August 23, 2016

Updating LibGuides Part 2: the next generation

By David Brown, Academic Liaison Librarian

This blog post follows on from one earlier this week (which you can read here) where I looked at the initial stages of our project to update our LibGuides - or Subject Guides as we call them. This time I'll explore how we managed the process of upgrading to the new version and rolling out the new and improved guides.

Where did we leave off?

Previously on ... we'd just decided that we were going to upgrade our LibGuides pages to the new version of the interface (version 2) in order to take advantage of some of its new features. That meant some immediate thinking about how we were going to manage the upgrade and make sure that nothing was lost during the transition.

To that end we set up a small project team with some of my more technically-minded colleagues to start scoping what we needed to achieve. The process was actually quite straightforward - you choose a date for Springshare to copy across all of your data from version 1, check that everything's working OK, then choose a final date when the version 2 site will become your live, front-facing version. There was, of course, more involved in between each of those steps, but probably the biggest issue was figuring out what was possible in the new version.

Version 2 is definitely a step forward in terms of functionality - for example, you can now include multiple types of content in the same box, and it's much more responsive to optimise on different devices. Some of the difficulty for us came in tweaking the in-built design to what we wanted to achieve - for example, we had to change the default icons for database links as they didn't match our overall design. Thankfully some of the project team have an encyclopaedic knowledge of javascript so were able to write some all-singing, all-dancing code to get us where we needed to be. So one top tip if you're considering this kind of thing is choosing people for your project who aren't afraid to dig around in some HTML! It also helps that LibGuides is very hack-friendly, so you have lots of opportunity to play around with the design.

So far so good, but what about design?

Having forged ahead with the new interface of the site, it was now time to think more closely about what we wanted our new pages to look like. Based on our previous consultations with students and staff (see the previous post for more), we knew that we wanted to remove a lot of the clutter from the pages, and to bring them to life with colour and dynamic content. We went through a lot of iterations before coming up with our final design, which was based around a similar colour scheme as before but tweaked to get the best out of LibGuides. Thankfully the new version did a lot of the work for us, as it had moved around already some of the features that we were intending to change - such as the admin log-in box, which in the previous version had proved really confusing for users being in a prominent position on the page.

Part of the design process also meant consulting with the 'owners' of each LibGuide - mostly members of the Academic Liaison team. We had agreed in the scoping that we would create a more uniform page structure for the guides, with fixed names for each tab/sub-page. These also went through a few changes, but we eventually settled on: Welcome page, Find resources, Evaluate what you've found and Organise your work (plus any other subject-specific pages). We therefore started with a generic structure for each guide, which was made subject-specific through the choice of content on each page.

I would say not to underestimate the amount of time it takes to come up with a design on which everyone agrees. Even in our case where we knew from the start what we wanted to achieve, there was a lot of back and forth about the best way to do things. It certainly helps that LibGuides is quite responsive - there's a lot that you can achieve if you know where to look!


... and after. Hopefully you agree that it's an improvement!

Now it's time to roll out

With an agreed design in place, it was now time to start making some changes to each of our guides. My first job was to update the main Subject Guides homepage, which needed to become more streamlined and user-friendly. We also wanted the page to say something about the support available to students from the Library, so added a new section with images and a video.

Each guide owner was then asked to begin updating their own pages in LibGuides to reflect what we wanted in the new interface. To give people some goal posts, I created a set of guidelines to map put exactly what was expected in the new guides i.e. what content should go where, what design elements people should use. A lot of the guidelines focuses on accessibility - for example, making sure that everything on the pages is screen-readable. The guidelines were intentionally designed as a working document so that I could add to them as new ideas came up. One of the most important aspects of this was each guide's homepage. We had set out to make them much more specific to the department (whereas previously they all had a generic design) and to include content which changes on a regular basis. It was left to each guide owner to decide how to achieve this - for my guides I decided to create a communications plan, in which I would upload a new message of interest to the guides on a monthly basis.

To assist people with the task of updating, I blocked out a morning for the team where everyone could work on their guides collectively. This proved really useful, as everyone could try out ideas together and learn from one another. We also ended up solving a few technical glitches as a result, so the morning was time well spent.

So what next?

Now that we've (almost) completed the new set of Subject Guides, we're into the final stages of the project. My next job (apart from finalising my own guides) is to create a checklist for guide owners, which will talk them through what they need to do to complete everything. This will be ready shortly before the start of the new academic year, at which point we'll start shouting about the new and improved pages. We also continue to explore the inclusion of content which automatically updates - such as a feed of new book images from our catalogue.

I'm going to be setting up regular 'health checks' of the Subject Guides, probably termly, where I'll be asking the guide owners to give their content a once over. This should mean that we've got a rolling process of quality assurance. We're also continuing to explore some of the differences in LibGuides version 2, such as the built-in A-Z databases list.

Top tips

Although I can't necessarily claim any pearls of wisdom, I can definitely say that we learned a lot throughout the project. Probably the biggest tip I can give is to leave plenty of time to achieve a redesign of this nature. In all it's taken us the best part of two years from beginning to end, in large part because other things crop up along the way - a couple of pesky Autumn terms to say the least! It's worth the time though, as I feel that we've ended up with a fantastic new design and a set of pages that is ultimately much more beneficial for our users.

Part of the time commitment is getting used to the new version of LibGuides. The basics of creating and editing your content are the same, but you'll need time to get used to the new features and layout. It certainly helped that we had a small project team that I could draw on for a lot of this work - and I was especially lucky that they were very technically-minded.

Finally, the more consultation you can do the better. It was really important that what we were doing was right for as many people as possible, staff and students alike. Whilst we were never going to please everyone, it was critical that we took into account everyone's views and showed some direct changes as a result.

Good luck with your voyage of discovery in the new LibGuides!

No comments:

Post a Comment