LibGuides – Best Practices

I’m not sure where to begin with the above Webinar. I have mentioned in a previous post that the ACRL-Choice YouTube channel posts webinars on a wide range of topics. This one in particular was so informative that I feel like I could watch it ten more times and glean something new each time. The presenter of this webinar, Talia Richards, currently works at Springshare (the LibGuides software platform) and before that worked at Johnson & Wales University. She shares a ton of information about organizing online content and maximizing the user experience.  I’m going to outline a few of the concepts that I found most helpful (and the corresponding research) but I would recommend viewing the entire webinar because it IS so jam packed with great ideas.

Throughout the presentation, Ms. Richards returns to this idea of cognitive load. There are 3 main types: intrinsic load refers to the complexity of the topic itself or the thinking component, extraneous load refers to how the information is presented or the instruction component, and germane load refers to developing new schema or the processing component.  General rule of thumb is to limit extraneous load, and encourage germane load.

A big picture highlight:

  1. Students connect better with guides specific to a course, instead of a general subject guide. Scholarly research supports this, as does Ms. Richards’ experience at Johnson & Wales. During her tenure, the course specific LibGuides had significantly more traffic and students stayed on the page longer than the general subject guides.

Nitty gritty:

    1. Sites such as WebAIM help improve the user’s experience by ensuring that a website is accessible to those with disabilities. The Color Contrast Checker is one tool, which tests foreground/background text color. A failing grade means that the digital text is too hard to read and should be either lightened or darkened.
    2. Interactivity should be embedded into the LibGuide, whenever possible. Not only is it fun to play with widgets, but digital natives are accustomed to a highly interactive learning environment. I incorporated some Wolfram/Alpha widgets into my site- there are a range of topics and they are free!
    3. A controversial one: students today know that they can open a link in a new window (or tab) by right clicking on the hyperlink. Instead of forcing this to happen, which can be disorienting- give them the power. This idea actually made me change all of the links on my page, to give the user complete control instead of forcing a new window/tab to open.
    4. Link students to search results within a database, rather than linking to the database itself (the worked example theory). This tactic reduces intrinsic cognitive load and it may be best suited for freshman who are just getting used to using library resources.
    5. Digital readers skim! Natural language should be used (contractions are okay!), bulleted lists are encouraged, and credibility is improved with hypertext links and good graphics.
    6. Font is important- serif fonts can be hard to read online because the text is more ornate and not as clean as other options. Safe web fonts can be found here.

Other miscellaneous highlights, the presentation includes tips to staying current on LibGuides trends by creating Google Alerts and subscribing to RSS feeds. Another recommendation is to use Snagit or FastStone to create annotated screenshots. One final note: Jason Puckett’s website is another useful resource.

Whether you are creating or maintaining a website, intranet page, or a LibGuide, keep the end user in mind. Hope these best practices and resources are helpful!

Some articles cited in the presentation:

Kupersmith, John. (2012). Library Terms That Users Understand. UC Berkeley: UC Berkeley Library. Retrieved from:

Reeb, B., & Gibbons, S. (2004). Students, librarians, and subject guides: Improving a poor rate of return. Portal : Libraries and the Academy, 4(1), 123–130.

Roberts, S. & Hunter, D. (2011). New Library, New Librarian, New Student: Using LibGuides to Reach the Virtual Student. Journal of Library & Information Services In Distance Learning, 5(1), 67-75.

Sweller, J. (2006). The worked example effect and human cognition. Learning and Instruction, 16(2) 165–169

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