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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2010
DOI: 10.5062/F4CZ353Q

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Collection Assessment in Response to Changing Curricula: An Analysis of the Biotechnology Resources at the University of Colorado at Boulder

Gabrielle Wiersma
Electronic Collections & Assessment Librarian
Gemmill Engineering Library
University of Colorado at Boulder
Boulder, Colorado

Copyright 2010, Gabrielle Wiersma. Used with permission.


Increasing demand for biotechnology and biomedical resources prompted the Engineering Library at the University of Colorado at Boulder (UCB) to complete a collection assessment of the journals, books, and other resources provided by the University Libraries. This paper presents a variety of methods for evaluating library collections and describes several online collection analysis tools that can facilitate the process. UCB's collection was compared to other university libraries and several bibliographic review sources. Various collection analysis tools including the Journal Citation Reports Science Edition 2006, Ulrich's Serials Analysis System, and Spectra Dimension were used to evaluate the collection. This collection analysis fostered awareness of the resources that UCB already owned and informed the University Libraries about gaps in the existing collection. The findings led to the revision and expansion of the collection development policies for several subjects related to biotechnology.

Biotechnology at the University of Colorado at Boulder

Colleges and universities are growing organisms with shifting research priorities and changing curricula. As a result, academic libraries need to assess their collections frequently to determine whether or not their services and resources support the needs and research goals of their constituents. Over the past few years, the University of Colorado at Boulder (UCB) has expanded curricula in the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences to provide opportunities for undergraduate students to study bioengineering and for graduate students to participate in a pre-doctoral research training and certificate program for biotechnology. Since the Libraries' existing collection development policies for biology and engineering were not specifically designed to support the needs of a graduate level research program there were both real and perceived gaps in our collection.

In addition to supporting undergraduate and graduate curricula for biotechnology and bioengineering, the Libraries at UCB also support research at the Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biotechnology (CIMB). The CIMB is a diverse research community consisting of approximately sixty faculty members and more than 600 researchers from a wide variety of science, engineering, and medical disciplines (Office of News Services 2007). In September 2007, UCB received a $20 million donation to support the existing CIMB and fund the construction of a new interdisciplinary biotechnology building on the UCB campus. In addition to the increased number of researchers, the new biotechnology building will be located at the University of Colorado's Research Park, a few miles from the University Libraries on the main campus. Members of the CIMB actively collaborate with colleagues at other campuses in the CU System and with local biotech companies. All of these issues can create challenges for providing access to library resources.

The expansion of the CIMB and the addition of several academic programs in bioengineering and biotechnology have led to an increased demand for biotechnology and biomedical information resources at UCB. This increased demand prompted the Engineering Library at UCB to complete a collection assessment of the journals, books, and other resources provided by the University Libraries. The purpose of the collection assessment was to determine whether or not the current collection at UCB could adequately support the research interests and needs of these new programs and their faculty. In addition, the collection analysis was used to find gaps or weaknesses in the collection that could be fortified by adjusting the Libraries' collection development strategies. Due to the location of the CIMB, UCB was particularly interested in evaluating online resources that could be accessed by researchers off campus. UCB was also interested in investigating electronic resources that could be purchased and shared with other libraries in the CU System. This paper presents several methods that the Libraries at UCB used to evaluate the existing collection and describes several online collection analysis tools that facilitated the process. While this paper focuses on UCB's collection of biotechnology and related resources, these methods and tools could be applied to other subject areas at UCB or other institutions.

Literature Review

The library literature describes many ways to evaluate library collections. In general, there are user-centered or collection-based analyses that use qualitative and/or quantitative techniques (Hall 1985; Johnson 2009). User-centered analyses focus on who is using the material, how often, and what their expectations are; while collection-based analyses focuses on evaluating the size, breadth, depth and growth of library materials (Johnson 2009). Collection-based analyses often compare a collection to an external standard or one or more libraries with comprehensive collections in that subject area (Johnson 2009). This type of analysis provides information that can identify strengths and weaknesses in the collection and guide selection decisions in the future. Collection-based analysis techniques include list checking, comparing library holdings to review sources and other established collections, and compiling comparative statistics (Johnson 2009).

List checking is one of the most frequently used techniques for measuring the size and quality of library collections (Hall 1985; Johnson 2009). List checking compares a local collection to authoritative resources, subject bibliographies, standard lists in a discipline, or the catalogs of libraries with strong collections in that subject area (Johnson 2009). Crawley-Low (2002) compared a graduate-level toxicology collection to a subject bibliography for toxicology, while Henry et al. (2008) compared their small academic library's holdings compared to two authoritative lists, Books for College Libraries and Choice Outstanding Academic Titles (ACRL). Crawley-Low (2002) also used the impact factors in the Journal Citation Reports to rank the journals in her library's collection.

List checking is often used because it is easy to apply and because lists and library catalogs are available for almost every subject (Johnson 2009). However, Bergen and Nemec (1999) had difficulty finding relevant lists for their subject area (drug resistance) and therefore chose to compare their library's holdings to the online catalogs of libraries with established collections. In addition, Hall (1985) identifies several disadvantages to this measure: lists can become quickly outdated, they may not reflect local needs, and they do not indicate which items the library should not hold. Hall (1985) also warns that, "lists, even if appropriate for the subjects to be evaluated, may not reflect the interests, collection levels, or other purposes of your library" (p.14). Although list checking is a convenient way to evaluate a collection, these issues must be taken into consideration.

In addition to list checking, many libraries use comparative statistics to determine collection strength and weaknesses relative to other libraries. This process can be done manually (Bergen & Nemec 1999; Crawley-Low 2002) but there are also many commercial products that can facilitate these comparisons. Henry et .al. (2008) used OCLC's WorldCat Collection Analysis tool to compare their library's holdings to several peer libraries. The WorldCat Collection Analysis tool helped them identify strengths and weaknesses, uniqueness and overlap, and age and format of their collection. Metz and Gasser (2006) used another tool, Ulrich's Serials Analysis System, to analyze holdings for current serials within a library consortium. Johnson (2009) argues that comparative data is only useful if the data is consistently measured and reported and these tools can produce comparable data.

Collection profiling is another common collection analysis technique. "Collection profiling is the process of assembling a numerical picture of the collection at one point in time--a statistical description" (Johnson 2009). Many libraries have used collection assessment tools like the WLN/Research Libraries Group's Conspectus model (Johnson 2009) or OCLC's WorldCat Collection Analysis tool (Henry et al. 2008) to profile their collections. This process provides quantitative data like title counts for specific classification ranges as well as other information about the size, age, and usage of the collection.

Previous collection analyses emphasize the importance of selecting both quantitative and qualitative techniques (Crawley-Low 2002; Sinha & Tucker 2005; Henry et al. 2008). Comparative statistics can provide objective, quantitative data, which can measure the breadth and depth of a collection but not necessarily the quality (Johnson 2009). List checking combines both qualitative and quantitative techniques because the library subjective selects lists or catalogs to use but the comparisons produce statistical reports about what the library does and does not own (Johnson 2009). Sinha and Tucker (2005) argue that a collection assessment report should describe the strengths and weaknesses of the collection both quantitatively and qualitatively by explaining the condition of the existing collection and detailing ways to strengthen areas of real or perceived weakness.


After reviewing the literature, UCB chose a collection-based approach to evaluating the existing collection. While the Libraries were interested in determining our users' expectations, a user-centered analysis was impractical prior to the establishment of official campus departments and student enrollment. UCB chose a collection-based approach because the Libraries were primarily trying to determine gaps in the existing collection and establish collection development policies for biotechnology resources.

UCB chose a variety of collection-based analysis techniques to quantitatively and qualitatively evaluate the collection. UCB used a combination of traditional assessment techniques like list checking with new online collection assessment tools that created collection profiles and comparative statistics. Ulrich's Serials Analysis System and Spectra Dimension were used to evaluate the size of the collection and compare UCB's holdings to other library collections. In addition, UCB's collection was compared to lists of high impact journals from the Journal Citation Reports Science Edition 2006 and several bibliographic review sources including Magazines for Libraries, Choice, and Book News.

Journals Part I: Ulrich's Serials Analysis System

The journal collection was quantitatively and qualitatively evaluated using Ulrich's Serials Analysis System. Ulrich's Serials Analysis System is an online collection analysis tool that allows libraries to upload lists of ISSNs and then compare those lists to other lists uploaded by the library, Ulrich's Universe (all active titles in the Ulrich's database), Ulrich's Core (academic/scholarly, major consumer and trade publications), against a Peer Group, or against an aggregator database. Ulrich's Serials Analysis System provides information that can be used to benchmark an existing serials collection and can help libraries identify and create lists of serials that are missing from their collections (Naun and Norman 2003).

The Peer Group Reports in Ulrich's Serials Analysis System can be used to compare one's library collection to institutions with similar demographics (ProQuest LLC 2009). UCB's holdings were compared to the holdings of other four-year academic institutions with approximately 20,000 full time equivalents (FTE 20,000+). A list of ISSNs for UCB's e-journals was uploaded into Ulrich's Serials Analysis System. Table 1 was produced by comparing UCB's holdings to the Ulrich's Peer Group Four Year Academic, FTE 20,000+ Institutions.

Compared to our peer institutions, UCB held between 76-85% of the journals in the Ulrich's subject categories: biochemistry, bioengineering, biophysics, biotechnology, microbiology, and biomedical. In addition, UCB's titles as percentage of peer group are likely higher than indicated because this does not include print holdings for UCB. Although 75% leaves room for improvement, UCB held more titles than expected and this suggests that our journal collections are comparable to our peer institutions in most of these categories.

Next, UCB's holdings were compared to Ulrich's Core (academic/scholarly, major consumer and trade publications). This comparison gave us a better understanding of the total number of academic/scholarly journals published for each subject. Table 2 was produced by comparing UCB's collection to Ulrich's Core.

Compared to this comprehensive journal collection, UCB held approximately 40-50% of the titles in Ulrich's Core collection. This indicated that even though we are buying over 75% of the journals our peer institutions are buying, there are still many journals that UCB does not have access to and we may need to consider adding some of these titles to our collection. Additional qualitative analysis was necessary to determine which journals matched our collection development criteria and curricular needs. Metz and Gasser (2006) ran into a similar problem when they used Ulrich's Serials Analysis System. They needed a more precise method of identifying the important journals in the field which led to their use of review sources (2006). UCB used a similar approach and compared the journal collection to several review sources including Magazines for Libraries and the Journal Citation Reports for the sciences.

Journals Part II:List Checking

List checking was the primary evaluation technique used by UCB because it allowed us to identify collection strengths and weaknesses and create lists of titles to purchase. In order to quantitatively and qualitatively evaluate the journal collection, UCB's holdings were compared to several review sources, lists of biotechnology and biomedical journals, and other libraries with established biotechnology collections.

First, UCB's journal holdings were compared to the review source Magazines for Libraries. In addition to being an established review source, Magazines for Libraries provided a concise list of biotechnology journals that could be considered core titles for an academic library. After searching the library's catalog for each resource we determined that UCB held 96% of the biotechnology journals listed in the 2008 Magazines for Libraries and 91% of the 2007 Magazines for Libraries list (LaGuardia 2006 & 2007).

The second review source was a "Core List of Journals in Biological Engineering" posted on the Greater Western Libraries Alliance (GWLA) Biological Engineering Gateway web site (GWLA 2007). After searching the library's catalog for each resource we determined that UCB held 76% of the journals listed in GWLA's "Core List of Journals in Biological Engineering". After further researching the 24% of journals that UCB did not have holdings for it was determined that many of the missing journals fell outside of the established collection development criteria for these subjects (many of them were not in English or focused on agriculture). These journals were therefore considered what Johnson (2009) terms "nonstrengths", because librarians at UCB have made conscious decisions not to collect in those subject areas.

These comparisons indicate that UCB has a journal collection that is inclusive of several highly rated journals for biotechnology and biomedicine and the collection is comparable to other established collections. However, since these lists only provided small samples we needed to compare UCB's holdings to additional lists to effectively evaluate journal collection. According to Baker and Lancaster (1991), "a sample of 300 is reliable for estimating the coverage of a collection, but 1,000 or more references might be needed to learn anything useful about what items or types of items are missing from the collection" (p.44). In order to more accurately benchmark the journal collection, UCB's journal holdings were also compared to several reports from the Journal Citation Reports Science Edition 2006.

The Journal Citation Reports(JCRs) are published annually and the JCR Science Edition indexes over 5,900 major journals across 150 scientific disciplines (Thomson Reuters 2009). JCRs can be used as a collection development tool to identify journals with high impact factors and other metrics of use (Wagner 2009). Since the JCRs include frequently cited, high impact journals, UCB used these lists of journals to compare our collection to the most important publications in these fields.

The JCRs were used to create lists of the top-ranked journals within a discipline. Since biotechnology is such a multidisciplinary field, journals from over twenty JCR subject categories were evaluated including Biotechnology and Applied Microbiology, Biomedical Engineering, and Materials Science (Biomaterials). The selected JCR subject categories created a list of approximately 1,668 journals. Similar to the Crawley-Low (2002) analysis, staff at UCB searched the library's online catalog by title and ISSN to determine holdings for each of these journals. UCB had holdings (in print and/or online) for 86% of the journals included in those twenty JCR subject categories. This process helped the Libraries identify important journals in our existing collection and the 14% of journals that UCB did not have were evaluated to create a list of journals that would be recommended for purchase. Further evaluation indicated that UCB has holdings for approximately 6,000 e-journals with subjects in the Health and Biological Sciences. Of these e-journals, UCB has holdings for approximately 106 biotechnology, 113 biomedical, and 99 bioengineering titles. We found that our journal collection was much stronger in these subject areas than we predicted.

Books: Comparative Statistics and Collection Profile

UCB's monographic collection was quantitatively evaluated using Spectra Dimension. Similar to OCLC's WorldCat Collection Analysis tool, Spectra Dimension is a web-based collection analysis tool created by Library Dynamics that allows libraries to view size, copy, and usage data for local library collections and compare this data to peer institutions or select bibliographic sources. Spectra Dimension can help librarians identify gaps in the monographic collection, see what parts of the collection are getting used, and discover collection strengths and weaknesses compared to other libraries. It includes bibliographic and circulation data for forty-five libraries and several consortia. Spectra Dimension contains data for each participating library for 1999-2008. Although this limits the collection analysis to materials acquired in the past nine years, Spectra Dimension's ability to calculate and compare data across multiple libraries makes it an invaluable tool.

Spectra Dimension uses a drill down approach that evaluates collections at various levels of Library of Congress (LC) Classification. This drill down approach allows librarians to evaluate collections on a very broad level and identify trends over time and it also allows librarians to evaluate specific subject areas. For biotechnology, biomedicine, and related subjects, the collection was evaluated at the class level (e.g. LC Q--Science, R--Medicine, and T--Technology), at the subclass, and finally at the interval level (e.g. TP 248.13--Biotechnology).

Spectra Dimension is capable of calculating size and usage data for a base collection and up to four comparison collections. For the biotechnology evaluation, the University of Colorado at Boulder was set as the base collection and Colorado State University, University of Arizona, University of Wyoming, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison served as comparison collections. Out of the 45 libraries with data in Spectra Dimension, these libraries were chosen as UCB's peer institutions because like UCB, they are considered doctoral level research libraries at universities that offer academic programs and degrees related to biotechnology.

Books Part I: Collection Profile using Spectra Dimension

The first analysis in Spectra Dimension was a title count comparison that calculated the size of each collection for various categories of LC Classification. UCB's monographic holdings were compared to the libraries in the comparison set for Microbiology (QR 1, Biochemistry QD 415, Biomedical Engineering R 856, Medical Informatics (R 858), Bioengineering (TA 164), and Biotechnology (TP 248.13). Figure 1 compares the number titles in each of these classes.

Although many of the libraries in the comparison set have larger overall collections than UCB, UCB's holdings are statistically the median for each category except bioengineering (TA 164). Similarly, if UCB's holdings are compared to an average number of titles held in the comparison collections, UCB's collections are larger than the average of the comparison collections in every category but bioengineering (TA 164) and medical informatics (R 858). Averaging the number of titles in the comparison collections allowed us to compare UCB's holdings to other libraries with a 1:1 ratio which showed us that our collection was relatively strong in most of the categories we evaluated. Figure 2 represents UCB's holdings compared to the average number of titles in the comparison collections.

These findings suggest that UCB's monographic collections are quantitatively comparable to our peer institutions. However, after the size of each collection was determined, librarians at UCB wanted to know what was missing from our collection.

Books Part II: Gap Analysis in Spectra Dimension

In order to determine which books other libraries were collecting we used Spectra Dimension to conduct a gap analysis for several subjects. A gap analysis in Spectra Dimension provides the number of titles which are not in the base collection (UCB), but are in a designated number of comparison collections (Library Dynamics 2009). According to Spectra Dimension's interactive help, a gap analysis removes all titles held by the base collection (UCB) from the data set, and then remaining titles are assessed by the number of collections in which they occur (Library Dynamics 2009). Table 3 indicates the number of titles that UCB does not own but at least one library in the comparison set does own.

The gap analysis provided a list of books that UCB does not own that are available in other comparison library collections. Bibliographic information and usage data for each gap title can be viewed in Spectra Dimension or it can be exported and uploaded into an Excel spreadsheet. Detailed results from the gap analysis were exported from Spectra Dimension so that librarians at UCB could review a list of titles that were owned by other libraries but not owned by UCB. Adding some of the missing titles could potentially augment UCB's collection; however, title by title evaluation revealed that many of the titles not owned by UCB had subjects that did not match the curricular needs of our institution (e.g. agriculture and food science). These titles would only have peripheral value and would not be considered for our collection.

Books Part III: Using Spectra Dimension to Compare UCB to Bibliographic Review Sources Choice and Book News

Spectra Dimension also allows libraries to compare their holdings to the bibliographic review sources Choice and Book News. Many academic libraries rely on review sources like Choice and Book News as collection development tools. Choice is a publishing unit of the Association of College & Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association (ALA 2009). Each year Choice publishes more than 7,000 reviews for academic books, electronic media, and online resources (ALA 2009). According to Choice reviews Online, "Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries is the premier source for reviews of academic books, electronic media, and Internet resources of interest to those in higher education. More than 35,000 librarians, faculty, and key decision makers rely on Choice magazine and Choice Reviews Online for collection development and scholarly research" (ALA 2009). Similarly, Book News reviews new books in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities and the Book News database held over 280,000 reviews on scholarly books in all subjects, with over 18,000 new titles added annually (Book News, Inc. 2009). UCB used Spectra Dimension to determine how many Choice and Books News titles have been purchased by the Libraries and to identify subject strengths and weaknesses.

Spectra Dimension indicated that UCB has collected over 50% of the biotechnology and microbiology titles reviewed in both Choice and Book News from 1999-2005. Since the Libraries may have used Choice and Book News as a buying guide it is not surprising that UCB would own many of these books. However, these findings suggest that the library has managed to build a small core collection of books in these subjects.

On the other hand, UCB's collection lacked many of the books with medical subjects. Bioengineering and biomedical engineering are subjects that are increasingly important to the research of the CIMB and emerging bioengineering and biomedical programs in the College of Engineering at UCB but the Libraries owned less than half of the titles in both categories. This is partly due to the fact that the University of Colorado System has a separate Health Sciences Center in Denver that has its own medical library. According to UCB's collection development policies, materials that might duplicate holdings of other CU Libraries, particularly the Health Sciences Center Medical Library, are usually not purchased by UCB (University Libraries 2009b). This was one indication that the Libraries' approval plan for purchasing books was also missing or blocking these subjects so the science and engineering profiles needed to be reevaluated and adjusted.

Many of the titles reviewed in Choice and Book News that the Libraries did not purchase did not meet the collection development standards or curricular needs of UCB. We were able to use Spectra Dimension to produce a list of titles reviewed in Choice or Book News that UCB does not own and librarians were able to select materials to fill in the collection where appropriate.

Review of Methods

Ulrich's Serials Analysis System and Spectra Dimension were useful tools because they calculated and compared data across multiple libraries. However, it was still important to qualitatively analyze the data and reports generated by these systems. A variety of list checking techniques were used to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the existing collection. Even though this collection analysis encountered some of the issues Hall (1985) describes, list checking provided valuable information about the size and quality of UCB's collection relative to several bibliographic review sources and peer institutions. Overall, it was necessary to place all of the data into context and to consider the library's needs and collection development policies.

UCB chose a combination of well-established collection analysis techniques and online tools that were readily available at our Libraries. These techniques worked for a multidisciplinary field like biotechnology and would likely be successful for evaluating other subjects in UCB's collection or at other institutions. While many libraries may not have access to Ulrich's Serials Analysis System or Spectra Dimension, authoritative lists like the JCR Reports, standard bibliographies, review sources like Magazines for Libraries, Choice, and Book News, and online catalogs for other libraries are readily available sources that other libraries can use for list checking.

This collection assessment primarily evaluated existing collections and previous collection efforts and there are many considerations for further analysis. Once a stronger biotechnology collection is established, additional collection evaluation techniques like citation analysis and evaluating circulation/usage statistics will provide useful feedback on how the collection is used. Additional qualitative evaluations are needed to assess how the collection is meeting the actual and perceived needs of UCB's constituents. This analysis revealed that UCB's biotechnology and related collections are quantitatively and qualitatively comparable to peer institutions. A user-based collection analysis technique like surveying faculty members and researchers in the CIMB and related departments on campus would also provide valuable feedback and help UCB identify additional collection priorities.

Discussion of Findings

While it was hypothesized that UCB would have comparatively underdeveloped medical and biomedical collections, when compared to peer institutions and several review sources UCB's collection were quantitatively and qualitatively stronger than predicted. One of the most valuable outcomes of the collection analysis was the increased awareness of the resources already owned by UCB. Many of the librarians at UCB were unaware of the breadth and depth of our collection of health and medical journals because many of our online journals have been acquired through assorted journal packages that bundle various subjects and titles together. UCB has also gained access to a substantial number of e-journals through consortial purchases made with other libraries in the region, including the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center Library, which is one reason UCB has access to an unexpected number of health and medical e-journals.

The majority of the books purchased by the University Libraries at UCB are acquired through an approval plan with Blackwell Book Services. After the collection analysis was completed, the approval plan profile was expanded to include more titles with subjects in the biomedical and natural sciences. Since biotechnology is a multidisciplinary subject, it was also necessary for the bibliographers (selectors) in the engineering and science libraries to collectively discuss collection development strategies for building a comprehensive collection. The monographic collection was reevaluated approximately one year after the approval plan profiles were modified to measure growth. Monographs in the biotechnology subject category experienced 134% growth. Biochemistry and biomedical engineering were also substantially developed with 33% and 24% growth respectively.

Since the existing CIMB is located off-campus, the University Libraries were particularly interested in evaluating online resources including electronic books that could be accessed by researchers off campus. Like many libraries, the Engineering Library at UCB has been strategically shifting its journal and reference collections from print to electronic resources and has already developed a sizable online collection. UCB's existing collection of electronic books and electronic reference books contains several resources relevant to biotechnology, biomedicine, and bioscience. The Libraries' subscriptions to Knovel and ENGnetBASE provide access to approximately one hundred titles with biotechnology, biochemistry, bioscience, medical, or biological subjects. Subscribing to additional e-book collections like BIOSCIENCEnetBASE, would substantially increase the number of available titles and these resources would be available on and off campus 24/7.

After evaluating our electronic reference resources we determined that the Libraries lacked a set of protocols that are frequently used in scientific laboratories. We recommended that the Libraries purchase one of the major protocol collections in order to fill this gap (Cold Spring Harbor Protocols, Current Protocols (Wiley), Nature Protocols, or Springer Protocols were considered). The Libraries had a trial for each protocol collection and solicited feedback from our users to determine which set they preferred.

This collection analysis fostered awareness of the resources that UCB already owned and informed the Libraries about gaps in the collection. The findings helped shape and inform the Libraries' collection development and selection policies for several subjects. The Libraries at UCB will continue to monitor and strategically grow the biotechnology collection and other library resources in order to be responsive to the needs of the university's ever changing curricular and research needs.


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