Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

From the always provocative Steven J. Bell comes this article on library portals. Bell is a well-known commentator about libraries and librarianship, and blogs at The Kept-Up Academic Librarian. Bell argues that library portals are moribund because neither faculty nor students use them to access electronic content; rather, they find their own ways to get to the content they use often. Librarians know this, and respond by tweaking portals to improve their functionality; this is an exercise in futility. To quote Bell: "Tabbed interfaces, simple search boxes and more personalization are a few of the new features site designers are employing in chasing better focus group responses. All of this change suggests rearranging the deck chairs on this Titanic. Now is the time to let this ship sink to its watery grave."

Bell's approach is to stop trying to tweak the library website, and instead take a more marketing-based approach in order "to create user community awareness about the electronic resources in which the institution heavily invests." He recommends that librarians work with faculty to add links to library content to course websites or "even a faculty member's personal website." I liked this approach that is taken by Temple University Libraries, where Bell works:

[T]he librarians create customized content packages that contain just the right databases that students need for their assignments. They can even add in custom Google search boxes and non-library links that may be of use to instructors and their students. If faculty desire links to specific articles, those can be added as well. The content package is sent to faculty as an e-mail attachment. Faculty then simply upload it to their course site. The content installs itself as a unique courseware page and even adds a library link to the course menu. It eliminates any faculty excuses for not integrating the library into their course.

Bell is a strong advocate of the "'we'll be where you are'" approach to library services. He writes about LibGuides as "an example of an increasingly popular guide creator that allows librarians to create a highly customized research guide for any single course or assignment." LibGuides are a substitute for the traditional research guide that we have all created as a print document, but have now moved over to our library websites. We recently bought LibGuides and have begun to experiment with it. An example of a research guide created with LibGuides is this guide to Feminist Legal Theory Research put together by Cynthia Pittson, who is Head of Reference at Pace Law Library. In addition, we are now putting together podcasts and screencasts in an effort to be where the students are. Bell's article is making me rethink our library website. The more we opt for online content, the more important it will be to make sure that our community is aware of what is available to them.

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