Content strategies for organized and manageable LibGuides

Librarians with over 20 years of combined LibGuide experience share best practices

By Michelle Spence and Judith Logan - June 10, 2021  5 mins
Robarts Library

Unless your library had the foresight to introduce guidelines and procedures for LibGuides content before letting staff loose in the system, you probably have a bit of a mess on your hands. This could include:

  • Broken links
  • Duplicated or outdated content
  • Content that should be housed somewhere else
  • Accounts for staff members who have long since left the institution
  • Too many published guides to manage strategically

All of these issues are common in academic libraries. Content authors love the freedom and ease of use that the LibGuides system provides, but this can result in inconveniences that frustrate users. After a few years, the problems might have become so obvious that it’s time to do something about them.

To help you keep your LibGuides content organized and manageable, we conducted an environmental scan of academic libraries’ LibGuides content strategies. Content strategy is a plan “for the creation, publication and governance of useful, usable content” (Halvorson, 2011, p. 23). It’s useful to apply content strategy to LibGuides since users can’t tell that it’s a different content management system from the rest of your library website. They will expect a similar web browsing experience, and we should manage it accordingly.

The easy stuff

Whether you’re just starting out with LibGuides, revamping your current content strategy or cleaning up your LibGuides system, there is low-hanging fruit that you can address without a lot of effort.  This includes:

  • Naming conventions: Consistent naming conventions help users to quickly understand the purpose of a guide and distinguish it from other guides in the system. This can be as simple as having a specific format for the order of information in course guides (e.g., course code comes first, then the title of the course as it appears in the course calendar). This allows users to quickly scroll to find the guide they need in a list of guides.
  • Templates: By setting up templates in the admin interface in LibGuides, you can restrict the layout of guides so that they have a seamless look and feel.
  • Subject headings: Distinct subject headings allow users to find guides on topics that interest them. Similarly, they can help guide authors to describe the content of their guides.
  • Guide type assignments: These help users find what they are looking for by separating content by purpose. For example, having a guide type for course guides and another for topic guides can help users navigate your LibGuides system.

The harder stuff

Other aspects of content management in LibGuides may require more time and consideration.

These “tricky” aspects include voice and tone—in other words, the writing style that your content authors use. Is your style professional or approachable? Do you use contractions or not? Multiple guide authors can make it harder to maintain consistent voice and tone across guides, which may confuse users about your “brand.”

Ensuring consistent messaging—which you can think of as key takeaways—is also more difficult to manage when dealing with multiple authors and their content goals. Your guide may not be the only one that users are reading, so if the information conflicts with something they’ve read elsewhere, it can be confusing and erode trust.

Finally, ensuring that your guides and the content within them are relevant to your users—either before they are published or as part of system upkeep—enables users to find guides that will help them without having to wade through other content. The tricky part is defining relevance. User testing can help with this, but it can be labor intensive.

Governance

Since the content strategies listed here need to be viewed from a system-level perspective, it may be helpful to have an individual or team who helps manage these aspects in addition to having guidelines that outline best practices.

While most of the suggestions above are to help with consistency in your LibGuides system, ensuring that your guidelines are implemented in a consistent manner can be more difficult and, in our research, is less likely (Logan & Spence, 2020).

Parting advice

Don’t rush off and implement all these suggestions in your library at once.  Peter Drucker’s famous quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is highly applicable here. Your authors are likely to be very comfortable with the status quo and may not appreciate new guidelines or procedures that they may perceive as limiting their academic freedom. For any new guidelines to succeed, the folks that they apply to must understand and accept them.

Start by engaging your community of authors. Talk to them about the pain points you’ve observed (or, ideally, collected through user experience research and/or outlined in the literature) and brainstorm together about how to address them. If your authors help to build the guidelines, they're more likely to follow them. Find out what guidelines they would accept now and which might take more time.  Perhaps a scaffolded or an iterative implementation would work for your community.

You won’t be able to change your library’s editorial culture overnight. However, you’re much more likely to influence the culture around LibGuides content in a more strategic direction if you take the time to follow these steps:

  • Build a shared understanding of the ways that your culture needs to change
  • Communicate upcoming changes well in advance
  • Spend extra time with the (hopefully) few holdouts
  • Assess how the guidelines are working post-introduction

And, finally, remember that you’re not alone. Every institution we talked to was struggling with managing their LibGuides. So if you figure it out, let us know!

References

Halvorson, K. (2011). Understanding the discipline of web content strategy. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 37(2), 23–25. https://doi.org/10.1002/bult.2011.1720370208

Logan, J., & Spence, M. (2021). Content strategy in LibGuides: An exploratory study. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 47(1), 1-11. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2020.102282

The authors share their in-depth article Content strategy in LibGuides: An exploratory study from the January 2021 Journal of Academic Librarianship. The study answers two primary research questions: (a) how do academic libraries govern their LibGuides? and (b) what requirements, guidelines or protocols have institutions put in place for the creation, publication, and maintenance of their LibGuides?

Contributors


Michelle Spence
Written by

Michelle Spence

Written by

Michelle Spence

Engineering & Computer Science Librarian
University of Toronto

Judith Logan
Written by

Judith Logan

Written by

Judith Logan

Assistant Head of User Services
University of Toronto John P. Robarts Library

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