

The success of any method of assessment depends on how well it meets the goals of the evaluation (Arizona Department of Library, Archives and Public Records, c1998), which in turn depends on how well it meets the purpose and mission of the library. Thus, it cannot be said that any one method is more advantageous than another. Each of the methods examined exhibited deficiencies as well as merits.


A library collection of approximately 40,000 items is available to the 900-odd students and 68 teaching staff of the school. Both staff and students are culturally diverse, and both represent the full spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds.

As *** High School is a state government institution, it is bound by the policies and procedures of the NSW Department of Education and Training.

The Handbook for School Libraries (DSE, 1996: 25) stipulates that "collection evaluation takes into account:

  1. the capacity of a collection to meet the school's needs,
  2. the implementation of educational policies and curriculum priorities,
  3. the ...needs of the school's educational programs and individual users,
  4. identification of resources that are no longer relevant to the school's needs,
  5. the age and condition of the resources,
  6. the need to ensure that resources encompass a variety of formats,
  7. technological developments, and
  8. library staffing, space and funding levels."

Whilst the Department does not provide any guidelines on the procedures for collection evaluation, the Cumulative Approach does satisfy most of the above-listed requirements except for staffing, space and condition of the resources.

The OASISLibrary software used at *** High School is capable of generating the statistics required by the Cumulative Approach. The library staff consists on one full time librarian and one full time clerical officer who has recently transferred from the "Print Room" due to physical incapacity, with no "volunteer helpers" owing to the current teacher librarian's personal perspective on this matter. Therefore, methods other than the Cumulative Approach may not be appropriate due to their human resource requirements.

Specifically developed for use in schools (McLean, 1991: 27), Collection Mapping has the same initial methodology as the Cumulative Approach. Thus, this method is most suitable for any library where an educational outcome exists.

The collection should support the "teaching, research and service goals" of the school (McLean, 1991:26), and assessment should be related to the purpose of the collection (Dillon, 1998:132). As the school currently does not have any policies relating to Collection Development, a generic "Collection Goal" (Credaro, 1999:1) has been included as Appendix 1. CA assists in ensuring the outcomes of this goal.

Collection evaluation is undertaken in terms of "specific objectives", or the needs of the "target group" of that particular collection (Harloe, 1994:21). As the Cumulative Approach is based on the curriculum, it is appropriate to use this method at this school.

The need to adequately resource the curriculum at a level appropriate to the goals of a particular school (Kackel, 1997: xiii) and educational system requires the application of both qualitative and quantitative standards (Curriculum Corporation, 1993: 21-23). Both of these criteria are fulfilled by the Cumulative Approach.

Further, the provision of data for the assessment of the relationship between the collection and the curriculum (Saskatchewan School Library Association, 1989:6), together with an indication of the variety, scope and currency of the resources (Ibid ) are provided by the Cumulative Approach.

The quantitative assessment of the collection will provide a "measurement" of the size of the collection, whilst the qualitative data will provide an indication of the "usefulness" of the collection (Henri, 1989: 76-77). The Australian School Librarian's Association, together with the Australian Library and Information Association, have determined that both qualitative and quantitative data are required for appropriate collection assessment (1993: 21 - 24). Of the methods examined, the Cumulative Approach was the only one that provided both types of data.

In addition, the Cumulative Approach provides a description of the range and diversity of formats (North Dakota State University, c1998), and thus indicates the collection's response to the individual differences of learners. As the collection at *** High School is of "mixed" format (Ashley-Smith, 1994: 1), this is an important consideration in the identification of an appropriate method of assessment. None of the other methods achieved this objective.

Finally, as each and every assessment method has demonstrable deficiencies, there is no single, best way to evaluate any library collection in general (University of Wyoming Libraries, 1998: 2). As the Cumulative Approach combines a number of academically credible methods, it is most appropriate to the context of a school library.

Although there are no uniform or recommended methods for assessing the collection of a school libraries in particular (Harris, 1992: 22), the Cumulative Method of collection assessment is the most appropriate for use at *** High School.


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The kind assistance of Mrs Adele Falconner, Teacher Librarian of Doonside High School, Sydney, is gratefully acknowledged, as is the permission of Mr Noel Kind, Principal, for the use of the school facilities to produce this document.

Updated April 22, 2001. Reformatted and moved to this site December 28, 2006.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Amanda Credaro © 2006.