Reinventing Research Guides

LibGuides at two academic libraries

Emily Frigo & Laura Harris, Grand Valley State University; Kenn Liss, Boston College; Maura Seale, Georgetown University.

Huge room, overpacked with people.  Folks sitting on the floor along the walls, some to access the one electrical outlet in the room, others to be comfortable.  The obligatory knitter is in the floor group.

History of research guides

Beginning: MIT pathfinders.  Early 1970’s.  Coined the term “library pathfinders.”  Provided instructional information on how to search.  Introductory sources, key subject headings, aimed at beginning researchers.  Fairly brief.  Made them available to other libraries to adapt.

Questions raised in the literature

How broad or narrow in scope should the research guides be?  Some are very narrow in scope.  Some broad.  Lately more emphasis on course guides.

Guidance: should guides lead students to the research sources or help them find their own paths?  Some guides have gone back to a simple list, others incorporate instructions.  Key subject headings, steps in research projects, etc.

Design/terminology.  What do you call them?  Pathfinders, research guides, webliographies, library guides.  Library jargon=bad thing.

Standardization: how much should there be among guides?  Standard format, or color?

Workload: what impact does guide management and maintenance have on librarians’ workload? As guides have gone online and our contact with students is online, does that make them less important?  Is it important if nobody uses them?

How can guides best be brought to the attention of those for whom they are intended?  The more prominent they are on a library page, the more likely it is they will be used.

Implementing LibGuides

Librarians at GVSU and BC were frustrated with the systems they used to create subject guides.  LibGuides helped reduce the workload – boxes and pages can be copied.  Boxes and pages can be copied from other institutions – are we moving back to the MIT model?  Web 2.0 features: RSS, videos, books, files, Delicious tag clouds, Google search boxes (including Google Scholar.)

What should LibGuides be used for?  What shouldn’t it be used for?  Both institutions are increasing number of course guides.  Can have different ways of organizing the guides.  Has moved from long list of resources to tips and suggestions on how to do the research.  Changed “Indexes and Databases” to “Finding Articles.”

Neither institution has done much promotion, but link placement has helped.  Little customization in the guides.  Trying to find balance between individual creativity and standardization.

Librarians are loving LibGuides.

Student survey

Lack of information about users of research guides in library literature.  Conducted survey at GVSU and BC.  Questions asked about scope, guidance, design and terminology, and promotion.

Scope – Non-users preferred more specific guides at both BC and GVSU.  Course guides seen as most useful.

Users thought the amount of information offered was appropriate.  Descriptions were deemed useful.  Users at GV preferred general subject guides; BC users preferred specific guides.

Guidance – non-users: significant number expect help, how-tos, explicit guidance.  Some expectation of credible, reliable, high quality information.

Users: “How to do research” and descriptions desired in addition to lists of resources.  Majorities had not used librarian profiles to contact librarians.    Hoping this changes when the guides are promoted more.

Design and promotion – Close to 90% found tabs at top of page helpful.  Argues against long, linear pages.   Best to keep info above the fold.  97% of BC users liked “research guides.”  75% at GVSU liked ‘library guides.”

Where to link from?  Strong response for Blackboard and syllabus.  Student comment – “NOT Facebook, that is unprofessional.”  Having a link from the library website had an influence at GVSU, less so at BC.  Students heard about the guides from professors, librarians, library website, classmates, and blackboard – in that order.   Few users accessed guides from Blackboard, but 90% recommended they place links there.

Non-user answers: library homepage, university website, email reminders, department website.

Many of the open-ended responses indicated that they had never heard of the guides.  “The survey is the greatest promotion tool that we’ve done so far.”  (Chuckle from the audience on that one.)

Next steps

Market to major stakeholders, get on Blackboard and syllabi, integrate with instruction, more course guides, more guideance and “how-to.”  Will do deeper analysis of survey data and will do further testing (2009-10.)

LibGuides is not the only way to do subject guides – can use wiki, delicious, home-grown solutions.

For more information.


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