Discussion: Guides

At our latest RIOT meeting, Roxanne reviewed a new library guide form Portland State University Library: Library DIY.  This resource has a different approach to libraries’ old question: How do we guide our users through the research process? As Roxanne explained in her blog post and during our meeting, Library DIY does this is with something reminiscent of a dichotomous key, an idea that she had been considering because of her positive experiences using these keys for topics such as plant identification.

The group discussion began with this specific resource and branched out to other guides, results from assessment conducted by Library Instruction Services and, surprisingly, student tardiness… but I will skip details on the latter.

On the pros, cons and questions about Library DIY, we discussed the great potential in guiding students when they don’t know what they need to ask or they don’t know the steps the need to follow. This resource might be a good way to present steps that they might have not considered before because it walks you through the research process.  One of the limitations of using a model like this is that for a dichotomous key to work, we would need to identify common tasks within the research process in specific disciplines, which works better in some disciplines than in others.

Thinking of common tasks lead to a couple of examples at UT Libraries that are more FAQ and less research process guides: Michele explained that the original goal of How Do I? was to point at content that sometimes wasn’t easy to find but that over the years some content has been created when it didn’t already exist. The UT Business FAQ is a subject specific resource but the focus is not necessarily on decision making during the research process.

Kristen brought up her concern with scaffolding with a tool like this because, although all students need basic tools, those who already know how to use these, might need more advanced guidance depending on which threshold concepts (see Meghan’s post about this) they have already crossed.

Another issues is that, as AJ pointed out, it is hard for us to judge if a tool like this really works because we already understand the concepts that we are trying to convey so it all makes sense and seems logical.  These lead us to ask questions regarding how the librarians behind this project are getting feedback from users.

The group wondered if something like Library DIY might be more useful as a tool marketed to faculty to use in class for two reasons: first, when the students see concrete examples of how they can use it for a specific assignment, it is more likely that they will use it, and second, students tend to put a lot of weight on what faculty recommends. Library staff could also use this tool during reference interactions or when training other staff less familiar with research.

But these uses would be taking a lot of the “DIY” out this tool so other ideas came up on how to make this sort of help more visible but not obtrusive so that it would work as DIY.

The Guide on the Side project from University of Arizona might be a good option to explore further. Megan set one for a German database and it seems to work well because the help is right there on the database so you can do you research while following step-by-step instruction. Guide on the Side might be great for this kind of use but, again, probably not for conceptual help.

The good news is that Krystal has been working on assessment of video tutorials has discovered that videos are more successful when focusing on concepts than when providing step-by-step instruction so videos might be what we need to use for conceptual content while other media can be used for teaching specific tasks.

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