Skepticism about LibGuides

Sometimes when I think about LibGuides (or subject guides) this is how I feel:


Photo Credit: Alex Prager

My goal in this post is to tell you a little bit about why.

Let me first say something about what I mean by “skepticism” about LibGuides, because I mean something very precise. All I mean when I say that I’m a bit “skeptical” about LibGuides is that I don’t take it for granted that creating LibGuides is just something librarians obviously should do. But sometimes this is the feeling that I get. If you were to ask someone why they make LibGuides I often think that they’d respond like you were crazy, and say “Um, because I’m a librarian, Kevin. And librarians create LibGuides.” So when I say I’m skeptical about LibGuides, all I mean is that I don’t necessary take it as axiomatic of what we do that the best way to achieve our goals is to spend as much time as we do creating things called LibGuides.

Because, as a profession, it seems like we spend an awful lot of time creating some really intricate LibGuides. Me, I don’t spend too much time doing this. There are a couple exceptions to this. I, of course, have something of a LibGuide for the general subject I’m responsible for, but it’s super simple. There are a few basic links to get you started with research if you had a philosophy paper, and that’s about it. My reasons for doing this aren’t amazingly well-worked out, but, upon reflecting on it, here are a few tentative ones: (1) it seems to me that LibGuides shouldn’t really be much more than that: a basic place to get you started with your research. (2) We shouldn’t spend enormous amounts of time on stuff that’s just supposed to get you started with your research. (iii) Our time would be better spent figuring out ways to make in-person connections with students and faculty.   (4) The more complicated you make them, the less useful they are going to be.

Another exception is that, sometimes, when I have a particular class where there may be a lot of unusual or complex resources, I’ll sometimes just make a private guide specifically for that class. When I was a grad student I’d just make handouts; now, I’ll just make a quick guide. The major purpose of this is just to give the students a list of places they can take a look at so they don’t forget them later (since, by definition, I’m only making the guide when the students have a lot of stuff to remember). In effect, I’m just taking into account the limitations of working memory, and that’s the reason for creating the guide. Sometimes I will teach off the guide, but mostly, in these cases, I’ll just show it at the end as a resource they can follow up with (so they don’t dismiss the class session, the way many students do, since, e.g., “The class isn’t important, all the info is on the PowerPoint).

And there you have it: that’s the extent that I use LibGuides. It’s really not very much. The reactions I’ve gotten on this range from “But you have to make them, you’re a librarian” (someone really said that) to “Thank God someone else thinks this!”

So what do I do instead of spending lots of time on guides? Everything I do, I guess: make serious efforts to make in person connections with faculty and students (e.g., much of last week was spend meeting with students who’d taken me up on a general offer I always give at the beginning of my sessions to email me for research help if they should ever need it). Try to think about how to connect with students and faculty in a personal way. Read stuff about education and information literacy and psychology that I try to use to make classes interesting and useful. Write stuff. Teach classes. Offer workshops. Serve on committees. And so forth.

Guides, to me, can be useful things, for reasons noted above, but they’re nowhere near as important to me as that other stuff I mentioned Hence, my “skepticism” about LibGuides being super-central to librarianship.

I already know what some of you think!*: (be sure to check out all the interesting comments – which seem to me quite representative of the cases usually made for/against).

– curious what others have to say.

(Thanks, (as always!), to my friend Alex Carroll for the pointer).



Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel

6 responses to “Skepticism about LibGuides

  1. Carolyn

    Totally agree in many cases! The exception for my institution would be libguides for distance only programs. They get a crazy amount of use, are more detailed, and the main way we interact with these students as they are embedded in the course management system.

    • Kevin Michael Klipfel

      Thanks for comment, Carolyn! I think that this is maybe a really fruitful upshot of this kind of discussion: identifying the specific circumstances where LibGuides/Subject guides might be useful, e.g., distance ed, for use by other librarians, etc., even though many of us may be skeptical of them as bona fide ways to be librarians. This would change the conversation from are libguides useful? (vote yes or no!) which is not very subtle, to something more sophisticate and, I think, more useful.

  2. Jeroen Bosman

    To me it seems important to clearly separate discussion on the CMS (LibGuides) from that on what people create on that platform. Types of content I see:
    1) Resource lists for broad subjects (e.g. History)
    2) Course guides
    3) Topical guides with resources lists (e.g. Climate change)
    4) Information literacy guides (e.g. How to evaluate resources)

    I think the problem, it there is one, lies with type 1 and 3, i.e. with the guides that mainly consist of resource lists. Questions you could ask here are:

    1) what is the value added of these lists? Are they just lists or do they educate the user with additional information (evaluation, how to search for more, who is producing what kind of information etc.)
    2) should there be so many lists on the same topics/subjects: could librarians not work together, share the burden and create better and more up to date lists that way?
    3) If these lists where not available, would library patrons get to the relevant publications and resources on their own?

    Jeroen Bosman, @jeroenbosman
    Utrecht University Library

    • Dani Brecher

      Hi Jeroen,

      Your questions are very relevant, and agreed that these are important points. I have a post going up here tomorrow that I think will address some of them–I’ll be interested to know your thoughts!


  3. Definitely agree with all of this. I think another drawback of creating intricate, detailed guides is the ongoing work needed to ensure they stay current. Open web resources come and go, database subscriptions change, new “books from the catalog” need to continually be updated. Then class assignments change, new faculty come in, etc.

    It’s easy to invest a lot of time in a LibGuide when you’re excited about it right at the start, but how many (any?) of us have a workflow for ensuring things are current on all of them? (I know LibGuides does at least have a broken link checker.) I think we often forget about this ongoing commitment as we create guide after guide.

    So not only might students not use any of the laundry lists of links we create, but if they happen to and it hasn’t been updated in months, it might end up giving them bad information or negatively portraying the library.

  4. Pingback: In Defense of Research Guides | Rule Number One: A Library Blog

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