As part of my liaison duties, I create and maintain the “subject” and “course” research guides designed for the departments I serve. Subject research guides are meant to give students a grasp of the resources available that most researchers in a given major or concentration will probably need at some point in their research. Course research guides are designed for specific courses that I’m supporting each term.
And really, the course research guides are pretty simple to come up with. They usually either replace or complement any handouts that are appropriate for a class, and they’re almost always tied to a specific assignment or set of assignments, so I generally have a fairly good idea of what those students will need.
Subject research guides are another matter entirely. I have no idea what I’m doing, really. Do I gather things by resource type (e.g. “Finding books,” “Finding articles,” “Useful web sites,” etc.), or do I gather things by topic? (Here’s an example of a page that’s organized by resource-type, and here’s one that’s organized by topic.) Either way, they’re long lists of stuff, and not very interesting, but with our current tools I’m tied to a heavily text-based, straight HTML page.
When you think about it, the idea of breaking things up by resource type vs. topic really comes down to your choice of audience. Am I creating these primarily for inexperienced researchers who need help getting started? If so, topical organization seems to make sense. It pulls together fewer things and makes it so students don’t have to jump around to see if other resource-types will be useful to their topics. But if I’m primarily making these things for more intermediate-level researchers who already know that all they want is the MLA International Bibliography, for example, a page full of topics (where the MLA-IB could appear in any one of the topics, or all of them) would probably drive them batty! If I were using these pages, I’d want to click “articles” and see a short list of the databases and indexes that are relevant to an area of study.
So who is my audience? I don’t really know. But I’ve finally realized that answering this question could make the creation of these subject pages so much easier.