The depth and extent of the current economic downturn have affected all of us in both our professional and personal lives. Strategic thinking and careful planning are absolutely critical when the focus is on surviving rather than thriving. To a certain extent, this is not a new scenario for libraries. We have always had to plan carefully. Even in the best of times, we’ve rarely experienced the luxury of having enough resources to match what we hoped to achieve with our services, collections and staff.
While retrenchment may be the order of the day, library planning has undergone another major change over the last decade. Funding agencies no longer take it on faith that libraries do good things with their allocations. Society in general is demanding accountability, and assessment is becoming an increasingly important component of library planning.
An academic library’s planning process now likely starts with a determination of users’ needs, whether through focus groups, surveys, advisory boards, observation or collected data.Whatever methodology a library selects to guide its planning, a typical cycle involves identifying what’s important to users, establishing meaningful metrics with at least a few that are quantifiable, analyzing the results to evaluate the level of success in meeting goals and using the results to make improvements.
Evidence of the emergence of assessment is not hard to discern. The Association of Research Libraries identifies library assessment as a “key issue” on its website and has sponsored two biennial assessment conferences (with the next one scheduled for 2010). Accrediting agencies are asking educational institutions, including their libraries, to demonstrate how they contribute to student learning outcomes. In addition to the Measurement, Assessment and Evaluation Section of LLAMA (Library Leadership & Management Association), several discussion groups, interest groups and committees also within the American Library Association include assessment as part of their charges.
Incorporating assessment activities into the planning process may pose challenges initially, but this shift in emphasis can only help libraries in the long run. As we all know, libraries do make a difference, in good times and (especially) in bad times.