Tag Archives: tutorials

RIOT: Guides

I was quite pleased to see the 2014 ACRL IS Innovation Award-winning library research guide, Library DIY. I love it. I’ve always liked to idea of a step-by-step guide or a flowchart guide, and in fact I’ve played around with developing a dichotomous key for common library research tasks.

There’s nothing wrong with our setup, but I often think that students, especially first-year students, may not be so good at knowing the steps of what they need to do, and therefore not so good at articulating what help they need. And many libraries’ setups, including ours, rely on the users being able to identify the steps of their process and then go looking for that specific help.

The beauty of the Library DIY is that the standard steps are articulated for the users. This is lovely teaching, I think—providing answers, plus showing users what the steps are at the same time. It’s also great teaching for instructors—if any chance to check it out—to see what it is that their students need help learning to do and to show the instructors the level at which their students are thinking about the research process. It could even be helpful as a guide to instructors as they design assignments.

I have several thoughts and questions about this for our discussion.

Do we have a definitive rubric for guides? If we brainstorm to construct one, what are some criteria? Here’s a start:
1) Teachability—how well it teaches; how many different audiences it teaches (students on which levels, instructors, library staffers who aren’t in user services…)
2) Ease of use
3) Comprehensiveness of topics covered
4) Timeless/long-lived or will content units become dated?
5) Is it interactive? Is it an info dump?
6) Frustration level?
7) Goals?—different guides have the same goals or different goals
8) Placement and findability—Is it in a place on the site where users are likely to look for this information? Could it popup if users spend a designated amount of time doing or not doing something? How to describe/tag it, for users who want to search the library website?
9) Macro or micro level of assistance/coverage? General or specific?

What formats are being used for guides? What are pros and cons of different formats? There’s a reason why they use dichotomous keys in plant biology, for example, but there may be no analogous work to do in, say, social work. Certain guide formats may be a more natural fit for certain subject areas. What are some Helping Tools for common tasks in other disciplines?
_______. 2014. Dichotomous key. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved 02/10/14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dichotomous_key

American Library Association. 2014. Farkas, Hofer, Molinelli and Willson-St. Clair win 2014 ACRL IS Innovation Award. ALA News. http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2014/02/farkas-hofer-molinelli-and-willson-st-clair-win-2014-acrl-innovation-award

Farkas, Meredith. 2012. In Practice: The DIY Patron. American Libraries 43(11/12):29.

EXERCISE: How to read a scientific article

Purpose: This exercise introduces students to the parts of a typical scientific research article and a method for reading such articles.

Introduction: Students who are unfamiliar with scientific literature will often attempt to read articles straight through, the way they read textbooks or popular articles. This can be frustrating and unproductive.

Materials: For a class of ~24 students, use three research articles. Photocopy these sections—introduction, materials & methods, data/results, and conclusion—masking off text so that content from other article sections isn’t visible.

Methods: Have students work in pairs. Give each pair a section of an article and an article-notes form (Purugganan and Hewitt, 2004). Let them have 5-10 minutes to skim their sections and answer as many questions as they can on the form. Now have all students who have sections of each article gather together and report on what they think the article is about. Then have each group report out to the class about this experience. Generally, students who had the conclusions sections will have the best idea of what the article is about, and students who had the materials/methods sections will know the least.

Discussion: Have students read the abstracts of their papers, to see what they’re about. Then tell students to

  1. read the abstract to determine whether the article is a keeper
  2. read the conclusions—what did the researchers find?
  3. read the introduction—why did the researchers do this study
  4. read the results—show me the data!
  5. read the methods—how can I repeat this study?

Show the Purdue video “How To Read Scientific Papers” to reinforce.

Show students how to find subject dictionaries and encyclopedias to refer to while reading scientific articles—

  1. Gale Virtual Reference Library > apoptosis
  2. Library Catalog: AKW <dictionar* biolog* AND MT ebook; apoptosis>


Purdue University Libraries, n.d. [Fosmire, Michael?]  How to read scientific papers. Flash tutorial.

Purugganan, Mary and Jan Hewitt, 2004. “How to Read a Scientific Article.”