Oh my god. I can’t believe I’ve just come home from my first day of Access to write a blog post defending LibGuides, surely one of the most ridiculed of all recent library trends. I might as well say “you know Second Life has a lot of pedagogical value.” I do not want to be that person.
LibGuide are a giant time-suck and they do allow for a lot of bad design decisions very easily. But the tone today on Twitter (#accessyyz) and in the room was weird—it was really derisive, as if the idea that subject librarians wanted to create web-based resource guides with an easy-to-use tool was ludicruous. As if someone who had not been brought up to develop web content would have any business trying to put content out there. Because I have to tell you: there are not a lot of other mechanisms available.
And I’m trying. A lot of us are. We want to get better, to have smarter conversations about design and development. That’s why I spent a lot of my PERA to come here, to a conference where I was sure I would be out of my depth at least part of the time. To get more comfortable with the language of programmers and developers and internet architects and all the people who are actually allowed to touch stuff and make stuff for users in a way that I am not.
Yes, the WYSIWYG LibGuide editor is a terrifying mess. Yes, people seem to always want to use 5 more tabs than are required and branding and standards are not enforced, and there are often way too many links without description or proper spacing.
There’s a reason that librarians love LibGuides. You’re a subject librarian and you’re passionate about your subject and wish to share books, articles, databases, possible search strings, historical archives…whatever. But your HTML is medium, and who’s going to give you web space anyway? What is the mechanism available for you to share what you know (preferably through the library website)? Paper handouts? Tweet a series of suggestions? Start a facebook group for everyone majoring in Biology at your school?
That’s all I’m saying: LibGuides fill a need, and yes, something better could exist but it doesn’t. The “HA! Who would use that crap!” attitude comes from a place of a person with options, with languages and space and an understanding that a lot of people lack. And yes, that means you should be in charge of most of the way information technology is used, but to scoff at a librarian for wanting to take hold of some small piece of their own career’s work is really harsh.
In this blog post Dana (who is also here this week) indicates that students don’t like them. I’m not sure where this research comes from, and whether it refers to discipline specific or course specific Guides. Anecdotally, I would make the opposite claim, but as a few pointed out in the Twitter stream, there doesn’t seem to be much real research. This blog post also suggests the guides are unintuitive (not like any other library websites!). The tool is as intuitive as we choose to make them (or force others to make them…maybe easier said than done). A long list is not the answer, but chunking information often is, passé tabs or not.
I am not lamenting for a time when students needed to come into the library and ask for help, but the growth of online resources has put a rather huge distance between the user and person who wishes to communicate with them. The solution is probably some combination of librarians building up their skills, a more flexible tool that lets the institution make a lot of the parameters for some LibGuide-like CMS system, and some other ingredient (feeding students reading lists through their Google Glass?)
I anticipate some mild ribbing over this, so let me reiterate that this is not the hill I wish to die on. I am not morally invested in LibGuides, and agree with most criticism that was brought forward today. I just felt a bit surprised at the “why are they popular?” conversation – yes, librarians like them, but not only because they’re navel-gazers interested in cataloguing every single resource in an obnoxious format that confuses users for their own satisfaction.