Internet Subject Guides in Academic Libraries by R Jackson & L.J. Pellack

Jackson, R., & Pellack, L. J. (2004). Internet Subject Guides in Academic Libraries. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 43(4), 319-327

I’m reproducing the author supplied abstract to assist the discussion.

    This article describes a research project to determine the uniqueness of Internet subject guides among Association of Research Libraries academic libraries. The authors examined guides in four subject areas (philosophy, journalism/communication, astronomy, and chemistry) at the web sites of 112 libraries, collecting data on the number of links per guide, the arrangement of resources, the information included about the resources, the kinds of resources included, and the number of nonworking links. As a result of the examination of these guides, a number of questions emerged, which led to the creating of a survey mailed to the heads of reference services in each of the libraries. The authors discuss the results of their examinations and of the survey and make recommendations for future research.

Jackson and Pellack collected a lot of data about the subject guides created by 112 member libraries of ARL. But I thought their analysis is all over the place and therefore unhelpful to the readers.

What is uniqueness?

The authors did not really formulate any framework to look at uniqueness. That is, what constitute uniqueness? What are the criteria for uniqueness? Because this conceptualization is missing, the authors cannot really conclude on uniqueness. At the end, I still don’t know whether the authors are of the mind that the subject guides they studied were unique or not.

The phrase “linked to only one library” appears a couple of times in the article. It can be deduced that perhaps the authors believe that the higher the number of resources that were linked to only one library guide demonstrate that that particular guide is unique. Unfortunately, not a lot was discussed about this “linked to only one library” idea.

I think it is a bit lame to write,

    “Thus the authors concur that having individual guides at each library does often serve as an opportunity for the library to tailor its guides to the specific programs at its university. Yet, the authors also found many unique links that could have been useful for just about any program in that subject area and other unique links that were tangential to the subjects covered.”

Definition of Internet Subject Guides

When one survey the subject guides scene, it should be obvious that the guides are of various depth and created for different user groups. Some are pathfinders for beginners, some are course-specific and some are general. The authors presented the number of guides in each subject but fail to mention whether all of them are general subject guides or are they created for specific types of users. Perhaps they only chose to look at general subject guides but readers will never know because they did not state it.

Secondly, the authors were using research literature about Internet resource guides to discuss library subject guides. To me, they are different. Internet resource guides consists of web resources such as web portals, forums, news wires, blogs and etc. while library subject guides contain library owned resources like books and AV or library subscribed resources like paid databases. Web resources may be included if they are helpful.

In their conclusion, the authors mentioned that librarians should include links to relevant e-journals, indexed or abstracts as well as important web sites. If they have overlooked the intention of the subject guides and have mixed up Internet resource guides and library subject guides, that observation would have been unavoidable and unfair.

Conclusion off-topic

The authors covered the following in their conclusion. I’m wondering how are these relevant to uniqueness?

  1. How easy was it to find guides on the homepage?
  2. Arrangement and format of guides
  3. Dates on the subject guides
  4. Keeping of usage statistics

The authors collected good and extensive data but they didn’t do a good literature review nor formulate a good framework for analysis. The conclusion was unfocused and strayed to other issues. Not that these issues are not important, they were just not present in the introduction or objective of the study as stated by the authors.