Tests and Measures in the Social Sciences: Best Practices in Collection Development, Instruction, and Reference


ALA Midwinter 2007 (Seattle), Current Topics Discussion

Test collections in academic libraries

Few attendees indicated having a formal test collection at their library. Those having test collections said their collections are small and difficult to keep current. Some reported having inherited a collection from a department but then not having a budget to purchase new tests. Several attendees mentioned having “fugitive” test collections elsewhere at their universities, primarily in psychology or education departments.

An exception was the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Nancy O’Brien, librarian). The University of Illinois has a test collection funded through the education and social science library budget.

Only a couple attendees indicated a desire to start a test collection. Most attendees said they instead rely on ETS Tests in Microfiche or test compilation sources. Most attendees felt there are too many issues related to access and maintenance to justify starting a local collection. An exception … Susan Ariew, presenting the University of South Florida, expressed her hope to develop a test collection at her institution.

Few institutions represented at the discussions currently purchase tests. For librarians purchasing tests, selection is a key issue. One attendee said she only purchases tests taught in assessment courses. One attendee stated that she relies on faculty to help identify new tests and weed those that are outdated. One said she relies primarily on faculty and graduate student recommendations rather than test reviews when deciding which tests to purchase. She also consults frequency use tables published in the preface to the print version of Mental Measurements Yearbook.

A library at a land-grant institution has been unable to purchase test kits from some publishers. State regulations do not allow the library to deny access to collections and yet most test publishers require the purchaser to assume responsibility for appropriate use of materials.

Test users

The primary users of test materials varied from institution to institution depending on programs at the institution. Test users identified included students in psychology (graduate and undergraduate), education (graduate and undergraduate), nursing, and social work (graduate). At the University of Illinois, some researchers use the historical test collection there.

Some classes that often ask students to find a test or measure include research methods, introductory lab in psychology, classes that work on developing a research proposal, and advanced clinical practice in social work.

Other test resources and collections

Several attendees indicated having the ETS Tests in Microfiche collection. However, some attendees said they do not have the most recent sets. Note: ETS has closed the Tests in Microfiche collection and plans to replace it with an online subscription service in 2008.

One attendee mentioned there might be a way to search the ETS TestLink database for instruments available through the Tests in Microfiche collection. Attendees asked if this could be investigated and instructions for doing so disseminated.

Several attendees believed that having access to an ETS online test collection would serve students well, since most students just want a measure of X. Everyone is anxious for this product to come out.

There was discussion about the HAPI (Health and Psychosocial Instruments) database. Several institutions represented subscribe to HAPI. HAPI provides references to tests but not the instruments, at least online. Upon request, HAPI staff will mail test instruments for a fee that covers shipping and handling. Some attendees did not feel that HAPI provides significant benefits beyond what is available in PsycINFO, although none of the attendees reported having used the HAPI document delivery service. SUNY Albany dropped its HAPI subscription. One attendee noted that HAPI is more appropriate for medical and nursing fields.

Most institutions represented at the discussion subscribe to Mental Measurements Yearbook online, which provide the full text of test reviews. Most attendees felt that Mental Measurements Yearbook is a core resource even though full text only goes back to 1985. It was pointed out that the online version has only the most recent test reviews.

A core resource mentioned in more than one group is a site by Helen Hough of the University of Texas at Arlington that identifies test instruments available in test compilations. See Tests and Measures in the Social Sciences: Tests Available in Compilation Volumes. Some attendees said they use the site as a collection development tool.

Several attendees mentioned that test instruments can sometimes be located using databases such as PsycINFO, ERIC, and CINAHL. Several attendees recommended conducting a topic search and then combining results with results of a search for the word “appended.” Consult the webpage by Susan Macicak of the University of Texas at Austin for more specific instructions on this strategy.

Test instruments are also sometimes appended to dissertations. Search Digital Dissertations (aka Dissertations & Theses). At Alliant International University, instruments used in dissertations are indexed in the catalog records. To see how this works, go to the Search for AIU Dissertations by: Web page, click the “Tests” link, and enter the name of an instrument (e.g. Beck Depression Inventory).

Other test resources mentioned by attendees:

Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery

Testing and Education Reference Center
An online subscription service from Thompson/Gale that provides copies of advanced placement, college credit, civil service, undergraduate college entrance, graduate college entrance, GED, and other examinations. The service also provides information about colleges and scholarships.

An online store of test preparation materials in a variety of categories and professions.

Encyclopedia of Psychological Assessment
A two-volume encyclopedia published in 2003 by Sage. A good source of information about tests. Test instruments are not included.

Access and use issues

Several librarians in attendance said they continue to grapple with test access and use issues including how to prevent students from using commercial tests when they have not received permission to do so and whether permission is needed to use instruments retrieved from a compendium or appended to an article. Some attendees expressed concern that students are using plagiarized tests off the web with no training manuals and no qualifications for their use. It was noted that tests in the ETS Tests in Microfiche collection can be used without first obtaining author permission.

The University of Illinois has agreements with three test publishers regarding access to their test instruments. Agreements stipulate that instruments cannot be copied or used outside the library. Contact Nancy O’Brien for more information.

Attendees in one group discussed benefits of having examination copies of tests to help users understand test construction issues.

One attendee noted that permission to use unpublished tests is explicitly required in the IRB process at her campus.

For samples of test use and security statements see Directory of Test Collections in Academic, Professional, and Research Libraries, published in 2001 by ACRL and compiled by the Ad Hoc Committee on the Test Collection Directory, Education and Behavioral Sciences Section.

Suggested resources for information regarding test access and use include:

"Responsibilities of Test Users" on the American Psychological Association website on Finding Information about Psychological Tests

Tests & Measures website by Miriam Joseph of St. Louis University

Reference and instruction

Most attendees have created web pages to assist their patrons with tests and measures. These pages typically direct users to in-house compendiums and online resources like Helen Hough’s test compilation database. Some web pages include information on copyright and ethical use.

Some suggested test resource web pages:

Karen Hartman’s guide at Rutgers University

Miriam Joseph's guide at St. Louis University

see also her statement on access

Susan Macicak's guide at the University of Texas at Austin

an online tutorial for finding measurements, developed by the University of Washington Health Sciences Libraries

Bernadette Lear’s guide at Penn State Harrisburg

Several attendees stressed the importance of including information about tests and measures on the appropriate subject librarian’s page and making test information highly visible.

At one table, attendees discussed who should provide instruction on ethical use of tests … the librarian or classroom faculty. The consensus at the table was that this is the faculty’s role.

Susan Ariew at the University of South Florida wants to create a database of tests available at her institution indicating where they are held on campus. She would also like a basic inventory of tests in the library catalog. Nancy O’Brien of the University of Illinois recommended using a PHP-based database by CANS, Ltd.

Many attendees agreed that users have difficulty interpreting citations in test-related databases, locating appropriate measures, and obtaining test instruments. Many attendees said they provide formal instruction sessions on these topics. Among the venues for test instruction: library orientation sessions and assessment classes. Some attendees said they plant the seed in introductory classes in hopes they will be invited back to talk about test use, including ethics, in more depth. One attendee suggested starting instruction with background information about tests … what they are, how they are produced … before discussing mechanics of resources like Mental Measurements Yearbook.

With regard to educating other library staff about test resources, it was generally agreed in one group that test information is specialized knowledge. As such, all librarians should not be expected to know this material. Perhaps a better strategy would be to make sure other librarians know who to call for help with test questions.

Reference tip: When a patron seeks tests on a specific subject, the librarian might suggest a print source such as Measures for Clinical Practice: A Sourcebook. If the patron seeks a known test, the librarian might suggest Mental Measurements Yearbook.

Some popular tests based on requests received by attendees include Myers-Briggs, Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test, Teele Inventory for Multiple Intelligences, and Beck Depression Inventory.

How can EBSS help?

Some attendees suggested that EBSS create a “cut and paste” resource for librarians to draw from (to create guides for tests and measures) similar to the Social Work Toolbox. Perhaps the EBSS Reference Committee would be interested, one attendee suggested. Or, perhaps, EBSS could create a clearinghouse with links to information, free test resources, and downloadable handouts.

Compiled by:

Tobeylynn Birch, Alliant International University
Paula McMillen, Oregon State University
Sally Neal, Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis
Bruce Stoffel, Illinois State University

with assistance from Susan Macicak, University of Texas at Austin