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Online Research Guides

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.

Published inCarletonLibraries and Librarians


  1. Kristofer Kristofer

    Iris: when I started several years ago, I had one general Research Guide for my department…..Graduate Education. Our Grad Ed program has many facets, such as ESL, MAED, EdD, Masters in Teaching, and Environmental Education. As you can imagine, the Environmental Education students are going to be needing something a bit different from our ESL people, so I have been over the last few years, designing Research Guides for each general area. I am also starting to move these into a wiki format. Now, the guides I do have usually have an index to their specific resource needs: reference, web, articles, books, etc…I have also started to think of them as “one stop shopping” for the students. If they were/are going to bookmark one page from the library, I would like it to be the research guide. I have also started, with the wiki, to start off with a question, such as “Looking for Articles?” “Where are the databases?” “How do get books from other libraries?”, etc…as opposed to just a heading with a list of resources to follow. I think part of the reason for doing that, is that some people might not understand a heading like “databases” or “interlibrary loan”. Anyway, here is one of them that I have moved into wiki format.

    And here is one I am currently working on transferring over to a wiki

  2. Iris Iris

    Hi Kristofer,

    Yes, a more dynamic medium would probably solve a lot of my problems. I’ve experimented with going the wiki route, and I probably will again. The three things that have stopped me so far are not really the fault of the wiki environment. They are:

    1) Lack of time to convert everything. (Though once the first conversion was done, it would probably save me time in the long run.)

    2) The whole department isn’t on board with moving in that directly, and I do believe that there’s value in having consistent access to our guides for all our students. This is especially true, I think, at a school like ours where all the students take so many classes outside of their majors.

    3) I haven’t come up with an organizational structure in the wiki environment that makes sense to me. But again, this is probably due to lack of time to experiment with it.

    4) The web designers have been toying with the idea of creating a library-specific application that would be wiki-like, but even more perfectly designed for what we need. But as long as we hold out hope that they’re developing that, which they haven’t yet begun, we aren’t experimenting with other tools, which is probably not wise.

    So all this is to say, “good idea,” and “you’re probably right.” And thank you very much for showing me your wiki examples! I always learn a lot when I see what has worked for other librarians. Little by little, I might teach myself how this could work for me and my department.

  3. Kristofer Kristofer

    Responding to your points

    1)Yeah, it is not as easy as one would think.

    2) Research Guides are one of the few things we DO NOT standardized and most of us do not even use the cms templates to create them. We let the liaisons decide what is needed for their areas, though I do understand the desire to have some standardization, especially for our undergrad classes.

    3)Always takes time to experiment, which it always seems we have not enough time for. It took me several months to come up with a wiki I liked using and a format that made sense.

    your summation)
    Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say I am right, as it is just what I have done this year. Of course, next year I am sure things will either “look off” or “just wrong” and I will rethink it all over again. :) Cheers!


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