Libguides: My Most Favorite Tool

I have a favorite tool.  I know I shouldn’t, but there are tools that I like more than others.  I find them more helpful.  They seem to be just a bit more easy to work with.  And frankly, they may be more responsive.

Noodletools has always been that way. And I have always loved Libguides as well.

Libguides Logo from Springshare
Libguides Logo from Springshare

What is Libguides? Well, it is on online pathfinder, sort of an old school bibliographic pathfinder.  Think of the old library with all those sheets of colored paper with columns of information on how to find things for Chemistry, Business, or even Fairy Tales. You name it and a librarian made a pathfinder, put some clip art on it and ran it off on colored paper. Well, Libguides is the new and improved bibliographic pathfinder.  But it is so much more as well.

At Berkeley Preparatory School in the Jean Ann Cone Library, we use it for all of our classes and some of our clubs, as well.  We are completely electronic in grades 6-12, when it comes to library course material.  All of the information about our projects can be found on Libguides with duplicates of some teacher material on Edline.

Step 1. Create a Style Guide

We did have a few problems when we first got started with Libguides.  One was settling on a style guide to use for all of our classes so that students would get familiar with where to find information.  That took a while.  We also needed to have a common look and feel that blended with the school’s colors.  We made sure to use the accepted school logo.  We sat down as a department and decided on how we were going to lay out the pages for our classes. The way the pages are arranged is the same: Project Details (or Class Name), Databases and Websites, Books and Ebooks, Works Cited and Passwords.  There may be additional pages, such as Primary Sources, etc., depending upon the class and the assignment, but that is the basic layout.  

It’s important to talk about what you want on the page.  Are there differences in the way your kids search?  Do you definitely want them to contact you?  Do you always want your contact info on the right hand side of the password page? Do you want all pages to be two columns?  Now is the time to have those conversations.  Bring some kids in and have some conversations with them.  Have them draw out what a great Libguide page looks like to them.

Step 2. Set Up a Template

Last year, we took an online seminar by Springshare and heard about a redesign and had another meeting where we decided to incorporate more graphics into our Libguides.  We also wanted to create a template to get our links from, as recommended by the amazing librarian, David Wee.  Wee suggests having one Libguide where you store all of your links to your databases and links you use frequently.  Then reuse those links out to your class Libguides, don’t copy them, that way, when you change your template, those changes are populated out through all of your classes.  It makes thing much easier.

This fact was brought home to us in real time this year when we did a switch over to EZproxy logins.  We needed to add the EZproxy address to the frontend of every database link we had.  I had mistakenly copied some links into a Libguide rather than pulling them in.  What a bother!  And what a hassle for the kids.  Never again.

Step 3. Make Use of Surveys

Are you really making full use of Libguides?  I wasn’t.  Christina showed me that Libguides has a powerful survey feature and I LOVE it.  If you haven’t tried it, do it!  You might find yourself addicted.  But be warned.  Making a meaningful survey is harder than it looks.  I suggest that you do a couple of things:

  1. Make the survey open the day that you make it, otherwise you can’t see it to test it.
  2. Take the survey to test it.  That way you can find grammatical and spelling errors and things that just sound wrong.
  3. Think about what questions are essential to be answered.
  4. Don’t make your survey too long.  20 questions max.  They are kids!

I have used questions adapted from TRAILS for a 9th grade class to evaluate their digital literacy skills.  I have also used a Libguide survey to query the whole upper school during advisory (almost 300 responses) about their thoughts on a recent all-school convocation speaker and film festival we had.  Our students are rarely given a voice and this was a new experience for them.  Granted, there were many silly responses and some very negative ones, but there were enough thoughtful responses to make the exercise useful.

Step 4. Beg, Borrow and Steal! 😎

Yes, steal.  Well, not really.  The nice thing about Libguides is that it tells you when people are using your work.  I have one Libguide that a lot of people seem to really like: My Libguide on our Model UN club.  It’s fairly detailed, has lots of links and gets used by the kids for research.  Please feel free to use it for your Model UN club if you have one.  I’m constantly updating and changing things around, so it is always in flux. When someone wants to use it, they usually send me an email asking to use it.  I reply back, “Sure.”  When they just take it, Libguides sends me an email saying someone is using my Libguides.  Annoying, but still flattering in a way.  Better to give people a head’s up.

Search the entire Libguide community. There is an amazing wealth of knowledge out there.  Use it! Don’t reinvent the wheel.  You can also link to people’s pages directly.  Here is an example where I have done that: US History Primary Sources. That’s a nice option too.  The first tab is mine, the red tabs are another librarians. Those pages are maintained by the librarian who created them.

I also take the interior content from boxes and credit the librarian who came up with content. It was, after all, their research. It is only fair to credit their hard work. It is a nice community.  Play nice.

 Step 5. Break Outside the Libguide Box

Libguides is a librarian tool, but we don’t hoard it.  This year we actively pursued teachers and got them to create Libguide class pages.  We had several sign up for sessions with us on how to create a page (Biology, Genetics, English and Music), but Biology was the only one who actually kept the Libguide going and active.  Baby steps!

We also had some teachers willing to step outside the box and try Libguides as a new type of assessment tool.  One English teacher is using it with her 9th graders as an online magazine.  Each student has editing privileges and can put up their own stories on a features page (Sports, Food, Technology, etc.). So far, the teacher has been very pleased.  It is password protected or I would share it with you.

Last year we used it in 11th grade English to comment on books.  That was a less successful venture.  This year, Libguides has a class discussion page, which is blog-like.  The biology teacher will be using that feature later this semester.

In Conclusion

We’ve had some successes.  We’ve had some  failures, but overall, the ease of use and functionality of Libguides is so amazing that I love this tool.  I would love for you to take a look at our Libguides.  We aren’t perfect by any means.  Currently, we are looking at our template and testing our template to see if it needs to be tweaked. We think that the current format might make the page too long for the Middle Division students and they might be unwilling to scroll down.  We prepared two nearly identical pages for World History (one with graphics and one without) to get a sense of if the graphics and layout were affecting clickthroughs.  We’ll have more data in a week or two.

We will have a final talk at the end of the year and make some changes as a team then.  Until then, if you have some suggestions for what works, what you like or don’t like, please let us know.  We would love to hear from you!

 Jean Ann Cone Library Libguide Home Page