Relevant User Guides in a Web 2.0 World

This post is a summary of a presentation given by two Information Literacy Librarians from Wartburg College, Kimberly Babcock Mashek and Kari Weaver,  at the Library Technology Conference on March 19, 2009.  They compare different user guide models and present best practices to make them more interactive and effective. 

The main points of the presentation are to:

  1. Understand what your users want
  2. Understand what resources you have available
  3. Choose the most appropriate resources according to points 1 & 2.
  4. Continue to evaluate and maintain your services.
  5. Share their experience and successes at Wartburg College

Brief History of User Guides

Pathfinders or Static Web Pages


  • Don’t know if people are using them
  • No standardization
  • Users don’t understand library jargon

Why user guides?

  • Enhances Info Lit Instruction
  • Virtual Access
  • Model proper research behavior

What is expected?

  • Be specific
    • by class or assignment
  • Allow customization
    • what are primary databases in their field
  • Need to be current
    • link checking (can pay or have student workers do it)
  • Want sophisticated search but not have to struggle to use it
  • Easy to find library Web page
  • Familiarity/comfort with interface
    • use Wikipedia platform (MediaWiki)
  • Explanation of resources and context
  • Minimal clicks
  • No library jargon
    • research help
  • Anytime, anywhere convenient

Meeting Expectations

  • Target appropriate audience
  • Ask for input
  • Be specific – don’t do broad and general topics
    • Newspapers specifically in their collection is popular
  • Quality vs. Quantity
    • Not broad sources, maybe dont’ include encyclopedias
  • Make it easy
  • Check links
  • Speak their language

Technical End (Kim)


  • Social Bookmarking – Delicious, Diigo
    • Pros
      • Free
      • Collaborative
      • Multiple tagging – health, medicine, consumer heath
      • variety of sophistication
    • Cons
      • Link maintenance – must check your links
      • Controlled Vocabulary is not used
      • Coding experience needed with RSS feeds
    • Example
      • use link roll to post a feed into Web page
  • RSS feeds
    • Pros
      • free
      • aggregates content in one location
      • create many different ones
      • push and pull tech
    • Cons
      • ?
      • ?
    • Examples
      • can add blog feed to page in LibGuides
  • Chat Widgets
    • Pros
      • fre
      • instant access
      • low tech – small learning curve
      • point of need
    • Cons
      • fee
      • Availability – are you going to be available all the time?
      • Demand – How many will use it?
    • Examples
      • Meebo
      • Volero (paid)
      • Customer Service database
  • Search Widgets
    • Pros
      • Free from vendors (serials solutions)
      • search from multiple places (catalog, databases)
      • google like
    • Cons
      • need to know html code
      • unavailable from vendor or for a fee.
    • Examples
      • U of M

Automated Options

  • Wikis
    • Pros
      • Free
      • increase productivity
        • searchable
        • small barriers to participation
      • easy to use and update
      • search
      • many options
      • easy cross-references
    • Cons
      • Fee (sometimes)
      • Security (collaborate with IT)
      • Set up
      • Local Hosting
      • Many options available
      • User generated content
    • Examples
      • Biz Wiki at Ohio ULibrary a la Carte (from Oregon State)
  • Library a la Carte (open source)
    • Pros
      • free
      • customize
      • interoperable with Web 2.0
    • cons
      • programming skills and time required
      • Server space and maintenance must be locally available
      • No easy Facebook integration
    • Example
      • at Oregon State 
  • Lib Guides
    • from Springshare
    • Pros
      • Easy updates
      • limited Web design skill necessary
      • customization available
      • off-site hosting (they host it)
      • easily reusable (can harness items within and at other institutions with Libguides)
    • Cons
      • High cost – based on FTE – 17000 students – $5,000)
      • Access problems with off-site servers
        • trouble with authetication because of location
      • Not fully customizable
    • Examples
      • Kari Weaver’s Marketing class

Advanced Technology Options

  • Podcast or screencast
    • subscription based
    • invest in great microphone to include audio
    • need server space
    • get a video camera – some for $100
  • Tutorials
    • Anywhere, point of need
    • need screen capture software with good audio
    • Camtasia, Captivate, Jing, Camstudio
  • Mashups
    • RSS feeds, Images everything fed onto Web page
    • Content is not owned by guide creator, could disappear
  • Examples
    • New Zealand University of Auckland
    • Wartburg

Library Playground – demo of Yahoo pipes

Implementation at your Library

  • Get buy in from staff
    • Create standards first (would have done this first)
  • Interfacing with Tech department (don’t recommend doing first and asking for forgiveness)
  • Matching talents with tools
  • Addressing user expectations

Find help and experience

  • Springshare has some online tutorials

Assess your User Guides (offer prizes or food)

  • usage statistics
  • surveys
  • focus groups
    • six students, six people was very successful

Final thoughts

  • Choose items carefully and start small

Send email if you want copy of presentation.


2 thoughts on “Relevant User Guides in a Web 2.0 World

  1. Hi there,

    This is Slaven Zivkovic, from Springshare, the creators of LibGuides. Thank you very much for mentioning our LibGuides system in your post. If I may, I wanted to correct one thing and also comment on a few others.

    The correction is in regards to pricing – for FTE of 17,000 the price of LibGuides would be $1,999 (not $5,000 as you mentioned in your post).

    While the system is not free, I believe it is very affordable considering the benefits. We have 550+ libraries (and growing every day) using our platform so you would be in a good company if you join our growing community 🙂

    You also mentioned the issue with accessing the system from off-site because it is hosted – I must say that no library has had any issues with accessing the system, even though it is externally hosted. We also have a neat technology solution available which uses your own domain name for access to our servers, so the system would be fully “branded” as if it was yours, accessed locally, including your own domain name/url.

    Last but not least, the system is more customizable then any other solution you mentioned in your list (of course I would say this 😉 but I’ll also be more than glad to provide specific examples because we have answered this question from many clients already)

    Thanks for considering.

    -Slaven Zivkovic

    • Hi Slaven,

      Thank you for responding to my post on this presentation. The two librarians from Wartburg College were very complementary of LibGuides overall and were pleased that this was the service they chose for their institution. The content of this post is almost exclusively from their slides and commentary during the presentation so I apologize for any inaccuracies that I have transcribed.

      I have heard good things from other colleagues about Libguides and hope to personally experiment with your service sometime soon.

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