August 18, 2016

Updating LibGuides Part 1: the original series

By David Brown, Academic Liaison Librarian 

Like many libraries, we use Springshare's LibGuides platform for some of our web pages - at York we use LibGuides to host our Subject Guides, which are subject- or department-specific gateways to resources and support for our users. This is the first post discussing the work of a two-year project to scope and implement changes to the Subject Guides.

Our new and improved Subject Guides - the product of two years of scoping, planning and designing

Why did we need the project?

A good question - and one which I struggled with at the start of the project! Having used LibGuides for a number of years (since Summer 2012, pre-dating my time at York), our pages had developed in quite different ways under the control of different Academic Liaison Librarians. This meant that, while the content of the guides was very good, we had essentially created a system where everyone was developing the same content over and over again - for example, information about digital literacy skills had been created multiple times but basically said the same thing on each guide.

The initial stimulus for this project was to introduce some consistency across our guides - to help our users primarily, but also to make the guides more easily navigable for staff on the Library's Help Desk. We also now operate a more collaborative model within the Academic Liaison team which sees us answering enquiries and supporting students from any department - that means using resources with which we're less familiar, so we needed a quick and easy entry point for each department.

The project also initially set out to consider the purpose of our Subject Guides, which had a mixed approach between marketing the Library and subject support for users. The balance between these objectives needed to be considered to make sure that the guides were working for everyone.

How did we begin?

The first step of the project was to do some scoping work - I needed to establish what wasn't working about the current guides and therefore what might need to change. I decided to do some consultation with our users (mainly students) and Library staff - both within the Relationship Management team but also from other sections - as well as some benchmarking with other institutions' use of LibGuides. I also looked at some web analytics for the guides to get a better feel for how people were using them. This work was carried out in Summer 2015.

Student consultations

To get some feedback from students we used a tried and tested method at York: Grab and Gos. We use these to collect quick feedback from students passing by communal areas in the Library, usually in our foyer space. For the Subject Guides project we asked students whether or not they currently use their department's guide and what they would like to see change about it. The feedback from students suggested a number of clear changes that we should look to introduce: to give each guide its own identity, specific to that department; to improve the layout and use of space on the pages; to add content which changes regularly so people have a reason to come back to the page.

Staff consultations

For the staff consultations I organised meetings with colleagues from across different sections of the Library in both first- and second-line capacities. I asked them to dissect the current design, layout and look and feel of the guides by scribbling over some printed screenshots - and they certainly didn't hold back about what they thought wasn't working! A lot of the feedback matched what the students had reported, but staff also wanted to see more consistency across the different sections of the guides so that it was much clearer where they should be directing students for information. They also commented that they would like to get rid of lots of the clutter on the page, which meant valuable space was being used up for little gain.

An example of the screenshot which I asked colleagues to scribble on - one of my own guides so that I wasn't asking anyone else to be the guinea pig!


We also carried out some scoping of how other institutions were using the LibGuides platform. This turned up lots of really interesting ideas - but also lots of variation! In a sense this actually made my job harder in deciding how best to direct our own development of the guides, but I think it was still a worthwhile exercise in seeing what was possible through LibGuides - and there's nothing wrong with plagiarising sharing best practice from learned colleagues.

What did we decide to do?

Armed with a lot of feedback and ideas, I wrote a proposal for Library managers about what we should do next. I had a number of key aims for the next phase of the project, including:
  • To overhaul the look and feel of the Subject Guides to give them an identity distinct from the main Library website and other pages on the LibGuides platform;
  • To redesign the landing page for the Subject Guides, which lacked context and was quite visually uninteresting;
  • To change the focus of each guide's homepage to become much more department-specific, and to include more dynamic content;
  • To adopt a set of guidelines about the tone and level of content to ensure consistency across the guides;
  • To centralise as much content as possible to ensure that guide owners were not duplicating material unnecessarily.
We had initially decided not to upgrade to the newer version of LibGuides (version 2), as that would have meant a lot more design and planning work. It became clear, however, that the new version was going to provide much better options for mobile devices and responsive design, so we decided to upgrade when we were already doing some work to the guides - in other words, nobody quite had the stomach for another round of designing! It's also likely that we'd have been forced to upgrade at some point anyway, so it made sense to roll everything together in one go.

That brings us to the end of the first year of the project and, strangely enough, this blog post! Look out for part 2 later this week where I'll talk more about the upgrade and how we ultimately rolled out the new design.

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