Springer Account Development Manager Timon Oefelein talks with Daniel Gunnarsson, Jönköping’s Business and Economic Development Subject Librarian about his new and growing role as a Content Manager.
Jönköping University’s online Subject Guides are lively hubs of activity. Using a modular design layout featuring compact portlets similar to iGoogle, each librarian can completely customize the look of their corner, and choose the content. The result is a collection of active centers, each with its own subject focus.
The Business Economics Guide seems like a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), with new book alerts, news feeds and database overviews all rolled into one. How did you come up with the initial idea?
Personally I have for several years been working in this direction. I think that library services and resources should be more integrated and suited to fit the user’s needs. Link portals and long alphabetical lists with no focus on subject or resources aren’t perceived as useful in today’s virtual environment. We as librarians have a mission to select, promote and recommend suitable resources for the users.
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When did you launch these subject guides and what was the biggest challenge in setting them up?
More or less one year ago, November 2008. The software from Springshare is actually quite easy to use, at least considering the update of an existing guide. I would not use the word “finished” about a guide since it is a very flexible tool and one of the advantages is that you very easily can update the guide both regarding content as well as appearance. I consider my guide as a lifelong beta edition. The fact is that my guide has changed due to suggestions from the users.
The biggest challenge of course was the initial set-up of the guide. Therefore it was a comfort that I wasn’t alone. Paola Johansson, media subject librarian, had already started up her work with a subject guide on media (in Swedish). She was very helpful to me! I also want to give credit to Daniel Forsman, systems librarian, who initiated the LibGuides site at our library and has also been helpful with specific functionality such as search boxes for Google Scholar and Google Books.
To what extent have these Subject Guides stimulated content usage and increased awareness of the libraries’ services?
A tricky question to answer. The guide would really need an extensive assessment. This is something for the users to have an opinion about. When I get the time I will certainly ask them more thoroughly!
What I have done so far is to place a feedback box on every page in my Guide. This box I haven’t promoted in any way, still I have received 15 posts. 14 of them are very positive and only one negative. The negative comment was from a student who couldn’t find a specific database and that was obvious since we don’t have access to that specific database.
In the feedback box you can leave a grade from 1 to 5 and the average for my guide is 4.56 of 5. I think that is quite a good number even though it isn’t that many that leave a feedback grade.
In my contact with students and researchers I have also received comments letting me know that they appreciate this kind of all-in-one-place service. They also experience the guide as an easy way to explore different resources.
The guides allow subject librarians to post links to teaching material like SmartBiz. Does this reflect a more general trend of librarians getting more involved in VLE’s?
I think all librarians working with user education strive for a more integrated perspective on library resources in the ordinary subject education. This is one way to make it happen. It is about give and take! I promote teachers and research materials such as SmartBiz, and also their publications and they promote the library and my Subject Guide in their classes (or let me come and promote it on a lecture or course introduction). It’s a win-win situation or to paraphrase we can “scratch each other’s back” and everyone will be happy!
What’s your strategy for communicating new titles to users, through your Subject Guides?
In the section for books I always recommend a book, based on my knowledge of valuable resources, “gems” in the library collection and also titles I pick up in my conversation with teachers, researchers and students. Right now I have an economics book that was suggested by a student who said it was a very important book for her to grasp economics in her studies. That I think can be very interesting to promote as value added to other students.
Another input I have is to recommend books I select for purchase by the library. These books are very new and hopefully of interest. This new book recommendation is complemented by the RSS feed for new books in the library that I also make available on the Guide.
Finally on my Twitter channel (http://twitter.com/BusinessLib) I promote new books, reports, dissertations and other types of material published, e.g. OA. My Twitter channel I update more regularly, more or less daily, whereas the Guide I update approximately once a week.
E-books have a specific box on the Guide where I use a speech bubble to announce new resources and their contents. I also Twitter new e-book collections so as you can see there is a great variety of marketing of our resources going on…
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Would you say that more subject specific knowledge, rather than resource knowledge, is needed to manage a Subject Guide like yours?
Funny you should ask since I don’t have a background as librarian. Instead I have a degree in business administration and economics. Since I have been working as a librarian for 17 years I have acquired the knowledge I need about resources and library services. This I couldn’t cope without! Besides a certain degree of familiarity in technology together with support from competent colleagues, as I have, could help you achieve a lot with the Guides.
Regarding the more specific subject knowledge I think it is absolutely an advantage but not a necessity. But promoting yourself as a subject specialist and “showing off” a little bit is a personal trait that can be very useful in this work.
Which pieces are the most popular amongst your patrons, video tutorials, twitter, blogs, chat, or RSS feeds?
What I can see from the user statistics on clicked links, basic things, such as accessing the databases is highly used. I can say that I was surprised when I saw the results. I honestly don’t think some of them would have seen such usage rates without promotion in my Subject Guide.
Among the different pages, the landing page of Business News of course has most visitors, and in second place comes Articles. This probably reflects the users’ need for that type of material (scholarly journals).
Regarding the more innovative social media such as Twitter I think it’s a terrific marketing channel for books, e-resources, OA materials, business news. One problem is that students already are active in social media today (socializing with their friends) on Facebook which has been around and spread for a longer time than Twitter. Despite that I think that Twitter will spread more on a professional basis. My purpose isn’t to compete in their social arena. I want to share valuable resources in their studies and research. In other words, I don’t want to communicate with them on personal matters, I want them to read and use the resources I am promoting. Therefore I don’t have many students as followers of @BusinessLib; it’s more commercial organizations, libraries and publishers. Still I hope that many students and researchers access my Twitter and make use of my service in referring them to different sources.
I myself prefer RSS feeds since they update themselves automatically!
What kind of general feedback have you had from students and faculty colleagues?
It is possible to leave comments in the feedback box. It’s not heavily used but the comments go like this:
- Great! Very useful!
- Nice page! Very useful for getting a grasp of what is going on in the business world
- I really appreciate your contribution with the Business Librarian
In the start-up process of the Guide I had a couple of teachers giving me response on general matters. That was obviously very useful. For example, a teacher thought it would be a point in having the databases as a specific section in the guide with a short sentence describing each database. So I did that!
As I said earlier an evaluation is still to be done among the users. I have started a first year brief internal assessment among the librarians using the software as part of our quality work plan for 2009.
I try to work a bit like a Key Account Manager and that means that you have to take every chance to receive feedback from the user that can be used to improve our services and resources. Whatever comments a student or researcher have during a lecture, a tutorial session through e-mail etc. counts.
Will you tell me a little bit about your use of video clips as tutorials?
The possibility to embed webcasts and tutorials creates the kind of new picture and sound content I hope will make the guide more modern and attractive for younger users. Not ordinary boring text and links that no one manages to read more than a sentence. Prejudice, yes! But also a grain of truth…
With so many podcasts available on YouTube, is there a need for a library to make their own?
Yes! In a complex world where most people follow the line of least resistance and always have a shortage of time you will have to be very exact and suited to the needs of your users. Websites look different, the OPACs have different functionality, the organization and management of libraries are different and so forth. Among libraries we already have a problem with users feeling anxiety and frustration.
On the other hand, libraries have a tradition of being very generous and willing to share between each other and I think that we all should take advantage of the rationality that comes out of that. No need to do things twice. If we can share let us do that. But the users must have an experience that it is useful and meaningful for them!
How do you think Web 2.0 will continue to change libraries across the world? Are they turning into content managers?
We already are! This question is impossible to answer in a brief way. It is to complex! But change will happen and we have to be adaptable. There is a need for our competencies and we can make people more effective and we can provide ROI for universities. But we can´t make it on our own, a library doesn’t end in itself, we have to develop in coexistence with our users. If we move into that direction, Web 2.0 can be an opportunity for us librarians.
Are you looking to expand your Subject Guides? In what particular ways?
More guides! For me more specific guides in more well defined subjects. For example, soon I will publish a guide for entrepreneurship and then later on management, marketing, organization and so on…
The idea with making even more subject focused guides is to be able to peel off some of the more general links and instead add more functionality on remaining functions such as more RSS and links to electronic resources. As the feedback indicates, simplicity and clarity is of great importance.
Another functionality I’m thinking off is making the users more active. Today they can leave comments and feedbacks on the guide but I’m looking for a broader discussion group, not only for library matters. If it can be a place to also discuss studies, OA, scholarly publishing and research in a more general way I would be very pleased.