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Collection Analysis

This online course is no longer being updated online. It's only available through the Canvas website for the current course offering. 

After completing this session, you'll be able to:

Begin by viewing the class presentation in Vimeo. Then, read each of the sections of this page.

Explore each of the following topics on this page:

Evidence-based Decision-making

Evidence-based decision-making is the systematic process of collecting, analyzing, and applying data to make informed decisions.

Your mission statement defines who you are and who you serve. User needs are identified and matched with library goals. Information about the library's clientele, usage statistics, and demographic projections are all used as part of this process.

A large industrial plant has closed contributing to a dramatic, long-term unemployment problem in the city. A survey was conducted to determine the impact of this change in terms of library user needs. A plan was created to enhance areas of the collection ranging from career change materials to resume building resources to address the needs of this large, new user group.

A new program in geriatric medicine has been added to the university's offerings. Faculty and librarians met to discuss collection needs in this new area. By analyzing course syllabi, collections from similar programs, and faculty teaching needs, a plan was designed to meet these needs.



In the past, some librarians used intuitive approaches to collection development. However, evidence-based decision-making has become the norm. With increasing emphasis on accountability, it's important that collection managers examine their collection objectively and make decisions based on data.

Unfortunately, it's easy to become overwhelmed with all the data available for decision-making. Develop a realistic plan for needs assessment and collection assessment.


try itRead!
Wilde, Michelle & Level, Allison (2011). How to drink from a fire hose without drowning: collection assessment in a numbers-driven environment. Collection Management, 36, 217-236.


Collection Assessment

To make evidence-based decisions about collection development and management, librarians need to collect and analyze data from a variety of sources.

ODLIS defines collection assessment and evaluation as

"the systematic evaluation of the quality of a library collection to determine the extent to which it meets the library's service goals and objectives and the information needs of its clientele. Deficiencies are addressed through collection development."

There are both pros and cons of various assessment methods.

try itRead!
Pros and Cons of Various Assessment Methods from Northwestern University Library. Explore their Cumulative Approach to Collection Evaluation and Assessment Measurements pages.

Northwestern University Library suggest using both quantitative as well as qualitative methods for collection analysis.

try itRead!
Qualitative Methods from Northwestern University Library. Explore Storytelling-Narrative, Opinion as Collection Assessment, Ethnographic Research, Concept of Core Collections, and List Checking.

According to Greiner (2010), the approach to collection analysis you select will depend on the mission of the library. While some librarians focus their energies on analyzing the collection itself, others stress the needs of users. Let's explore these two areas of focus.

Collection-centered Collection Analysis

Collection-centered approaches compare the collection with some established standards. Does the collection have current titles in each discipline, a sufficient number of current titles, and materials that represent the breadth and depth of information? Are materials available through inter-library loan or online to meet gaps in the collection?

History of Analysis Tools

A number of tools have evolved to assist in collection analysis.

During the 80s and 90s, the Conspectus movement attempted to create a database of rated collections. Two scales emerged: RLG (Research Libraries Group) and WLN (Western Library Network). Collections were defined based on class ranges known as Conspectus lines.

According to ODLIS, collecting levels (or collecting intensity) are "the thoroughness with which materials published in a given field or subject area are selected by a library for inclusion in the collection." The following levels are generally recognized in the library literature:

0 Out of scope
1 Minimal information
2 Basic information
3 Study or instructional support
4 Research support
5 Comprehensive

The Conspectus database was abandoned in the late 90s, but the idea was applied by OCLC to create the WorldCat Collection Analysis system focusing on subject areas rather than entire collections. For examples, skim the Success Stories page. To see how it works, go to the WorldCat Collection Analysis demo.

Explore the following examples from Gregory (2011 p. 41-45). Click to see the full-sized example.

Figure by Gregory 2011

Figure by Gregory 2011

Figure by Gregory 2011

Brief Tests was developed by Howard White to provide librarians with more realistic approach to collection analysis. Later, he developed a new method known as the Coverage Power Test Method.

Recently, new collection analysis technology like collectionHQ (CHQ) have been introduced that seamlessly connect with any integrated library system (ILS) making data organization and analysis much easier.

try itRead!
White, Howard D. (March 2008). Better than brief tests: coverage power tests of collections strength 1. College & Research Libraries, 155-174.
For another example of White's approach, skim McMinn, Stephen H. (2010). Evaluation of motor vehicles, aeronautics, astronautics collections using White's Power Method of Collection Analysis, Collection Management, 36(1), 29-52.

try itRead!
Kelley, Michael (September 15, 2012). A toolkit for taking stock; libraries leverage new metrics driven by data from collectionHQ. Library Journal, 137(15), 18. This article explores one example of the next generation of collection analysis technology.

Collection Mapping

Collection mapping shows the relationship between the collection and users, helps determine selection and weeding needs, and justifies expenditures on materials. After examining the quantity and quality of a collection, a graphic representation can be produced to show the strengths and weaknesses of the collection. This "map" can then be used for decision-making activities.

Explore the following examples from Gregory (2011 p. 45-47.

Figure by Gregory 2011

Figure by Gregory 2011

This approach is particularly popular in school library settings, but can be applied to any collection. David Loertscher (2010) developed this simple method of visualizing the collection to help librarians who were overwhelmed by some of the more complex models of collection analysis.

When applied to schools, a collection is divided into three segments:

There are three basic assumptions about collections that relate to collection mapping.

  1. The collection should have breadth. There should be something for everyone.
  2. It should have depth based on the needs of your students and teachers.
  3. The collection should be well understood in order to be effectively developed and used.

Collection mapping addresses the following key questions:

Base and Core Collections

Collection mapping involves examining your collection and comparing it with some standard. For example, there are standards for what a base collection in a school library should look like.

base collection is an arbitrary standard denoting the number of works recommended for a minimal level collection. In other words, this is the "must have" part of the collection. Sometimes the word core collection is also used.

farm businesscore collection is a base collection that is often associated with specific titles. For example, there may be a core collection of reference books that all middle schools should have. Of course there are local needs to should go beyond the base collection.

Base collections are often used to initially startup a new collection or replace materials in a school that was destroyed by fire or flood. You build your base collection by examining the unique needs and interests of the teachers and students at your school.

A rural library may have a need for farming materials that would not be of interest in an urban library.

A private Catholic school would have a much larger religious section than a public school. A vocational school collection would differ from a college prep orientation.

There are many concerns about how base and core collections are selected. Do people in ivory towers put the lists together? Are librarians involved? Are new technologies considered? This varies with the developer of the base collection. Many vendors provide "base collections" that are often purchased for new schools.

Applications of Collection Maps

Collection maps are used for many collection-related projects. These include:

couple in library

Collection Map Analysis

Many people have developed procedures for collection mapping. There is not a correct or incorrect procedure. However keep in mind that each school is unique and many libraries are placing emphasis in particular areas related to their curriculum.

Once you've created your collection map, you need to analyze the results. The following list provides suggestions:

try itRead Collection Maps by Annette Lamb. These examples show possible distributions and a library example.

Think about how you could adapt this approach for your own library.


In pursuit of the unknownOnce you complete the large map, you should have a pretty good idea about the quantity aspect of your collection. Now you need to explore deeper into the quality aspect. Identify those areas on your collection map that were seen as strengths and weaknesses. Look at the quality aspect to see if these are truly strong and weak areas. It may be that an area of strength simply needs to be weeded. When weeded, the area may no longer be a strength. On the other hand, another area that is identified as a strength area may really contain lots of good materials.

Mini-maps or emphasis maps are used to examine a specific area of your collection in-depth. There are a number of approaches to mini-maps. One option is to create a small version of your bigger map and do some counting. For example, you might divide the 500s into general subjects related to your curriculum such as astronomy, math, and geology. You'd look at the numbers in each area, then consider the quality of each item. It may be that your 500s are considered strong. However when you conduct a mini-map, you may find that only the 599s are strong. The other areas may need weeded or new materials selected.

The collection map process is only one of many approaches. For example, you may be particularly interested in looking at the media materials in a specific content area. or, you may want to create your own mapping system.

Be creative. Think about how you might focus in on areas of the collection. Consider standards such as the new K-12 Core Curriculum. Think about courses that are being offered and requests from patrons. Build your own categories to meet the needs of your analysis.

Unit Books Websites Videos Kits
Plants 14 10 6  
Seeds 8 4 2 1
Water 9 7 3 1
Air 5 3 1  
Materials Dates 2010+ 2000s 1990s 1980s-
Plants 5 6 15 4
Seeds 3 2 5 5
Water 4 5 5 6
Air 1 2 1 5

try itRead!
Harbour, Denise (March/April 2002). Collection mapping. Book Report, 20(5), 6-10.
Think about a section of the library you might map.

try itRead!
Collection Assessment & Mapping from the Arizona State Library.
Create your own process for collection mapping.


User-centered Collection Analysis

Who are your library clients?
What are their interests, preferences, and needs?
What are the trends and how are your users changing?

This information is essential in making collection decisions. Library users are customers with desires, demands, wants, needs, and interests.

airplaneUser characteristics reflect demographic characteristics, geographic location, and psychological indicators. In addition, ability, access, and interest in using technology impacts virtual library needs and use.

If a majority of your clients are affluent, there may be more demand for high-tech download options than other communities.

If you live in a Spanish speaking community, it's important to consider the need for Spanish language materials.

Many academic librarians examine student and faculty population trends very carefully. These are often analyzed using spreadsheets. Examine course enrollments and faculty and student spreadsheets.

Understanding user needs must go beyond one-shot surveys and observations. It's important to have on-going, open communication with clients. They need opportunities to make requests, share ideas, and express concerns.

User-centered approaches compare the collection against user needs, interests, and requests. How is the collection being used by the library patrons? This approach is demand-driven. Analysis focuses on whether the collection reflects the needs of the library users.

Why do people come to the library? Often, they need information.

New pet owners often come to the public library for information about caring for their new puppy.

cat person

auto repair for dummiesTo be effective, an analysis needs to be every specific. Is there more demand for auto mechanics books or electronics book? Are people using the German language collection? In what areas? Are enough copies available of new, hot topics?

Nixon, Freeman, and Ward (2010, 120) state that:

"from today's perspective, the ease and effectiveness of what is now commonly called patron-driven acquisitions, or user-initiated collection development, seem so obvious. What better way to build at least a portion of the collection than by letting the users' directly expressed needs guide the expenditure of scarce collection development funds? Not only are the requesting patrons' needs satisfied, but also it is highly likely that those books will interest other patrons in the future."

try itRead!
Nixon, Judith M., Freeman, Robert S. & Ward, Suzanne M. (2010). Patron-driven acquisitions: An introduction and literature review. Collection Management, 35(3-4), 119-124. If you're interested in more examples, go to Collection Management magazine and read the other articles in this edition.

Beyond asking library users about their needs and interests, consider other approaches to data collection. An effective practice in school and academic libraries is the use of syllabi, course guides, and curriculum materials. For instance, when new textbook series are acquired in the K-12 environments, they can be mined for new topics and mentions of materials.

try itRead!
Shirkey, Cindy (2011). Taking the guesswork out of collection development: using syllabi for a user-centered collection development method. Collection Management, 36(3), 154-164. Think about how syllabi can be used in collection development.

Much data can be collected through analyzing information generated from the library's management system. Circulation records are particularly useful.

Haley (2010) analyzed the circulation statistics of two academic libraries to identify patterns in the use of print materials during the past decade as online digitial information resources become more readily available. He found a rapid decrease in the use of print journals in most subject areas. This change reflects a shift from the use of print journals to online databases. Haley also found that the use of library books remained strong.

The Real World

It's easy to experience "information overload" when analyzing collection data. Develop a realistic plan that focuses on both short and long terms needs. Build in room to address unanticipated changes and needs such as new programs, dramatic changes in clientele, and cultural trends.

Keep in mind that vendors provide tools that can be useful in collection development. For instance, TitleWise Collection Analysis is a service of Follett that provides insights into the collect that require little effort. Their TitleMAP option provides help with collection mapping. Learn more at TitleWise.

Start small. Consider a simple comparison of your collection with other similar collections on a particular topic.

Public catalogs such as WorldCat can be used to make simple comparisons by LC subject headings. Explore an example on Andean Collections.

Try an analysis of interdisciplinary subjects using core lists. To learn more, explore Analysis of Interdisciplinary Subjects.

Northwestern University Library provides a practical approach to building new and assessing weak collections. They recommend four steps? To learn more, click each option:

try itRead!
Bobal, Alison M., Mellinger, Margaret, Avery, Bonnie E. (2008) Collection assessment and new academic programs. Collection Management, 33(4), 288-301.


Alabaster, Carl (2010). Developing an Outstanding Core Collection: A Guide for Libraries. ALA.

Beals, Jennifer Benedetto (Winter 2006). Assessing library collections using Brief Test methodology. Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship, 7(3).

Bobal, Alison M., Mellinger, Margaret, Avery, Bonnie E. (2008) Collection assessment and new academic programs. Collection Management, 33(4), 288-301.

Haley, Daniel Joseph (2010). The Use of Print Materials in the Internet Age: A Comparative Study of Academic Library Circulation Patterns. Dissertation, University of California Los Angeles.

Harbour, Denise (March/April 2002). Collection mapping. Book Report, 20(5), 6-10.

Kelley, Michael (September 15, 2012). A toolkit for taking stock; libraries leverage new metrics driven by data from collectionHQ. Library Journal, 137(15), 18.

Loertscher, David & Wimberley, Laura H. (2010). Collection Development Using the Collection Mapping Technique: A Guide for Librarians. Hi Willow Research and Publishing.

Reynolds, L. J., Pickett, C., vanDuinkerken, W., Smith, J., Harrell, J., & Tucker, S. (2010). User-driven acquisitions: Allowing patron requests to drive collection development in an academic library. Collection Management, 35(3/4), 244-254.

Twiss, Thomas M. (2001). A validation of Brief Tests of Collection Strength. Collection Management, 25(3), 23-37.

White, Howard D. (1995). Brief Tests of Collection Strength. Greenwood Publishing Group. Available for Preview:

Wilde, Michelle & Level, Allison (2011). How to drink from a fire hose without drowning: collection assessment in a numbers-driven environment. Collection Management, 36, 217-236.

Portions of this page were adapted from Collection Development & Management by Irwin and Albee (2012).

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