19 Jan 2014

Librarian practices in subject-based online research guides

Back in 2011, two librarians at Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries embarked on a project to find out more about the role of web-based library research guides amongst American and Canadian ARL libraries.

99 ARL library websites were selected and then surveyed to learn about the prevalence and general features of subject-based research guides. Effectively, all websites offered research guides in some shape or form, of which LibGuides featured prominently (67 out of 99 libraries used this platform). 75 of the surveyed library websites also included course specific guides.

In addition, a 10-question survey was conducted (driven via different librarian mailing list services including web4lib) to find out more about general attitudes and practices in libraries when it comes to the implementation and management of online research guides. The survey’s response rate among college/university libraries was very strong (155, 82%) within the context of 188 library and 198 individual responses in total. Importantly, the questionnaire's results correlated with the website survey confirming that LibGuides features heavily among college and university libraries.

One interesting question considered the types of content hosted on subject-based online research guides (“What other type of content do you host on your research guides system?”). The table below offers an overview of provided answers (n=198).

Course pages
127 (68%)
“How to” instruction
Alphabetical list of all databases

“About the library” information
(for example hours, directions, staff directory, event)
Digital colletions
Everything – we use the research guide platform as our website
None of the above

I briefly looked at the prevalence of subject guides in Irish universities and institutes of technology. Evidently, the picture is entirely different here. LibGuides is nowhere near as prominent when compared with ARL libraries. Some libraries utilise links to static documents (PDF), which in turn include embedded hyperlinks to subject resources. Others use bookmarking services and cloud-hosted presentations (e.g. Prezi).

Below is a list of a selection of Irish academic libraries (universities and institutes of technology... I hope I didn't miss anyone here) with links to their relevant subject-portals:

Operating platform
Dublin City University
University College Cork
University College Dublin
National University of Ireland, Galway
National University of Ireland, Maynooth
University of Limerick
Trinity College
Athlone Institute of Technology
Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown
Institute of Technology, Carlow
Cork Institute of Technology
DĂșn Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology
Dundalk Institute of Technology
Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology
Letterkenny Institute of Technology
Limerick Institute of Technology
Institute of Technology, Sligo
Institute of Technology, Tallaght
Institute of Technology, Tralee
Waterford Institute of Technology
Dublin Institute of Technology

Ghaphery, J., & White, E. (2012). Library Use of Web-based Research Guides. Information Technology & Libraries, 31(1), 21-31.


  1. Thanks for this Alex. Nice work collating the range of subject pages, I am looking at this area myself for a paper I'm working on, so it will come in very useful. From my experience using Libguides, I find they are very user-friendly and allow for a nice, consistent look and feel across guides. Very easy to update if links and resources change etc. which I feel is key with online subject guides; broken links can be very frustrating for the end user.

  2. Thanks Michelle. I guess database driven subject/course portals are the way ahead. An in-depth analysis as to policies and practices reg. subject portals in Irish higher ed institutions would be a great thing. As an aside, a low-cost alternative to LibGuides is subjectsplus. Very straight forward to set up and run.