Web Subject Guides: virtual connections across the university community by Rachel McMullin & Jane Hutton

McMullin, R. & Hutton, J. (2010). Web Subject Guides: virtual connections across the university community. Journal of Library Administration, 50 (7), 789-797. Open URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01930826.2010.488972

I’m reproducing the author supplied abstract here:

    A year ago, West Chester University Libraries began using the LibGuides library content management system. In the 1st year since implementing LibGuides (http://subjectguides.wcupa.edu), our subject librarians have developed numerous subject guides, replacing outmoded and outdated web pages with new guides that have a more appealing format. We have also found that web guides can be used for projects beyond the traditional library subject guide. One of the best features of the LibGuides software is that it allows our subject librarians to easily repackage information and resources in multiple ways that suit different audiences. In this article, the authors describe how they have used these guides to respond to the needs of their university community and how they hope to expand the potential uses of the web guides.

This article is about how West Chester University of Pennsylvania libraries implemented LibGuides. The article raised a few things interesting points that got me thinking about the Subject Rooms Project that I have been working on.

  1. Great difference among guides in format, content and design aesthetics

I think a certain amount of control should be exercised over design, content and format to ensure a certain level of good quality content and best practices in web design and layout.

It is good that different subject guides are distinctive but the difference should not be quality. Quality of guides must not suffer due to the interest level of subject librarians. Negative experiences last a long time and poorly created guides do more damage to the image and reputation of the library than not having any guides at all.

2. Individual and group training sessions and a “WCU Librarians Share Guide” with examples of link formats and search box scripts

Training and meetings are really indispensable. From technical lessons to explanations of the scope, guidelines and policies,as well as for maintaining motivation and inspiration.

3. Naming conventions to locate an appropriate guide

I have been oscillating between different ways to name the various subject guides within the rooms. As more guides are created, I am starting to see a little light at the end of the tunnel. So far I have come across content that can be classified as follows:

  1. Resource guides
  2. Bibliographies
  3. Research guides
  4. Course guides
  5. How-to articles
  6. Database tutorials or user guides
  7. Glossary

4. Gateway to Guides

McMullin & Hutton felt that LibGuides’ Home page does not offer sufficient granularity to optimally direct users and are toying with the idea of developing a customizable library webpage to serve as a gateway.

Although there is a Subject Room landing page for our users to get to the rooms, the guides are fairly hidden within each room. With WordPress MU, there seems to be a way to pick out the guides and present them in different ways at different online locations. It is something that I will definitely want to explore.

5. Promotion & Publicity

The subject rooms definitely need publicity and promotion. West Chester’s use of instructions sessions to do that is a great idea. I will also need to encourage subject librarians to incorporate their subject rooms into their classes. Not as a after-thought but whether it could an anchor instead. This will take some proto-typing and planning.

Last but not least, the authors quoted Stephen Bell in his 2009 “The library web site of the future” article:

    “The primary function of the contemporary academic library website is to connect a user to content, be it an article database, e-book or e-journal article, and to do it with minimal barriers and maximum speed and ease.”

And they seems to think that the web guides have done that. I am not that optimistic. As I continue to work on the Subject Rooms project, I am also aware that the library is planning to implement a web discovery service. Be it Ebsco Discovery Service, Exlibris Primo, Serial Solutions’ Summons or OCLC WorldCat.org, it will soon really connect users to library resources with minimal barriers and maximum speed and ease. So where does that leave subject guides or subject rooms? I’m not trying to find a reason to justify the continued presence of subject guides. They should be abandoned if they no longer serve a purpose. I just believe that there is still a role and the answer lies somewhere in the debate about whether the net generation still need inter-mediation.