Friday, March 28, 2008

Article Note: On Library Web Pages for Faculty

Citation for the article:

Gardner, Susan J., John Eric Juricek, and F. Grace Xu. "An Analysis of Academic Library Web Pages for Faculty." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 34.1 (January 2008): 16-24.

Read via ScienceDirect.

This article gave me a couple of things to think about as we move on with our website redesign, the unveiling of which is coming up this summer. Anyhow, some of the items missing on the sampling are things that I think we should consider as we make our own progress. Keep in mind this article is mostly geared to large, research institutions. This is reflected in their sample.

The article reports on a study of web pages from libraries dedicated to faculty. The study also looked at what technologies, if any, the pages integrated (podcasts, blogs, etc.), and where these pages were listed in relation to the main library page. For that last one, in other words, were you able to find the page right away or did you have to click a level or two from the main page to find it? For purposes of the study, "faculty in this case was defined as the traditional nonlibrarian, 'teaching' faculty of the university" (17). The sample was based on 69 academic libraries. The article does provide various full tables listing the libraries as well as features from the survey.

So, what did they find? Here are some highlights, with any comments I may have:

  • Of the initial 69, 54 actually had pages dedicated to faculty.
  • The authors devised various checklists for their study. For content, the three most common categories were items related to lending services (i.e. things like ILL), teaching support, and research support. The least common? collection development, current awareness issues, and acquisitions (20).
  • Size does not matter (it's what you do with what you got). "One might assume that larger libraries would have more developed Web pages for faculty, but we found no statistical connection between the size of a collection and the content or features of Web pages for faculty or whether they even had a dedicated Web page for faculty" (22).
  • The authors found the lack of linking to things like new acquisitions surprising. ". . .but it is somewhat surprising that information about new acquisitions, special collections, and archives did not receive more emphasis since academic libraries devote considerable resources to building and maintaining their collections" (22). In other words, you'd think that with all the money some places are plunking in for collections and archival resources they would be promoting them better. Here, as part of our web redesign, our archivist is making sure her department's presence is known and accessible on the website.
  • A transparency issue: not enough explanation about how collections are developed. Having said that, I am not too keen on the idea of posting the library's collection development budget for all faculty to see. Maybe I am not as optimistic. But certainly how items are chosen and the policies should be more visible.
  • How the library has a role in scholarly communication received very little attention on the sampling of library websites. Why is this important? The authors state that "this limited participation diminishes the visibility of the library as a partner who makes a contribution to the teaching and research mission of the university" (22).
The authors also identified some "cool" things. I am just going to pick out a few (see page 23):
  • A welcome message from the library dean "emphasizing the role and importance of the library." (Notice that it is "dean," which usually means the person has a doctorate. However, a director's welcome would work as well).
  • a section to explain librarians and their professional culture: you know, our credentials and tenure process (no, this is not applicable if you do not have tenure for your librarians).
  • guides to integrating library resources into the campus course management system (CMS).
  • information about faculty publications.
  • guides to good library assignments. Actually, when I was reworking some of the instruction space on the web page of my previous workplace, that was a feature I wanted to include. I even had a list of some sample websites I was using as good practices examples. Oh well. Maybe my instruction librarian here will get a moment of inspiration and put something like that on our pages.
  • library seminars on topics like Google searching, the libraries' databases and online resources, e-reserves, and other topics.
  • By the way, the authors identify Johns Hopkins U. (list of their libraries here. Not exactly intuitive to find the faculty stuff. I am guessing they looked at the Sheridan Libraries page? Still takes a bit of work. Finally, click on the left menu bar under "Info for" and there is the faculty page. Takes some digging, so that is a best practice? That was about three or four jumps before I found it.) and UT-Austin (slightly better. One level down under "Resources for you," which does sound like a more friendly term. Their faculty stuff is here.) as the two best models of practice.
Finally, the authors suggest following up their research now with a comparative analysis of the same sites in five years for an update. Sounds nice. However, what I would want to know is how libraries of my size and scale (i.e. my peers) actually compare in this kind of study. For me, that could be more useful, but I did learn some things from this study.

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