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How We’re Laying the Foundation for a Culture of Assessment at Our University Libraries

Adam Wathen, Kansas State University | Jan 01, 2009

Recently, several major changes at my library have pushed us to be much more intentional about assessing our services, workflows, budgeting practices and resource selection. Through strategic planning and development of policy and practice, we have begun to lay the foundation for a culture of assessment in our library — a culture in which decisions are based on facts, research and analysis and where services are designed to maximize the benefit for our patrons (Phipps, 2001).

Without the clear goals, we would not have a standard against which we could begin assessment.

We are accomplishing this by establishing clear goals, developing a strategy to meet the goals, implementing action to achieve the goals, and gathering data to assess whether or not our actions are meeting the goals.

Establish goals

In 2007, the K-State Libraries produced “A Living Strategic Plan,” which we wrote (with input from across the organization) to “foster a flexible, adaptable, and creative environment.” Our desire to create this environment, coupled with recent economic conditions, has increased pressures to be increasingly fiscally responsible, to justify services to the broader academic community and to deliver more efficient, high-quality and strategic services. As well, it is explicit in our strategic plan that we develop user-centered services and programs rather than resource-centered ones.

Because we established clear goals in our strategic plan, we were able to move to create strategies to realize these goals. Without the clear goals, we would not have a standard against which we could begin assessment. As an example, I will discuss progress on our strategic plan’s first goal: “Our users will find collections tailored and managed to meet their changing needs and advance the priorities of the University.” In the strategic plan, this goal is fleshed out into multiple objectives that clarify the goal’s meaning.

We have the potential to realize a culture of assessment that promises to improve the quality and effectiveness of our efforts.

Establish strategy to achieve the goals

In the last year, our administration has asked preexisting and newly formed groups to develop plans to meet the strategic goals. These groups have set forward several strategies that we think will help us achieve our collections goal. These include rewriting our approval plan; moving our continuations and reference to digital content where appropriate; identifying priority collecting areas on which to focus our proactive selecting; redesigning our ledgers to increase spending in strategic areas and to limit territorialism; evaluating serials use and cost statistics to identify and cancel poorly used materials; and establishing a representative group to create policy and direction for our collections (among many other strategies).

Take action! (Implement a plan)

We have begun to implement some of these strategies to create collections that are tailored to meet the needs of our patrons. We have moved a significant portion of our serials to online format. We have identified priority collecting areas and have written specific plans that articulate how those areas should be developed. We have begun to redesign our ledgers to allocate funds to our priority collecting areas and to increase the transparency in our budgeting process. We have begun to evaluate the continuations we purchase by examining usage statistics and have canceled titles that are poorly used. And we have begun to write policies that help provide direction for our collections and that help push collections decision-making authority down to the point of need.

Gather data to assess

While these actions are intended to help achieve our goals, we won’t know if they are successful until we assess them. To that end, we have committed ourselves to putting resources toward data production. The people charged with making decisions will be able to use data to assess whether or not our strategies are working to move us toward our goals. And we are committed to stop doing work that isn’t moving us toward our goals. Because, as Peter Drucker says, “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency that which should not be done at all.”

Our library has been energized by these changes and the opportunity for us to produce better services for patrons. We are asking ourselves whether our work moves us toward our goals. Further, we are beginning to answer that question by gathering data and assessing our work. We have the potential to realize a culture of assessment that promises to improve the quality and effectiveness of our efforts.

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