INLS 782: Library Assessment

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"If you don't like change, 
 you're going to like irrelevance even less."

-- General Eric Shinseki, 
   former U.S. Army Chief of Staff

Course description

This course will provide an overview of evaluation and assessment activities in libraries. Students will consider various library operations as evaluands, and the extent to which these operations are evaluable. Students will become familiar with existing tools for evaluating library operations, will design their own evaluation, and conduct their own evaluation research.

This course will address the following themes:

  1. Introduction to evaluation, broadly construed, and approaches to evaluation that are common in libraries. The guiding questions for this unit are as follows:
    • What is evaluation?
    • What constitutes a good evaluation?
    • What is the difference between evaluation and research?
    • What approaches to evaluation are used in evaluating libraries?
  2. Overview of library operations and services, and how those are evaluated. Guiding questions:
    • What are the functions of a library? What activities and operations are engaged in by the library? What services are provided by the library?
    • What operations and services of the library are evaluable?
    • What data do the various operations and services of the library generate, that might be used in an evaluation? What data would be desirable to collect to evaluate a library function?
  3. Critique of existing evaluations of library operations and services, and investigation of existing evaluation instruments. Guiding questions:
    • What approaches to evaluating various library operations have been tried?
    • What data collection instruments already exist for evaluating library operations?

There is a Catch-22 involved in this course: conducting an evaluation depends on the appropriate use of methodology, but you will most likely not yet have completed INLS 780: Research Methods. We will make heavy use of various methodologies in this course. But this is not a course on research methods. We will therefore address specific methods as appropriate for the work in this course. For a more systematic approach to methodology, take INLS 780.

Course objectives

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Identify library functions and services that must be assessed.
  • Plan, design, and implement an assessment program in a library.
  • Analyze and interpret the data from an assessment, and present that data for diverse audiences.


Textbook & reading

There is one required text for this course:

Matthews, J. R. (2007). The Evaluation and Measurement of Library Services. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

This book is available in the Student Stores and on reserve in the SILS library. Also available from Amazon or any online bookseller.

All readings will be assigned on the course Schedule. Readings not from Matthews will be available on the free web, as an e-journal, via the Library's e-reserves, or via this wiki. Readings are also listed in my course Pinboard feed.

Additional reading

Other good books on evaluation generally and evaluation in libraries specifically include:

Baker, S. L., & Lancaster, F. W. (1991). The Measurement and Evaluation of Library Services. Arlington, VA: Information Resources Press.

Davidson, E. J. (2005). Evaluation Methodology Basics: The Nuts and Bolts of Sound Evaluation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Durrance, J. C., & Fisher, K. E. (2005). How Libraries and Librarians Help: A Guide to Identifying User-centered Outcomes. Chicago: American Library Association.

Patton, M. Q. (2008). Utilization-Focused Evaluation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Scriven, M. (1991). Evaluation Thesaurus, 4th ed. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) sponsors a biannual Library Assessment Conference. The next conference will be 29–31 October 2012, in Charlottesville, VA. You should go.

I've also aggregated a bunch of library assessment-related RSS feeds.


Develop an Assessment Project


Grading rubric & other policies

See my course grading rubric.

See my course policies.


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