Internet Subject Guides in Academic Libraries: An Analysis of Contents, Practices, and Opinions
Jackson, Rebecca, Pellack, Lorraine J., Reference & User Services Quarterly
This article describes a research project to determine the uniqueness of Internet subject guides among Association of Research Libraries academic libraries. The authors examined guides in four subject areas (philosophy, journalism/communication, astronomy, and chemistry) at the Web sites of 112 libraries, collecting data on the number of links per guide, the arrangement of resources, the information included about the resources, the kinds of resources included, and the number of nonworking links. As a result of the examination of these guides, a number of questions emerged, which led to the creating of a survey mailed to the heads of reference services in each of the libraries. The authors discuss the results of their examinations and of the survey and make recommendations for further research.
Go to just about any academic library Web site and you will usually find a collection of electronic research guides for subjects represented in the parent institution's curriculum. Librarians have reinvented this particular wheel over and over again, creating specialized guides for their users when guides already exist for the same subject areas on many other library Web sites. In addition, a plethora of Internet resource guides are available from a wide variety of other authoritative sources. They appear regularly in College & Research Libraries News, Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship, and Journal of Library Administration. As early as 1995, Louis Rosenfeld, founder of the Clearinghouse for Subject-Oriented Internet Resource Guides at the University of Michigan, edited a monographic series covering the areas of health and science, humanities, social sciences, business, and law. (1) There are also numerous Web sites devoted to the "best of the Web" in given subject areas. Notable examples include Digital Librarian: A Librarian's Choice of the Best of the Web and Chemistry 2000: Two Thousand of the Best Chemistry Sites. (2)
There are Web resources for professionals and Web resources for the general public. Specialized subject areas are typically represented by at least one meta site, and often there are three to four meta sites from which to choose (see guides by Huber, Kraus, and Banholzer). (3) With all these options available, it is difficult to understand why so many individual libraries maintain Web resource guides for their patrons.
In their research on Internet subject guides, Morris and Grimes quote one librarian who probably speaks for many in justifying the creation of these guides at each institution: "Our Web pages tend to be local in focus, promoting good materials in our library." (4) Librarians are not only trying to create some order out of the chaos of the Internet, but they profess to creating unique guides specific to their particular users and their needs. As department heads who supervise faculty librarians involved in creating and updating these guides, the authors, concerned about the major time commitments involved, decided to find out just how unique these guides really are. In the process of answering this question, they learned much more about the production of and access to these resources.
A search of the library literature turns up no research on the uniqueness of Internet subject guides, and only a handful of articles that focus on electronic resource guides in general. For example, Kapoun does an excellent job of describing traditional print pathfinders, providing guidelines for their construction and recommending a set of "universal pathfinder format guidelines." He stops short of recommendations for electronic pathfinders. (5)
A similar article by Morville and Wickhorst takes librarians step by step through the process of identifying relevant sites for electronic guides, reviewing them for inclusion, creating a description for each site, selecting an organizational scheme, and designing and formatting the guide; they then outline publicity, feedback, and maintenance issues. …