Self-evaluation – how good is your library?

“Effective libraries must be responsive to educational and technological change, and contribute to school improvement and pupils’ learning. This requires a continual process of self review and evaluation which is both qualitative and quantitative. Evaluations are only successful if their outcomes are efficiently disseminated and used effectively to inform future action” (CILIP’s Primary School Library Guidelines)

Useful definitions

A quantitative evaluation is an assessment process that answers the question “How much did we do?” and includes results such as number of books issued, number of pupils using the library, breakdown of users by age, gender etc. In fact the sort of data that is produced by a library’s own computerised management system so is usually quite easy to collect

A qualitative evaluation is an assessment process that answers the question “How well did we do?”. this is a lot harder to gather as it is all about measuring the impact the library (or a particular service or program) has on teaching and learning in the school. For example, instead of just recording the number of books you have as you would in a quantitative evaluation, you would need to look at their quality, age and relevance to pupils’ needs.


The purpose of an evaluation is to make judgments,  improve effectiveness and guide the future planning of your library. At its simplest an evaluation is all about finding out how your library is doing. This involves  collecting evidence of what you do on a day-to-day basis – the services and programs you offer – and comparing this evidence with other school libraries on a local or national basis and measuring your performance.

Increasingly librarians these days are being asked to provide evidence to show that the library is a really effective resource and that the money spent on it (and you) is making a demonstrable difference to pupils’ attainment. Measuring performance provides an opportunity to reflect on your successes and identify areas which may need improvement.

Undertaking a self-evaluation can be quite daunting, especially for the first time. The SLA has produced a useful book in their Guideline & Case Studies series which shows ways to gather evidence on performance and how to measure quality as well as quantity. It is entitled Quality and Impact: Evaluating the Performance of your School Library by Elspeth Scott, Sally Duncan and Geoff Dubber. 2011 .ISBN 9781903446591. Price £7.50

Once you know what you want to evaluate there are lots of different methods and models that can be drawn upon from using your library management system’s report facilities, to assessing pupil’s achievement against agreed performance indicators. The list below outlines some of the most common evaluation techniques. It is recommended that you use a combination for a successful evaluation.

Published toolkits.

DfES School Library Self-evaluation Model  (2004) was published many years ago but still provides school librarians with a clear way of assessing the quality of what they provide and measuring outcomes, as well as providing evidence of achievement and identifying areas that could be improved. It also provides practical advice and suggestions for improving the way that the library supports pupil learning. If you would like help in finding your way round these self-evaluation processes and materials, or would like to fill them in electronically, go to School Libraries  on the Information Management Associates website.

How Good is Our School Library? (2017)This has been produced by the Scottish Library & Information Council and is a companion document to their How good is Our School?  However,  it can be used just as effectively by school librarians here in the UK as its purpose is to help library staff evaluate the specific contributions the library makes to the work of the school and to support them on a journey of improvement so that each library can realise its full potential.  The document consists of a  framework which identifies six key quality indicators (QIs) divided into three main categories – Leadership & Management,  Learning Provision and Successes & Achievements. Vision statements are included that offer a broad overview of what very good practice, provision or performance relevant to the quality indicator would look like and alongside each indicator there is also a starter set of “challenge questions” to support professional reflection. Examples of  highly-effective practice are also provided to help users identify the sorts of evidence required for the self-evaluation process. A range of school library specific case studies have also been compiled for illustrative purposes.When evidence from the six Quality Indicators is combined, it can create a unique and powerful story to demonstrate the impact of the school library on learning. The complete How Good is Our School Library Framework can be viewed and downloaded here

Reading Outcomes Framework Toolkit  this  reading outcomes framework and evaluation toolkit has been developed to help librarians understand the difference that we make when we work to encourage reading for pleasure.  It outlines existing evidence about the outcomes of reading and provides guidance about how to go about collecting evidence on the impact our work  has. Evaluating this impact is vitally important: we need to be clear about how reading for pleasure impacts on children’s lives and how our library programmes and activities  contribute to this. The reading outcomes framework toolkit is an interactive pdf available here. It is best accessed using Adobe Acrobat Reader on a PCA print- friendly version is also available here. The reading outcomes framework is available here.

The SLS-UK School Library Award  administered by local Schools Library Services across the UK this involves a self-assessment  process by the librarian and an external evaluation of your library’s performance resulting in national accreditation and a certificate. It is a great way to audit what you have achieved and offers guidance as to what you should focus on next. A very informative account of how the award works can be found in the SLA’s School Librarian, Vol. 65 (4), Winter 2017, p.202-4


Standards, Checklists & Guidelines

A common means of assessing a school library (and by inference assessing its impact on student learning) is by comparing its performance against national standards. In 2016 LIPSSEE produced a set of Guidelines specifically for Prep School libraries which was endorsed by IAPS, and these may be a good starting point. Copies are available from the LIPSSEE coordinator. A Google search will reveal that  IFLA, CILIP and many  other national library bodies have issued standards but so often these apply just to secondary schools. It is also important to remember that whilst these documents are important to the evaluation process, they are guides, not evidence.  Although backed by research and best practice and written by people who are usually experts in the field, these documents can only suggest what may make a library more effective, they can not demonstrate how a current program is having an impact.

Research studies

These are useful when looking for correlations between variables e.g. the relationship of effective library programs and standardized test scores or how reading for pleasure raises academic achievement. Unfortunately, whilst decision-makers are usually quite willing to read and acknowledge studies done “elsewhere,” most still want to know the direct impact their own school library reading promotion  program is having.

User surveys & questionnaires

Asking library users to complete surveys and participate in focus groups is an effective means of collecting information about the impact of your library’s services and programs.


This is a great way to assess practical skills but the disadvantages are that the presence of the observer can change student’s performance as being watched can be intimidating for many students and it can sometimes be subjective

Anecdotal stories and digital storytelling

This adds a personal touch. A short video or even photographs of students using the library for a variety of activities can be very persuasive.

Further support from the Schools Library Service

Advice, support and training may be available through your local Schools Library Service who can also carry out an individual audit and review of your library on request

Points to Remember 

 CILIP recommends that school libraries should be evaluated on a regular basis.

Data should be carefully analysed – not just recorded.

A wide range of evidence – including pupil surveys and questionnaires – should be collected if the impact of the library is to be evaluated effectively

A well developed system of monitoring and evaluation will highlight the library’s strengths and weaknesses and offer areas for development and future planning

Librarians should report formally on the work and impact of the library to Head teachers, staff, governing bodies and parents.

(Last updated by Denise Reed on  July 23, 2018)

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