Thursday, May 13, 2010

Subject Guides 2.0 continued...

Lists of web links were one of the biggest headaches of 1.0 subject guides. Links went out of date or got hijacked, and the long list of text was overwhelming. While the question of cataloging and archiving free web links is far from being resolved, there are a now a few options to make this an easier process. Intute, from the University of Oxford, is a database of links to academic web resources [disclaimer; I used to work for Intute] and it allows you to embed their search box on your page. Intute resources are evaluated by librarians and are strongest in Iberian resources.

LANIC remains the strongest for Latin American resources [disclaimer; I used to work for LANIC.] Thanks to Kent Norsworthy, LANIC search boxes that search the LANIC site, the LAOAP project or the e-text collection can also now be embedded on your page. For both resources, researchers will search from your page but the results page is part of Intute or LANIC's site.

If these resources don't give you the flexibility that is needed, it is very easy to create and embed your own search engine that searches a specific subset of websites. Simply select the web pages that you wish to search and Rollyo or Google Custom Search will allow you to create and embed your own mini search engine. The easiest option is Google's On the Fly Search box, which makes an existing page of links, blog or directory searchable, with no account needed. A final option would be to tag useful websites in a social bookmarking tool, such as delicious. It is then possible to display your links as a linkroll (list of new links) or as a tagroll (cloud of new tags) on your page. All these link tools present information in a visually attractive way, and take the hassle out of updating pages of links. By adding a widget or direct connection to the resource, you're making the search process more visible and attractive too.

While all these tools make it much easier to ensure that your page contains the most accurate and up to date resources, it's often impossible to work on web pages regularly. There are a few tricks though, that give the impression that your page is constantly being updated, while also helping contribute to the learning community atmosphere. This is where those RSS tools that you learned from one of my previous columns come into play...

Using a program such as Feedburner or Feedsource it is possible to embed appropriate RSS feeds into your webpage. (Libguides users don't have to use these tools- just select embed RSS feed.) An RSS feed is new content from a specific page, which is automatically updated. Using RSS on your subject guide is just another way to display current information for your subject area-here are some ideas for relevant feeds.

Instead of providing a long list of appropriate academic journal titles, you could embed the latest journal Table of Contents on your page. Try TicTocs for a list of RSS feeds from academic journals. Including relevant news on your page makes a lot of sense too- instead of enumerating useful news websites, use RSS to embed LANIC's Twitter feed of news stories, Molly Molloy's Frontera list serv or BBC headlines. You could even use RSS to bring in appropriate photos from Flickr or a photo sharing website. These tools help to break up the text based subject guide, as well as physically demonstrating to students what useful web resources exist.

A final key feature of the 2.0 subject guide is providing space for feedback and/or interaction. Web 2.0 is all about conversation and community; the idea that content is a shared process that isn't imposed top down. So enabling a comments feature, a poll for people to vote on different topics or an IM chat window ensures that there is a mechanism for communication and feedback, even if, in actual fact, very few people actually use this feature...

All of these features are quick, easy to implement, and achievable even if you don't use LibGuides. The tools allow you to present relevant information in a visually attractive and interactive way, that make the lost of a subject guide format.

(Quick Update: Thanks to Sócrates and Orchid from HAPI for putting the HAPI tutorials on Youtube. This means that they can easily be embedded on your page. Search for HAPI on the UCLA Youtube channel.)

Alison Hicks
alison.hicks @
University of Colorado, Boulder

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