New Library Directors Handbook

Assessing the Collection

If you were to attend a class or read a book about assessing your collection, you would probably be overwhelmed and never attempt it. However, collection assessment doesn't have to be that difficult.

What is it?

Collection assessment is a fancy term for looking at your collection through the eyes of your patrons, finding out how old your collection is, and identifying problem areas. What do your customers see when they look at your collection? Is it old and dusty? Is it confusing? Are the shelves full? What about the quality of your materials? Do they see torn books with broken bindings? Do they see a new collection? Is it attractive? Does it make the customer want to browse through the library? Are there a lot of books about one subject, but none on another subject? These are all important questions to answer when assessing your collection.

Why do assessment?

Assessment can help you set goals. It will reveal areas where you need to order more books or where you may need to remove materials. It can also help you visually emphasize why you need more money for materials. If you can show your library board that the median age of your science collection is 1950, they may be willing to increase your materials budget to replace those items.

How do you assess the collection?

It's easiest to break your assessment into subject or classification areas. For example, you can assess the philosophy section, which is 150-159.9. Or if you have a very small philosophy section, you might wish to look at all of your 100s. Do a small area at a time, so you don't become overwhelmed. First visually scan the section. Ask yourself the questions listed above. If you look at the philosophy section, how many items do you have about philosophy? You don't have to count all of the items, just count one shelf then count the number of shelves. This will give you a good estimate. Compare the size of your philosophy collection with how often it's checked out. Do the numbers make sense? We'll use an exaggerated number, but what if your philosophy section accounts for 20% of your non-fiction collection, but is only responsible for 0.5% of your circulation. You may have too many philosophy materials, which means you might want to make a note to weed that section. What if you have two philosophy books and neither is about eastern philosophy? You may want to consider selecting more items for that section and including a couple of good, general eastern philosophy books.

To find out the median age of your collection, look at the publishing date of the item. If you are in a large section of books, take a sample. Instead of looking in every book, choose every "nth" book to write down the date. By "nth" we mean every fifth or tenth, etc. After you record the dates, count the total number of entries and find out which one is at the halfway point (that's the median). The median is a good way to determine the age of your collection. Your library automation system may be able to do this for you.

Once you've assessed a section, write down some goals if you need to. Do you need more materials in a certain subject area? Do you need to weed an area? Do you need to replace some older materials with newer ones?