The culture of collection evaluation in Pakistan.

Author:Ameen, Kanwal


"A library is a place where books are kept" is still the ruling perception in both developed and developing worlds. For many people, library collections and libraries are more or less the same. The history of libraries demonstrates that only recently have LIS professionals have turned their attention toward clients. Now they are asked directly about their information needs instead of librarians making assumptions and collecting titles to meet them. This development took place in part because of the need to evaluate collections to get grants as well as the application of marketing ideas in libraries since the late 1970s.

Experts such as Mosher (1979), Lancaster (1988; 1993), Gorman (2000), Clayton & Gorman (2001), and Crawford (2006) have produced valuable literature on collection evaluation. The emphasis on evaluating has grown, to keep balance between inputs and outputs, and to achieve efficiency and effectiveness in managing collections. Recently, the aim of building a huge physical collection has also lost its inherent worthiness.

Nonetheless, one should not view the development of evaluation culture as a global trend. It is apparent from the comparison of the developed and the developing countries' literature that there is a major divide between their practices in this regard: it may be called an "evaluation divide." A review of the local literature and practices testifies that our libraries have had been living in the collecting era, with a focus on developing, adding to, and increasing the size of collections (Ameen, 2005a). The issues of identifying strengths and weaknesses, effectiveness and use, outputs and outcomes of a collection have not been discussed in the local literature (Ameen and Haider, 2007). The reason behind the absence of evaluation culture might have been the traditional perception about libraries--inherently valuable agencies for society.

With the impact of globalization the situation is destined to change, sooner or later, in Pakistan also. Certain indicators show this trend, such as the concern of university administration, government funding agencies, and clients regarding delivery of desired quality services (e.g., Higher Education Commission (HEC); Tahira, 2008). Since 2006, HEC has started ranking the universities using its eight- point set of standards.

Defining Collection Evaluation

The following definitions have been used for the purpose of this study. They are relatively old, but suitable for studying developing countries' practices.

"CE is concerned with how good a collection is in terms of the kind of materials in it and the value of each item in relation to items not in the collection, to the community being served, and to the library's potential users". (Magrill and Corbin, 1989, p. 234)

"On the most fundamental level, the term means assessing the intrinsic quality of a library's holdings. On a broader level, the term includes determining how well the collection is serving its purpose and meeting pattern information needs". (Nisonger, 1992, p. 9)

An Overview of University Libraries in Pakistan

There are 120 HEC recognized universities and chartered institutes of higher education at present, including both private and public sector universities. Public sector universities generate their own funds besides getting HEC grants. The income from students' admission fee covers only a small portion of expenses; there is a very nominal admission fee in public sector universities as compare to very expensive private sector universities/institutions. Only wealthy people can afford to send their children to these universities. However, in all kinds of universities, funding authorities, parent organizations, and the service community are becoming sensitive about quality services. The author has observed this phenomenon as a member of selection board interviewing for university librarian, in job advertisements, and discussions with peers.

Since HEC's establishment in 2002 by the Federal Government of Pakistan, it has been playing a significant role in running and monitoring the working of universities; it offers substantial annual grants to run different projects/plans. The very first objective of HEC Finance Division is:

To invite budget proposals for recurring grants from the federally funded Universities, Institutes, and Centers of higher learning, examine and assess their needs and formulate HEC recommendations through a Committee constituted by the Commission for the allocation of recurring grants in a financial year (

The prime focus of HEC is to promote the quality academic and research activities. Its Quality Assurance Agency states:

Quality embraces all the major functions of higher education: teaching and academic programs, research and scholarship, staffing, students, infrastructure and the academic environment. The concept of accountability is closely allied with quality.... The issue of quality cannot be dissociated from the quest for excellence and the need to establish evaluation criteria.... The need to develop a culture of evaluation is inseparable from the concept of quality.... Both internal self evaluation and external review are vital components of any well-developed quality assurance system. ( Assurance.htm)

HEC Quality Assurance Agency Project has established Quality Enhancement Cells (QECs) at ten universities, and twenty more QECs will be established in the public sector universities for improvement of their academic, teaching, and learning standards. The QEC will serve as a focal point for quality assurance in higher learning. ( Agency/qaagency.htm).

Structure of University Libraries

Universities have administratively different library structure, such as (i) central library with independent, subject libraries attached with the academic units (ii) central library with small reference libraries in academic units (iii) only central library. It may be categorized as centralized and decentralized; (University libraries will be referred as libraries throughout the study).

The study by Ameen (2005) found that in most cases, the authority regarding financial grants, administrative, and policy decisions lies in the hierarchy of the syndicate, academic council, and library committee. A library committee usually consists of chief librarian (secretary/ex-officio member) and nominees of syndicate, academic council, faculty, and administration. The internal management of the library is the responsibility of the chief librarian. Not all universities have not created a library committee. Libraries get annual grants from their parent institutions. The size of grant and allocation formulas varies from university to university.

University library collections are mainly books, followed by serial publications like newspapers, magazines, and journals (Ameen, 2005). They spend a large portion of their funds on books. A sound selection policy and practice play a fundamental role in developing a strong, balanced book collection. Another study by Ameen (2007) reports that a number of factors affect selection practice, such as too much dependence on faculty for selection, constraints of faculty members as selectors, non-availability of selection aids, and lack of awareness regarding online resources available for selection.

Since 2004, HEC National Digital Library has been providing access to 20,000 full text journals from the world's leading publishers and 10,000 e-books. It is a unique program which has a vital role in quality research production by university professors. The literature, peers opinion, the author's 24 years of experience, and observation both as university librarian and academician testifies that these libraries are better equipped than other types of libraries in the country.

Literature Review

The international literature presents many discussions and research on impact, evaluation, assessment, outcome, and...

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