Monday, April 15, 2013

MISSION LIBGUIDES: A Guide to Creating Guides that Aren't Awful

I've been tasked by my director to somehow wrangle our LibGuides implementation into shape. Apparently the library subscribed to the software sometime last year, and librarians have slowly been migrating their subject guides from the CUNY-grown SRMS (Subject Management Resource System) to LibGuides. LibGuides offers much more flexibility and back-end usability than SRMS (which was maintained by one person, with all users sending their edits to the e-resources librarian.) Having a system that allows each subject librarian to create and update their own guides makes much more sense, but the ease-of-use and flexibility have a DARK SIDE. Yes. Dark side. In all caps.

So all the librarians, who have varying degrees of technical expertise, are copying and pasting content, willy-nilly, into hastily-created guides in the LibGuides system. Some of them have used the software in the past, and so are comfortable removing unwanted formatting (which often requires you to toggle out of the WYSIWYG and into the html editor) and customizing pages and tabs by adding, removing, or changing the widths of columns. Some of them are understandably daunted by guides that contain giant text and random fonts that they never chose.

I plan on giving a workshop for staff in the coming months, to cover topics such as pasting into a text editor to remove formatting (I've also been installing PureText on people's computers for them. I use it myself, and love it for instant conversion to plain text.) I'll also be going over how to add, remove, and adjust column widths, and when to use special content boxes (such as for multimedia or books from the catalog.)

While putting together this workshop, I've realized that while I can show people how to use the software, I don't really know what to tell them about design. Personally, I can't stand cluttered guides (3 rows of tabs?! Go home LibGuide, you are drunk,) but I can't refer the librarians to any best practice guides outside of the LibGuides system. To this end, I started doing some research to look at best practices (based on assessment/usability testing) for creating subject guides. I'd love to turn this research into an article, but until I see what's already been written on the topic, I can't say if that will happen or not.

I did, however, create a Zotero user group ( for my research, so you can read up on the topic yourself, if you feel so inclined. I'll be adding to it on an ongoing basis, so you can join the group if you want to keep up with what I'm finding. I also opened up comments and discussion, so feel free to share your thoughts. Oh, and if you want me to add you as a contributor to the group, let me know. It might be cool to see what a bunch of us can find, if we all pitch in.