Letting Students Take the Lead: A User-Centred Approach to Evaluating Subject Guides

Kimberley Hintz, Paula Farrar, Shirin Eshghi, Barbara Sobol, Jo-Anne Naslund, Teresa Lee, Tara Stephens, Aleha McCauley


Objective – What do students need and want from library subject guides? Options such as Web 2.0 enhancement are now available to librarians creating subject-specific web pages. Librarians may be eager to implement these new tools, but are such add-ons a priority for students? This paper aims to start a dialogue on this issue by presenting the findings of the University of British Columbia (UBC) Library’s Subject Guides Working Group (SGWG), which was tasked with assessing current library subject guides in order to make recommendations for the update and future development of UBC Library subject guides.

Methods – The working group solicited feedback through a questionnaire that was distributed to undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of disciplines at UBC. The questionnaire included an evaluation of UBC subject guides, as well as guides from other academic libraries that used various platforms such as LibGuides and SubjectsPlus.

Results – Respondents to the student questionnaire indicated that a simple and clean layout was of primary importance. Students also desired succinct annotations to resources and limited page scrolling. Meanwhile, few students identified Web 2.0 features such as rating systems and discussion forums as being important for their needs. The working group used the questionnaire data to create a “Top Ten” list of student recommendations.

Conclusions – The “Top Ten” list of student recommendations was combined with stakeholder feedback from faculty, liaison librarians and Library Systems and Information Technology representatives to create the SGWG’s final recommendation for subject guide revision and enhancement. For the SGWG these findings called into question the necessity of Web 2.0 technologies within subject guide pages and highlighted the need for further research on the topic of subject guide usability and effectiveness.


academic librarianship; subject guides; Web 2.0

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18438/B87C94

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