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Are you reaching your audience? The intersection between LibGuide authors and LibGuide users

Gabriela Castro Gessner (University Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA)
Adam Chandler (University Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA)
Wendy Sue Wilcox (University Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 10 August 2015




This paper aims to analyze the intersection of LibGuide authors (producers) and LibGuide users (consumers) at University Library, Cornell University, New York, USA. In consideration of this previous finding, the authors felt it was vital to address the question of how Cornell University Library (CUL) LibGuides can better serve Cornell’s user base. By posing questions such as, “what are authors’ intentions in creating LibGuides” and “how are local users finding, accessing and/or engaging with LibGuides”, this paper hopes to make nuanced recommendations to authors.


This paper addresses two key pieces of data: browser search terms from the Springshare log files and interviews from authors of 20 different LibGuides. The author interviews gave us insight into the purpose, use and marketing of specific library guides for CUL, while browser search terms revealed how our users constructed Internet searches that resulted in that hit on a CUL LibGuide.


Data uncovered in our analysis of affiliated search terms provide great insight into users’ expectations or perception of what they are seeking: 39 per cent of searches performed by affiliated users contained terminology of either the name of the course, the four-digit letter-number code for the course (e.g. ANTH 2300), the name of the professor and the course or some other similar permutation. This suggests that the LibGuides software needs a better way to index institutional courses by number and name, a finding the authors will return to later.

Research limitations/implications

As LibGuides are ephemeral and constantly changing, rather than creating a LibGuides based on the premise of its purpose – course guide, subject guide or other – perhaps, authors should consider how the LibGuide will live online and specifically, what is its life cycle? The longevity of a LibGuide ensures that it will be discovered in some way or another; however, the discovery of outdated material is not the best introduction to these vehicles of information. If LibGuides aim to serve as an unmediated stand-in for librarians, its online life expectancy needs to be considered at the point of creation.

Practical implications

Recommendations for LibGuide authors/producers: place most important content in the first tab (over 50 per cent of hits are to the homepage); minimize the total number of tabs. Fewer tabs are likely to encourage more in-depth browsing and facilitate better discovery of key content; include interactive content in LibGuides, such as assignments and tutorials that increase the use of that LibGuide; identify LibGuides and/or tabs in terms of function – teaching or discovery – within a search environment.

Social implications

The tension between LibGuides as a teaching tool and LibGuides as an answer to a student’s research is an issue that we should resolve to fix. This tension is often eased in classroom instruction or during mediated interactions at the reference desk or via chat reference. However, in the online environment of LibGuides, librarians must be cognizant that students will often not be seeking the instruction on locating resources but rather will focus on simply locating the resource itself. Course guides might be better served online by pushing the instructional components toward the final tabs and relocating the valuable resource content to the Home tab. Promoting the use of library guides beyond the classroom or the event that they were designed for may not be necessary or desirable; however, as LibGuides have a lengthy life cycle, consideration about how they might meet a user’s online needs is worthwhile.


This paper offers a unique perspective in the use of a common library tool from two points of view: the producers and the consumers of library guides. Too often, people take for granted the idea that they know and understand what librarians and/or library staff do and intend with the creation of LibGuides, without informing our perspective with actual data. The authors realize that the sample size of their interviewee pool was small, but nonetheless, deemed it an essential aspect to consider when evaluating the interaction of library guides or other library content put forth for the constituents we serve. In terms of user research, the authors are in a privileged position given the quantity of attention directed at the consumers of library guides; this study contributes to the conversation by highlighting the rare access people have to the results of unmediated user practices in the information gathering process.



Castro Gessner, G., Chandler, A. and Wilcox, W.S. (2015), "Are you reaching your audience? The intersection between LibGuide authors and LibGuide users", Reference Services Review, Vol. 43 No. 3, pp. 491-508.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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