It’s hard to imagine an academic library today without web-based research guides. Dominating the scene is Springshare LLC, founded in 2007, with its web-based application, LibGuides. According to its website (springshare.com), LibGuides are used by 4,800 libraries in 78 countries.
Springshare’s release of LibGuides 2.0 provides a key opportunity to take advantage of new functionality and re-evaluate how the library manages its system of research guides. Beginning in the summer of 2014, Northwestern University Library began its transition to LibGuides 2.0. With more than 500 published guides and 88 active guide authors, upgrading to the new system was a big job, but also an opportunity for a fresh start.
Management of LibGuides at Northwestern University Library falls within the domain of the user experience department, which is the locus for our systematic effort to get in touch with the library’s userbase. At the heart of our philosophy is the notion that the development of library services should be informed by a continuous flow of feedback from users that encompass the full range of consumers of the library’s services, including students, faculty, visitors, and staff. In keeping with this philosophy, we were determined to integrate the user’s perspective into all aspects of the migration. Through careful planning and collaboration, we created a process of usability testing, guide management, asset maintenance, and staff training that allowed us to successfully launch the new platform before the start of the academic year.
LibGuides Working Group
To help spread the workload and ensure that multiple perspectives were taken into account, we created a working group to manage the transition project. The LibGuides 2.0 Transition Working Group consisted of representatives from our Learning Services Unit, the Web & Mobile Services Unit, Research and Information Services, a representative from special collections, and one from the science and technology library.
The working group established a timeline, setting goals over the summer for completing milestones along the way. In addition to managing the changeover, the team began to work on establishing a new set of guidelines for guide owners and designing a set of templates for use in the new system. Since the migration required guide owners to review content and make modifications, we needed a way to maintain our momentum, communicate regularly at each step in the process, and provide opportunities for feedback.
We held weekly forums in one of the library’s instruction rooms, which are equipped with individual workstations so staff could actually work on their guides in the moment. Members of the working group were always on hand to move about the room and help answer questions.
A–Z Database Library
LibGuides 2.0 utilizes an internal library of database assets to allow for centralized control and maintenance. If your institution had already set up a central database library in version 1.0, it would simply migrate over to the new version. Unfortunately, at Northwestern we had never created a central list, so we had to create it prior to migration. Using an extract of data from our ExLibris MetaLib system, we produced a spreadsheet of all our databases that contained the title, URL, description, and an indicator of whether access to the database required use of our proxy server.
The necessity of creating the central list turned out to be a blessing in disguise—it allowed us to take better stock of how we were presenting our databases to users. In general, our database descriptions were too wordy, heavy with library jargon, and not particularly informative for students. We shared the spreadsheet with our subject specialists and asked them to trim the verbiage, remove the jargon, and focus more on the student’s perspective. After the subject specialists did their editing, we submitted the spreadsheet to Springshare, which converted it into a new A–Z database guide.