Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Merging Subject Guides into Subject Pages

If yours is like a lot of academic libraries, somewhere in it there's a shelf, or a twirly rack, or a set of letterboxes, in which you keep your subject-based research guides.

Those guides might have lists of databases or citation indexes, or reference books (complete with call numbers and/or URLS), or Boolean search tips. Chances are you haven't updated them in awhile. There are always so many other things to do. And if you're me, when you make a research guide these days, you tailor it to a particular class, even a particular assignment.

Research guides make a lot of sense. They probably made more when most library research tools were paper-based. But these days, that's no longer the case for most of us.

At Online Northwest this year, I was impressed by the Course Assignment Guides developed by the OSU Libraries. These are the next step beyond class- or assignment-specific guides such as we use at my library: research tools fully integrated with help in using them, dynamically generated according to the librarian's specifications.

So why not organize subject resources this way? So many subject pages (including ours, I admit) are just lists of resources with hyperlinks. There's not much there to guide students. Sure, if students comes to the reference desk or to a class, we can teach them to use these things (and they should do that anyway), but for those who don't, a few tips, pointers, and ways to get help can go a long way.

Some people will still want a printed handout or research guide, but if you're using a content management system to generate your website, or even just know a bit of CSS, you can create an integrated guide/subject page that has a print-friendly exemplar for whoever wants one.

We're looking at revamping subject guides at my library; most of ours are out of date and refer to resources we no longer have or have access to. Instead of just generating a new handout, I'm advocating taking this integrated approach.

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