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Scaling back on LibGuides

May 20, 2022
"This is fine" meme but dog says "why don't we make a LibGuide?"
Twitter user @TwoGreatOaks’ meme that summarizes my feelings about LibGuides

I have a love-hate relationship with LibGuides. So much so I presented about them at LOEX 2022 just a couple of weeks ago. In that presentation, my mentor and I expressed our frustrations and hopes for LibGuides in what we consider to be their optimal use. We started off by soliciting the audience’s grievances, and, boy, did they deliver.

Complaints about LibGuides

It seems like everyone has a beef with making LibGuides. If they are so onerous to make…to keep up to date…to get students to use…Why do we continue to make them? Would anything make them better? I have so much to say on this topic, especially after conducting a literature review in preparation for our presentation, but, for now, I will reflect on the aspect that sticks with me the most: centering the learner.

Take a moment to think about how you decide to make a LibGuide. I suspect we fall into these categories:

  • Subject LibGuides for liaison subjects/departments
  • Course Guides at faculty request or our own volition.
  • General guides about a topic of our choosing, whether subject or current event related.

These approaches do not inherently center the learner. They center the information and, honestly, us. We choose what materials to include in the guides based on subject expertise or familiarity with collections. Faculty let us know what they want to see in the guides sometimes with little room for feedback from us. Or we choose to make a guide based on a topic we find interesting or important. Where are our users in these approaches?

Centering the learner means understanding how our students look for and engage with information. Librarians’ mental models differ from our students’. We have a complete understanding of the research process and present information in a way that reflects that. We create guides that have a certain flow, that have an order that is logical to us: here are the books that might be useful, here are the databases. Students are focused on the product of research. They want access to the information that will get them there which means they are not reading through our guides like a book.

Our students are also search dominant thanks in part to Google. When they see a search box, they will use it both to “assert independence” from the navigation and as an “escape hatch” when they can’t seem to find what they need. They are not browsing our lists of resources on LibGuides just because. It is unsustainable for us to continue to make guides that we *think* might be useful but then never update them. And then hand them over to other librarians when we leave an institution.  

To me it seems like the best approach to making LibGuides is to make them for specific courses and to embed them into the learning management system (LMS), like Canvas or Blackboard. When we go into that class for an instruction session, either teach directly from the guide or make explicit to students that the guide was made specifically for them. They are more likely to use the guide when it is already embedded into the LMS environment that they are in all the time.

This approach will result in fewer guides, which sounds really great to me. The guides we do make, however, will be more meaningful and useful to our students. I’m willing to try it out.

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