Fighting Fat

I’ve been thinking about dieting lately, and it’s not just an after the holidays preoccupation.  Let’s talk, not about bodies, but about instructional materials.  How can we make our web pages, guides and other tools leaner (but not necessarily meaner)?

My teaching load has been especially heavy and early this semester, so I’ve been creating and updating LibGuides for course-specific instruction.  Like many librarians, I have LibGuides filled to the brim with stuff – links and more links to databases, statistical sources, e-journals and other resources (I refer to my Global Health guide as “the LibGuide that ate Chicago”).   Today in a library session, I looked at a box titled “Essential Databases,” and thought:  essential for what?  Hypnotizing users into submission?  What am I trying to prove with these endless lists of links?  The research (and our own experience) shows that any library instruction session that tries to deliver more than 3 to 5 learning outcomes is doomed to fail.  Why, then, do we think that more links are better?  Our students, I suspect, never make it past the first one or two databases we suggest in our guides.

I’m pleased to see that some libraries have developed guidelines for LibGuides best practices.  For example, MIT’s guidelines for content say, “Less is More!” (I love the exclamation point).  My task this semester is to put my LibGuides on a strict diet – paring down the number of links, streamlining the number of boxes, and keeping tabs to a minimum.

My colleagues Amber and Emily have tackled the “wicked problem” of how to revise our Citing Sources web pages.  These pages, the most heavily used on the Duke Libraries site, have been a thorn in our side for years.  Once upon a time we had staff who had time to create and maintain many many (many!) pages with examples of citation formats and links to multiple style guides.  Those days of luxury are over.  We’ve already pruned the pages, and recently Amber led a usability study of our main Citing Sources pages as a project for one of her library school courses.  She and Emily are working with our talented colleagues to redesign the pages.  My input has consisted of repeating over and over the phrase “Put the pages on a diet.”  With so many good information resources on citing, like the tools on Purdue’s OWL (Online Writing Lab) site, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.  What we do need to do is make it easy for Duke users to find basic citation and style manual information.  I feel confident that Amber and Emily will make that happen.

Our New Year’s resolution (okay, it’s already February, but…)?  Take off the excess weight and streamline our information tools.