Course guide best practices, part 2

1. Guide usability

Hintz, K., Farrar, P., Eshgi, S., et al. (2010). Letting students take the lead: A user-centred approach to evaluating subject guides. Evidence-Based Library and Information Practice, 5(4), 39-52.

Respondents to the student questionnaire indicated that a simple and clean layout was of primary importance. Students also desired succinct annotations to resources and limited page scrolling. Meanwhile, few students identified Web 2.0 features such as rating systems and discussion forums as being important for their needs (p. 40). Method/sample: 55 student questionnaires (78% undergraduates, 22% graduate students).

Ouellette, D. (2011). Subject guides in academic libraries: A user-centred study of uses and perceptions. The Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 35(4), 226-241.

The highest priority for students was that the guides had clean and easy to use designs (p. 234). Problems the students encountered included clutter (too many tabs/menu choices, too many resources listed), unclear language (inconsistent or confusing tab labels, library terminology, and acronyms), and the general look and feel (students do not like the tab navigation system of LibGuides (p. 237)). Method/sample: Interviews with 11 students (6 undergraduates, 5 graduate students). Thanks to Lynn Jones for finding this study.

2. Guide organization

Resource-centered approach:

Prentice, K. A., Gaines, J. K., & Levy, L. S. (2009). New ?starting points? for resources by subject. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 28(1), 88-97. doi:10.1080/02763860802616110

The objective of the Starting Points Web page series at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT HSC) Libraries is to provide specialized information resources in an organized online format. Highlighted resources include databases, journals, UT HSC campus information, funding sources, PubMedŽ RSS article feeds, and information about professional associations (p. 88).

Process-centered approach:

Hemmig, W. (2005). Online pathfinders: Toward an experience-centered model. Reference Services Review, 33(1), 66-87.

Pathfinder theory remains at heart system-centered; despite a real concern for the user's needs it remains the user who is reoriented to conform to the needs of the system (pp. 66 -67).

Kuhltau, C. (1991). Inside the search process: Information seeking from the user?s perspective. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42(5), 361-371.

Although information systems and intermediaries have been fairly successful at providing information in the latter stages of a search, they have not fared nearly so well in the early stages. Systems and intermediaries are presently directed to answering well-defined questions, not ill-defined ones reflecting uncertainty (p. 370).

Staley, S. M. (2007). Academic subject guides: A case study of use at San Jose State University. College & Research Libraries, 68(2), 119-139.

Subject guides are usually lists of resources, and according to Carol Kulthau, this presentation by itself does not match the Information Search Process (ISP) students go through to find materials. A subject guide that incorporates the cognitive process to completing course assignments—steps addressing the different stages of the student ISP—would more closely parallel students' mental model (p. 132).

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