Right now I’m playing around with the new Libguides service that most of you have probably heard of. I’d read about it on various blogs, but we just got a trial subscription, which I’m hoping will become permanent very soon.
For those who don’t know, Libguides is a site that lets you create locally branded subject and library research guides that are very easy to make and take advantage of lots of social softwarey stuff. Here’s what our trial version looks like. Here’s what the developed and implemented site at Boston College looks like. Libguides has all sorts of features I haven’t used yet, such as chat and rss and alerts, but the main part of it works like a wiki. It’s easy to add content and make it come out looking good.
Warning: the next three paragraphs are a rant only tangentially related to Libguides. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
When I got here almost six years ago I set about making new research guides with little help other than Dreamweaver. The research guides we have were, and still are, not at all uniform and are housed in a variety of places, including personal public html drives. My research guides are still housed on my own drive. None of our subject or course research guides look alike. At the time I went out of my way to make mine mimic the color scheme of the library website. Two years ago our website was redesigned, but no concerted effort made to make it easy for us to create new research guides in line with the new template.
Along with some of my colleagues, I think it’s my job to come up with the intellectual structure and try to understand what users might need, and someone else’s job to manage the technical nuts and bolts to make it easy for me to do. I’ve learned that I can’t keep up with everything, and keeping up with the latest website development technology hasn’t been possible. I remember sitting in computer class in high school back in 1985 learning how to program in Basic and Fortran and being told that if we didn’t know how to work with computers we would never get a job, because the future was all computers. I recall thinking something like, if this is the future of computers, only programming geeks are going to use them. At the end of the class I got an Apple IIc. Strangely enough, I could do several things with it without knowing how to program, which was no big loss for me because the only thing I ever learned to do was make a message scroll endlessly across the screen. I can do that with my screensaver now if I want to.
I’ve been feeling the same way about website development the last couple of years. Most larger libraries at least are past the days when one of the reference librarians doubled as the web designer. Web design and the systems that support it have grown more complicated and specialized. It’s a full time job. In some places, it’s several full time jobs. If this is the future of library website development, I might have said, not many librarians are going to be doing it well. That’s the beauty of social software like wikis and blogs. We don’t have to do it well. We just have to create the content and organize it. We don’t also have to program it to look good. Admittedly, it helps to know html to get this Movable Type blog working correctly, but I shouldn’t have to keep up with the latest developments in someone else’s job to do my job well. I don’t expect the web developer to help students do library research or answer reference questions.
Sorry about that rant. I got a little carried away.
I’d already decided that if we didn’t do something different by January, I was going to move all my research guides to a wiki and be done with the current library system. If all goes well, I can recreate them in Libguides instead. It’s easy to use and it looks good. I like it.
I haven’t done anything with the widgets and other features yet, but making the basic guides themselves seemed very intuitive to me. It works like a wiki, but is perhaps even easier to use, with more hints. Once you start a new guide, click “Add a Box” to add content and you’re given the following choices for the” Type of Content Inside the Box:”
- Rich Text/Images/Dynamic Content
- Web Links
- Web Links
- RSS feed
- Podcast feed
- Embedded Video
- Del.icio.us Tag cloud
- Documents and Files
- Dates and Events
- Interactive Poll/Voting
- Link to another box in the system
- Copy another box from the system
Lots of choices right there, all apparently easy to add. You can also add a profile of yourself with pictures and contact information. I’m working on the philosophy resources guide right now, and I’m hoping to at least try out many of the different features. I don’t think I’ll add the interactive poll or embed a video, though I might add a podcast just for the heck of it. I can’t think of anything more exciting than Wayne’s Weekly Research Broadcast, brought to you by Libguides.