Daily Archives: July 11, 2010

A Guide, or a Crutch?

We’re moving the subject guides on our library website from HTML pages into a wiki, which we hope will make them easier for us to update and customize. It’s been a nice opportunity to freshen the content, weed out the dead links, etc. We plan to encourage faculty across the college to contribute to the subject guides as well as collaborate on custom research guides for their courses.

I’m finding myself with a couple of nagging concerns as I start the conversion project. Are we making it too easy for our students when we create subject or research guides for them? If they start with a subject guide, are they fully learning how to do research–how to find, select and evaluate information? Are we missing an opportunity for information literacy instruction, or even intentionally removing that opportunity? Or, do subject guides help us take advantage of technology to extend our instructional efforts?

Subject guides can definitely be useful to students, especially those in the early years of their college careers who may not be familiar with college-level research. Instructors can encourage students to use the subject guide as a starting point (and require them to incorporate resources beyond those included in the guide). Since students often take courses in disciplines that are entirely new to them, getting a research foothold is a challenge that a subject guide can facilitate.

However, when we give students a subject guide for them to use to start their research, we’re not exposing them to an actual, real-world research situation. It’s true that it’s more difficult to do research on a topic that’s unfamiliar, but throughout their lives our students will likely need to find information about lots of topics with which they have no prior knowledge. It’s much more challenging to start researching from scratch, but it is difficult to develop the ability to create and iterate search strategies when research resources are provided in a subject guide.

Subject guides can also benefit students in courses that, for whatever reason, can’t accommodate library instruction. I prefer the opportunity to incorporate information literacy into a course in the classroom, but surely some subject-specific research assistance is better than none, right? But I also wonder whether instructors who make use of subject or research guides in their classes will be less likely to bring their students for library instruction or collaborate with librarians to incorporate information literacy into their curriculum.

Either way, it will be interesting to see how our subject guides develop once they’re on the wiki. If your library creates collaborative subject or research guides with faculty, what have your experiences been?