Episode 208: Evaluation

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Contents of this page:
  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Basics of Evaluation
  • Specific Evaluation Examples
  • Books We are Reading
  • Conclusion
  • Links with Samples



Hi, and welcome back to Linking Our Libraries!

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Today’s podcast is kind of a Part Two to last week’s podcast on Strategic Planning. In any kind of planning process, you want to know how things are going – and that’s evaluation!

Does your library do regular evaluation? If you are like many, or most, libraries – probably not. It seems like a lot of work to get started, it seems hard, and it seems scary: what if people say negative things, or you find out you are doing things wrong or badly?

We get it! First: take a nice deep breath, and let it out slowly. Taking a relaxed approach to evaluation can make it all easier. Evaluation can also give you some solid results you can show to funders to demonstrate your Return on Investment (or ROI) – which is always a good thing, whether or not it is required in your library. We will be talking about Library Impact and ROI in more detail in Episode 215 coming up soon – so subscribe to this podcast now to be sure you don’t miss it!

Remember that you are never alone! CMLE is always here to help you – whether you have 100 people in your library, or if you are the only person and kind of scared to get started. Supporting you is our whole mission, so never hesitate to call on us.



Basics of Evaluation

What can you evaluate? EVERYTHING!

  • Collections, programs, displays, staff, furniture, construction projects, your budget, patrons, community support, your website – literally anything you have or do can be evaluated!

We are going to talk about a basic strategy for evaluation. You might use all of it, some of it, or build on it as you do different kinds of evaluation. All the notes are on the website for this podcast, so you can refer back when you need to for ideas!

Difference between assessment and evaluation

  • These are pretty close ideas, and are mistakenly used interchangeably
  • Assessment is when you look around to see what is going on with whatever you are studying
  • Evaluation is when you make decisions on that information
  • So you see how they fit together in our discussion here – we will do both things together



Define what you are specifically trying to do

  • Set goals!
    • Be SMART
    • Be clear in what you want to look at – not EVERYTHING, just a specific thing, person, program, or aspect of something
  • Assess the situation
    • This is where you measure things: how many? How long? How much? How often?
    • Measurements can be quantitative (numbers!): number of reference questions, door counts, hourly floor counts, attendees, visits to the website
    • Or they can be qualitative, such as: interviews to ask people how they feel about the website redesign, surveys on the satisfaction with programs, questions on their experiences with an embedded librarian in their academic department
    • Whatever you are doing, you can do some assessment of the progress (or lack of progress) being made


    • And now we get to the evaluation! This is where you look at your goals, and you look at where you are right now, and you make some decisions. Some of those will be:
        • Yay! I’m right on target!
          • Probably, you keep going with that; and maybe everyone celebrates with an ice cream party!
        • Oh, drat – I’m not meeting my goal.
          • Before you get too discouraged, is this goal still useful? Is it even possible?
          • Maybe the goal was to be half way through construction – but the grant for the building was delayed a year. Revise that goal to make it match up with reality.
          • Maybe the goal was a good one, but as you are working through it you see it just isn’t going to happen. You wanted to double the number of storytime programs you held each week, but you just don’t have the staff numbers to make it happen – and the programs were not well attended.
          • Maybe you switch over to creating a digital storytime program that kids (and caregivers) can watch on their own schedule!
          • You still get an ice cream party to celebrate the work done!
        • Wow – I’ve smashed this goal and way overshot where I intended to be right now!
          • Hmmm…do you need to stop focusing on this goal and put more energy into other things?
          • If you doubled the number of storytime programs, and every single one is still a packed audience – maybe you need to revise this goal upward and add in five more sessions
          • Again: you get an ice cream party to celebrate your success!


        • Take action! This is where evaluations seem to fall down – you do all the work and then do not follow through on it. Something should change after you do an evaluation – even if it is just a reaffirmation that things are great. Make new goals! Revise current goals! Celebrate successes! These are always the right actions in any evaluation.
        • Write it all down! Everyone will remember things slightly differently, and key people involved in any evaluation will move to another library or retire before you do it again – and all their knowledge will be lost. So write it down, and keep it in paper and/or electronic files to be sure you can easily access it again later!


      What does bad evaluation look like? It looks like way too many surveys you have already seen. I have actually seen questions that say things like: “How much did you love this program?: with the answers:  – so much,  – too amazing, or  – life-changing. Make your evaluation real, to make it effective!

      We are just doing a basic introduction to this topic. Mary taught an entire semester-long class on Evaluation – and it still was just enough to get started. So there are a lot of other ideas you can explore for specific areas of evaluation.

You can do some pretty sophisticated research and statistical analysis, but that’s beyond today’s discussion – and beyond a lot of evaluation you need. If you are interested, give us a call and we can some talk about ideas with you, or help you to set up a large-scale project.


Specific evaluation example

Weeding your collection, electronic and paper materials both, is a very necessary part of building a good collection – but can be politically challenging. You never want to give people the idea that you are just randomly throwing away perfectly good books bought using tax money, tuition, donations or money form the corporate budget. Good evaluation is important!

You want to have a written policy outlining the reasoning for weeding a collection. Maybe start with some principles from the American Library Association (ALA), or the Society of American Archivists (SAA) or Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), or Reference & User Services Association (RUSA), or any other professional group relevant to your work.

Then detail the criteria generally accepted criteria (or other criteria relevant to your collection’s focus). Fortunately, we have a nifty acronym to remember it: MUSTIE

  • M=     Misleading–factually inaccurate
  • U=      Ugly–worn beyond mending or rebinding
  • S=       Superseded–by a new edition of by a much better book on the subject
  • T=       Trivial–of no discernible literary or scientific merit
  • I=        Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the library’s community
  • E=       Elsewhere–the material is easily obtainable from another library

This will help you to keep your collection in good shape, and will help to protect you from criticism by people who do not understand the need and value in weeding a collection!



Books We Are Reading


Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cantero “With raucous humor and brilliantly orchestrated mayhem, Meddling Kids subverts teen detective archetypes like the Hardy Boys, the Famous Five, and Scooby-Doo, and delivers an exuberant and wickedly entertaining celebration of horror, love, friendship, and many-tentacled, interdimensional demon spawn.

SUMMER 1977. The Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in Oregon’s Zoinx River Valley) solved their final mystery and unmasked the elusive Sleepy Lake monster—another low-life fortune hunter trying to get his dirty hands on the legendary riches hidden in Deboën Mansion. And he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.

1990. The former detectives have grown up and apart, each haunted by disturbing memories of their final night in the old haunted house. There are too many strange, half-remembered encounters and events that cannot be dismissed or explained away by a guy in a mask. And Andy, the once intrepid tomboy now wanted in two states, is tired of running from her demons. She needs answers. To find them she will need Kerri, the one-time kid genius and budding biologist, now drinking her ghosts away in New York with Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the club. They will also have to get Nate, the horror nerd currently residing in an asylum in Arkham, Massachusetts. Luckily Nate has not lost contact with Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star who was once their team leader . . . which is remarkable, considering Peter has been dead for years.

The time has come to get the team back together, face their fears, and find out what actually happened all those years ago at Sleepy Lake. It’s their only chance to end the nightmares and, perhaps, save the world.

A nostalgic and subversive trip rife with sly nods to H. P. Lovecraft and pop culture, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids is a strikingly original and dazzling reminder of the fun and adventure we can discover at the heart of our favorite stories, no matter how old we get.”



The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturne, by Neil Gaiman “New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman’s transcendent series SANDMAN is often hailed as the definitive Vertigo title and one of the finest achievements in graphic storytelling. Gaiman created an unforgettable tale of the forces that exist beyond life and death by weaving ancient mythology, folklore and fairy tales with his own distinct narrative vision.

In PRELUDES & NOCTURNES, an occultist attempting to capture Death to bargain for eternal life traps her younger brother Dream instead. After his 70 year imprisonment and eventual escape, Dream, also known as Morpheus, goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. On his arduous journey Morpheus encounters Lucifer, John Constantine, and an all-powerful madman.”




Evaluation does not mean you are just looking for the bad stuff – it is your chance to identify all the great things happening in your library! And when you do find problems, you can get started on fixing them, to stop them from being bad. This is your tool for knowing what you are doing, how things are going, and where you can keep improving – all good things to know! If your library wants some help getting started in different areas of evaluation, send us an email at admin@cmle.org and we can help you! Remember: we are all stronger when we work together as a library community; so let’s evaluate and keep improving!


Links with Samples

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