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Association of Research Libraries (ARL®)

  Statistics & Assessment Contact:
Lee Anne George
SPEC Surveys

Participating in SPEC

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What Is the SPEC Survey Program?

ARL has gathered and disseminated data on “hot topics” related to research library policies and practices through the SPEC survey program for more than 35 years. Each year ARL works with librarians in the US and Canada to develop new surveys of the ARL membership that will assist libraries in the continuous improvement of their management systems.

Proposals for survey topics are evaluated in July and six topics are selected for the following year’s survey cycle. Criteria for a topic’s selection include its currency and insightfulness, its importance to research libraries, its relevance to ARL’s three strategic directions (Influencing Public Policies; Reshaping Scholarly Communication; and Transforming Research Libraries) or the Association’s programs that promote diversity and assessment, and whether documents that illustrate current policies and practices can be gathered from respondents.

Who Can Author a SPEC Survey?

Typically, SPEC survey authors are librarians in one or more of the ARL member libraries, but this is not a requirement. Authors may work alone or with one or more partners. Authors are expected to be familiar with the issues surrounding the proposed topic and to have conducted a preliminary review of the literature to help focus the scope of the survey. They are also expected to be familiar with the ARL strategic directions and the SPEC Kit format.

How Do I Participate in the SPEC Survey Program?

To have your topic considered for a SPEC survey, respond to the annual Call for Proposals and submit a brief proposal (two to five pages total) that includes the following elements:

  • A short bio of the author(s) indicating qualifications to carry out research on the proposed topic.

  • An overview of the topic with a discussion of why it is important to examine it at this time and a description of what you hope to learn from the survey data. Include a statement such as “The purpose of this survey is to...” (This text will be used to introduce the survey to respondents.)

  • A paragraph indicating the relevance of the research topic to ARL.

  • A list of the main categories of survey questions—reflecting your description of what you hope to learn—along with a sample question for each category.

  • A list of the types of supporting documentation you would request from survey respondents.

What Are SPEC Kits?

Each SPEC Kit contains an executive summary of the SPEC survey results; survey questions with answer tallies and selected comments; the best representative documents submitted by survey participants, such as policies, procedures, handbooks, guidelines, websites, records, brochures, and statements; and a selected reading list of both print and online resources that contains the most current literature available on the topic.

The information contained in SPEC Kits is valuable to a variety of users, both inside and outside the library. Readers use the documentation found in SPEC Kits as a point of departure for research and problem solving because they lend immediate authority to proposals and set standards for designing programs or writing procedure statements. SPEC Kits also function as an important reference tool for library administrators, staff, students, and professionals in allied disciplines who may not have access to this kind of information. Originally established as an information source for ARL member libraries, the SPEC Kit series has grown to serve the needs of the library community worldwide.

How Long Is the Process from Survey to SPEC Kit?

The process to complete a SPEC Kit—from drafting the survey to publication—takes approximately 18 months. Authors must commit to complete the work within that time frame. Typically, authors work on their draft surveys over the first summer and work with ARL staff to polish their survey in the fall. The online surveys are posted on the SPEC Survey Web page between January and June. Authors analyze their data and begin submitting draft SPEC Kit components the second summer. The completed SPEC Kits are published between July and December.

What Support Does ARL Provide to Authors?

ARL staff provide considerable help throughout the process from survey design to publication of the completed SPEC Kit. ARL staff work with survey authors to prepare a concise, well-focused survey. ARL staff design the Web survey response form, announce the new survey to the SPEC survey liaisons, collect and tabulate the responses, gather the representative documentation from respondents, and deliver a package of data and documentation to the author for analysis. ARL staff and the author work collaboratively to edit the text of the executive summary and survey questions & responses and to review and select the representative documentation. ARL staff assemble and format the pieces of the SPEC Kit and prepare the files for publication.

Resources for Survey Authors

Description of ARL’s Strategic Directions

For previous SPEC survey topics see:

Complete list of published SPEC Kits

Current SPEC surveys

Who Do I Contact for More Information?

Lee Anne George
Publications Program Officer
Association of Research Libraries
21 Dupont Circle, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20036
ph: (202) 296-2296
fax: (202) 872-0884