Best Practices for Creating LibGuides

I previously reviewed two programs on LibGuides and UX principles. Although these programs were helpful, they didn’t answer some basic questions I had about creating LibGuides.

After doing some follow-up research, I came up with my own list of best practices. I don’t intend for this list to be comprehensive. For example, I don’t discuss accessibility because that would require a separate post.

I also recognize that opinions vary on some topics. And of course, there can be instances when particular guidance is not applicable. Think of this list as a few key ideas that I found helpful enough to share.

Purpose

  • General subject guides confuse many students; they are unsure of how or why to use them. Make the purpose of your guide clear.
  • Course-specific guides are better received by students than general subject guides, especially when the course guides are tied to class presentations.
  • Curated guides with well-crafted resource descriptions and instructional content are more useful than guides that simply list many resources.
  • Content should be scannable. Write with a goal of providing useful information, not drafting a full document.   
  • Don’t fill your guide with too much “just in case” information.

Tone and Language

  • Think about your brand voice. Consider creating a This But Not That list. The University of Arizona Libaries have an example of this sort of list as part of their web content principles and guidelines.
  • Your tone should be conversational. In fact, you might try using a voice-to-text app to create rough first drafts of some information.
  • Don’t overuse polite language; crisp, active language is better. Don’t waste time “welcoming” users to your guide.
  • Refer to the library as “we” and the guide user as “you.”
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms. That advice applies to the LibGuides themselves. Don’t call them LibGuides; call them research guides or something similar.

Headings

  • If you have several levels of headings, be sure there is a clear visual distinction between the levels.
  • Don’t let headings float. This means headings should be close to the text that they introduce.
  • Limit tab headings to around three or fewer words.
  • Questions can make good headings for boxes and content within boxes.
  • Review your headings to see if they provide a roadmap to your content.

Layout

  • Side tabs are the preferred format.
  • Your guide’s layout should reflect the tendency of users to scan pages in an F-shaped pattern.
  • Stick to around 3 to 7 side tabs (pages). Use sub-tabs (sub-pages) sparingly.
  • Because users mostly ignore content below the left-side menu, that space should only include contact or guide author information. Users also unconsciously associate the far-right column with ads, so don’t put important content there.
  • Users hate excessive scrolling. Tabbed boxes can minimize scrolling. It takes a little coding, but you might also want to add columns to your boxes in some circumstances.
  • Another way to minimize scrolling is to create a menu at the top of the page to allow users to “jump” to the content they seek.

Look and Feel

  • Style and presentation matter. People are less likely to use a cluttered or confusing guide.
  • Stick to a simple color scheme. Highlight colors have the most impact when used sparingly. 
  • Images, bold text, and interactivity are all useful tools. A little goes a long way; all three are easy to overdo. 
  • Break information into lists. Most lists should have 7 or fewer items. Also use headings and subheadings to “chunk” content.
  • Don’t go overboard with lists. Some instructional content in guides is best presented in short paragraphs. Consider alternating between short paragraphs and lists.

 Other Tips

  • Make sure you are using parallel structure for headings, tabs, and text. Tip 7 of the MIT Guide referenced below has a good example of parallel structure.
  • Consider having a “Home” page that is largely devoted to a short list of essential resources. There is a mix of opinions as to whether you should also provide a “roadmap” of the guide on that page.
  • The LibGuides search box confuses users. There are sound arguments for eliminating it from your guides. 
  • Avoid creating “click here” links.
  • Don’t rely on the publisher’s or vendor’s description of a book or database. Write your own description using short sentences and active verbs. Explain how the resource benefits your users. 

Editing and Reviewing

  • Make sure that your guide adheres to your institution’s style manuals.
  • Ask someone who is unfamiliar with a task to follow instructions provided in your guide.
  • Check your writing using one or more tools such as the Hemingway App, Grammarly, ProWritingAid, Wordtune, or Word’s Editor.
  • Use Word’s Read Aloud feature (or a similar resource) to check your writing. Do this toward the end of your editing process.

Referenced Resources

Here are a few of the resources I relied upon in creating my list. 

Books

  • Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited by Steve Krug
  • Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee

LibGuides Best Practices Guides

Web Writing Style Guide

Presentations

Checklists and Tip Sheets

Posted in Inspiration and Design Ideas, Issues in Librarianship (generally), Technology, Writing (generally) | Tagged | Leave a comment

Making Legal Research Skills Stick for Our Students

Do any of us feel like we have enough time when we teach legal research? I teach LLMs, and my students this semester have frequently said to me, “I’m getting this, but I can see that I need a lot more practice.” This is the first semester I have heard this consistently from students. As a new teacher, I engaged in the common new teacher strategy of burying my students in work because I wanted them to be the best legal researchers they could be—until I realized I was demanding too much because after all they do have other classes! But maybe I’m not giving them enough work now?

Or maybe I just need to change my strategy. This semester our law school asked the teaching faculty to read Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. The book is a quick read and definitely worth a look. Peter Brown spoke with us last week about how research has shown repeatedly that practicing something many times over a longer period and in a random order is much more effective than doing one systematic deep dive. He gave the example of a study in which surgeons learned a microsurgery technique. One group received four training sessions in one day, while the second group received four sessions spread out over four weeks. In a hands-on exam with an anesthetized rat, the second group outperformed the first significantly on every measure, achieving a 100% success rate and no fatalities.

What does this mean for teaching legal research? Shorter skills practices spread out over a longer time are more effective than having one extensive, in-depth assignment. While legal research is somewhat cumulative by nature, I need to be more intentional about scaffolding skill reuse into later assignments. I should decrease the level of practice for new skills each week to make time for the repetition of prior skills. However, prior skills practice should be kept relatively brief, and should require less practice time than the new skills.

The Make It Stick approach suggests two more things to me about legal research curriculum as a whole: 1) the order in which we teach concepts matters greatly because students get the most practice with the concepts taught early in the semester, and 2) requiring students to take just one semester of legal research practice, even if it is three credit hours or more, is not ideal pedagogy. Students have many opportunities later to practice legal research in jobs, externships, journals, and co-curricular activities, but are those opportunities giving them the scaffolding and support they need to succeed? 

None of this is earth-shattering for librarians and skills teachers, but it’s great to know that the research backs up what we anecdotally know.  It was an important reminder for me how small changes to our assignments can make big learning impacts. 

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Evolution of a Faculty Services Position

This post is adapted from a presentation I gave as part of a panel for the Ohio Regional Association of Law Libraries Virtual Annual Meeting on October 22nd. The panel also included Beau Steenken (University of Kentucky), Susan Azyndar (University of Notre Dame), and Emma MacGuidwin (Ohio State University). Our panel, “One for All or All Hands on Deck? Evaluating Differing Structures for Providing Faculty Services,” focused mostly on the similarities and differences between the dedicated faculty services librarian model and the liaison model, but also mentioned the traditional model. Preparing for the panel provided an excellent opportunity to dig out my original job description and reflect on what I’ve learned and what has changed.

Why create a faculty services position?

The faculty services librarian position was newly created when I applied for the job. The library had been using a hybrid of the “traditional” model (where faculty sent research requests to the reference desk or the library director and then those requests were divvied up) and the liaison model strictly for current awareness services. Some faculty had their “go-to librarian” but some faculty weren’t sure who to reach out to if they had questions about library services. One of the reasons for creating the position was to provide the faculty with a single point of contact for research requests and other library matters. A couple of other goals in creating the position were to have someone refresh/update outreach to the faculty and the current awareness services programs, and grow and expand the recently created library research assistant program.

Getting Started

When I started in July 2019, one of the biggest challenges was simply introducing myself and promoting the library’s faculty services. Personalized individual emails to the faculty generated more responses than the initial “new hire” email blast. I was able to meet with many faculty individually and promoted the current awareness services and the library RA program.  Other ways that I promoted faculty services were creating a faculty services email address and starting a faculty services newsletter that I send out at the beginning of the fall and spring semesters. I also attended monthly faculty meetings and other events.

Shifting Focus

Reflecting on the job description today, I was surprised to note that the original position description did not mention scholarly impact or promoting faculty scholarship, given that over the last year and a half that has actually become one of the biggest parts of my job. Late in 2019 I was asked to look into the US News Scholarly Impact Ranking proposal, and the interdisciplinary scholarly impact ranking that Ruhl, Vandenbergh, and Dunaway at Vanderbilt had published. I duplicated the interdisciplinary citation study for the Maurer faculty and presented the results at the annual faculty retreat in January 2020. This led to developing an ongoing publication and citation count project, taking over maintenance of the faculty bibliography pages, and monitoring faculty author profiles on HeinOnline. This also led to the promotion of ORCID IDs for the faculty due to the Scholarly Impact Ranking and HeinOnline/ORCID integration. At this point, I have registered ORCID IDs for most of the faculty and been added as an account delegate, enabling me to add information and publications to their ORCID profiles, based on their CVs. I also linked their HeinOnline author profiles to their ORCID IDs.

Screenshot of a tweet used to promote roving faculty services session. Tweet from @Margaret_K_M features two photos of the location and relevant tagged words.
Tweet used to promote the “roving faculty services” Google Scholar sign up session.

Following up on last year’s ORCID IDs project, this year’s promotional focus is helping faculty claim their Google Scholar author profiles. Unlike the ORCID IDs, I can’t claim Google Scholar profiles on behalf of other people. To promote Google Scholar, I started a monthly “roving faculty services” session where I venture upstairs to the faculty lounge and hang out with a laptop to walk faculty through setting up their Google Scholar profile. I advertised these sessions in the fall semester faculty services newsletter and send out email reminders before each session. These sessions have generated eight email requests for individual scholarly impact checks, while a total of three people have attended the in-person drop in sessions. Considering I expected zero attendance at the in-person sessions, I’m calling it a win. The next session is scheduled to immediately follow a faculty meeting and that may increase attendance.

Lessons Learned

I found that most faculty were not interested in the current awareness services, saying that they already get what they need. Many faculty are interested in the library RA program, but need periodic friendly reminders to utilize the service. Starting the roving drop-in sessions garnered attention and positive feedback. Finally, I found that the scholarly impact services have generated the most interest among the faculty. While US News is no longer planning to release a scholarly impact ranking, the faculty are still very interested in learning about ways to promote and track their work. Overall, the biggest lesson learned over the last two years is simply to be adaptable and open to trying new ideas for promoting faculty services.

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Data About the Profession—The Age of our Law Schools

This month I continue my blog series in which I aspire to enlighten as to statistical information about academic law librarianship and to inspire others to do their own data analysis. In contrast to my previous blog post https://wordpress.com/post/ripslawlibrarian.wordpress.com/17113, this entry is more pedestrian in terms of data harvesting and manipulation. The relevant dates were harvested by hand from Wikipedia entries and then sorted to create two tables: (1) Top 20 Oldest, Extant Law Schools Approved by the ABA, (2) Top 20 Youngest, Extant Law Schools Approved by the ABA.

These tables are examples of what I call data superlatives–most/fewest, largest/smallest, oldest/youngest, etc. There is a finite, exhaustive list of insight-needs categories that have been identified by scholars in the context of data analytics: (1) categorizing and clustering; (2) ordering, ranking, and sorting; (3) distribution; (4) comparison; (5) trends; (6) geospatial location; (7) composition; and (8) relationships. See Katy Börner’s, Atlas of Knowledge: Anyone Can Map. The tables below are an example of the ordering, ranking, and sorting insight-needs category. In a recent AALL Spectrum article, I explore these insight-needs categories in the context of litigation analytics while sharing my framework for the understanding, use, and teaching of litigation analytics. Peter A. Hook, Litigation Analytics: A Framework For Understanding, Using & Teaching, AALL Spectrum, Nov.-Dec. 2021, 20. https://bit.ly/3mfEPeD

The data for the two tables below comes from Wikipedia entries about all ABA approved law schools and includes the earliest establishment date for any of a current school’s predecessor law schools–law schools that subsequently became their modern counterparts, or were taken over by their current day institutions. I collected this data over several years in the process of harvesting data related to U.S. News rankings. This explains the interpretive lens of ABA approval rather than all law schools in the United States throughout history. As a caveat, the dates in Wikipedia, at the time of harvesting, were accepted as true and not subsequently fact checked. One school did not have conclusive data–Quinnipiac University School of Law. Even though the School is listed on its Wikipedia page as having been established in 1990, this New York Times article https://www.nytimes.com/1992/08/13/nyregion/bar-group-approves-transfer-of-u-of-bridgeport-law-school.html is evidence that Quinnipiac University School of Law is a continuation from the University of Bridgeport Law School. I cannot, as of yet, determine the establishment date for the University of Bridgeport Law School. Anyone know?

Top 20 Oldest, Extant Law Schools Approved by the ABA

Law SchoolPredecessor SchoolsYear EstablishedRank
William & Mary Law School17791
U. of Maryland Maryland Law Institute18162
Harvard U.18173
U. of Virginia18194
Yale U.New Haven Law School18245
U. of CincinnatiCincinnati Law School18336
Penn State-DickinsonDickinson College18347
New York U.18358
Indiana U.–Bloomington18429
St. Louis U.184310
U. of North Carolina184511
Louisville U.184612
Cumberland School of Law, Samford U.Cumberland U.184713
Tulane U.184713
Washington & Lee U.Lexington Law School184915
U. of Pennsylvania185016
Albany Law School185117
U. of Mississippi185418
Baylor U. 185719
Columbia Law School185820

Top 20 Youngest, Extant Law Schools Approved by the ABA

Law SchoolYear of EstablishedLocationRank
Mitchell Hamline School of Law

(Formed from the merging of William Mitchell College of Law (est. 1956) and Hamline University School of Law (est. 1972)).
2015St. Paul, Minnesota1
U. of North Texas at Dallas2014Dallas, Texas2
Belmont U.2011Nashville, Tennessee3
Lincoln Memorial U., Duncan School of Law2009Harrogate, Tennessee4
U. of California, Irvine2007Irvine, California5
Elon U.2006Greensboro, North Carolina6
Drexel U.2006Philadelphia, Pennsylvania6
Liberty U.2004Lynchburg, Virginia8
Charleston School of Law2003Charleston, South Carolina9
Florida International U.2000Miami, Florida10
St. Thomas U. (Minneapolis)1999Minneapolis, Minnesota11
Barry U.1999Orlando, Florida11
Ave Maria School of Law1999Naples, Florida11
U. of Nevada, Las Vegas1998Las Vegas Nevada14
Chapman U. 1995Orange, California15
Appalachian School of Law1994Grundy, Virginia16
Roger Williams U.1993Bristol, Rhode Island17
Widener U. Commonwealth1989Harrisburg, Pennsylvania18
Texas A & M U.

(previously Dallas/Fort Worth School of Law (1989-1992) and Texas Wesleyan University School of Law (1992-2013)).
1989Fort Worth, Texas18
Regent U.1986Virginia Beach, Virginia20
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So You Want To Get Spooky in Your Legal Research Class This Week….

As October quickly passes by, and we look forward to Halloween, here are some ideas to help you create spooky legal research problems for class.  Here are some ideas to get you started with legal research topics and Halloween themed research examples:

Teens used to terrorize smaller children on Halloween. Image courtesy of The New York Public Library.

You cannot miss with the Salem witch trials.   There are lots of possibilities for research questions in HeinOnline’s The Salem Witch Trials: Casting a Spell of Hysteria.

Looking for the skeleton of a 50 state survey or chart:

  • Unclaimed Dead Bodies in HeinOnline
  • Legal Holidays in HeinOnline, Bloomberg Law, Lexis+

Some bewitching law review articles:

Can your legal research students find these harrowing and haunted cases:

  • If you fail to reveal your house is haunted, can the buyer back out of the sale? Court held house was haunted as a matter of law (Stambovsky v. Ackley, 169 A.D.2d 254, 572 N.Y.S.2d 672 (N.Y. App. Div. 1991))
  • Defendant threw an egg and caused injury to plaintiff’s eye, for which plaintiff seeks to recover damages (Castiglione v. James F. Q., 115 A.D.3d 696)
  • Plaintiff seeking damages for running into a brick wall inside a Halloween haunted house (Mays v. Gretna Ath. Boost., 668 So. 2d 1207 (La. Ct. App. 1996))
  • Is writing which is derogatory toward neighbors on Halloween tombstone decorations in front yard protected speech under the Constitution? (Purtell v. Mason, 527 F.3d 615 (2008))
  • Is the charity which sponsored a haunted house liable for elderly plaintiff’s injuries while visiting the attraction? (Bonanno v. Continental Casualty Company, 285 So. 2d 591 (La. Ct. App. 1973))
  • Are the operators of haunted house liable for injury plaintiff sustained when fell while being chased by “Jason” character at exit of house.  (Galan v. Covenant House, 695 So. 2d 1007 (La. Ct. App. 1997))
  • Is a haunted corn maze owner liable for injury sustained by patron when scared by chainsaw wielding actor in muddy maze?(Galan v. Covenant House, 695 So. 2d 1007 (La. Ct. App. 1997))
  • Can you be found a juvenile offender for throwing eggs at a house which did not give out candy on Halloween? (In re Brittany L., 99 Cal.App.4th 1381 (2002))
  • Can manufacturer of cosmetic puffs be found libel when a Halloween costume made of the puffs catches fire? (Ferlito v. Johnson & Johnson, 771 F. Supp. 196 (1991) and Trivino v. Jamesway Corporation, 148 A.D.2d 851 (N.Y. App. Div. 1989))

Who thought administrative law could be ghoulishly fun: 

Slueth for a few spooky state statutes:

A 1908 postcard depicts Halloween mischief. Image courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

How about some menacing municipal law:

Find a dastardly docket:

Find the docket for the action described in this story: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/marian-pieczonka-sues-six-flags-fright-fest_n_1877819

  • See Bloomberg Law : Illinois Circuit Court, Cook County, Civil Division, Docket for Case #: 2012-L-010218

I hope these creepy laws help get your Halloween week off to a spooky start!

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