Think Like A Patron: Building A LibGuide

For my reference class this semester, one of our major projects was to build a library guide and present it to the entire class. For those who don’t know, a library guide is an interactive (to a point) guide that librarians create for their patrons, and each guide focuses on a particular subject or resource type or just something they know a particular sub-group of patrons is already interested in or will become interested in soon.

I have to admit, I didn’t realize crafting library guides were even a part of librarianship until this year, but now I’m noticing more and more libraries creating and putting these guides on their websites. They range from explaining certain library-centered services to telling patrons how they can teach themselves how to cook or knit or build a bike. They’re really an extension of the overall mission of a library: sharing information and helping people.

So there I was, having to build my own library guide, having never personally interacted with one. At least I had the freedom to create a lib guide for anything I wanted – but then what? That is the stumbling block I ran into when crafting my lib guide: what is this for? Who is this for? How will it be used?

I know I wanted to focus on an issue that I actually cared about and had an interest in studying, so my brain ping-ponged around a few ideas until it settled on computer programming (probably to the surprise of no one who knows me and has seen me lugging around Python textbooks across campus and attending coding meetups).

I then realized while gathering up resources and links that I needed to tailor this guide to a specific patron group. As this is an assignment for a University of Illinois course, I decided to tailor it towards UIUC students who are looking for campus-specific resources and possible interest in becoming a computer science major.

What does this do? It opens doors while at the same times swings doors shut. UIUC-specific resources means campus events, library-based programming, access to the CARLI (Illinois library consortium of libraries in state) catalog. It also means no mention of public library spaces, like Makerspaces and DIY/hack programming groups, or Meetups and other social media-organized organizations. It frames a specific subset of needs in an academic sense; if I had chosen to do the local public library system, the examples would then be flipped. There would be more choices out of the UIUC system, less access to college-specific items.

So I answered who and what it was for: UIUC students and learning how to get into programming. Remember, a library guide doesn’t teach so much as lead readers to find resources that will teach things. So how will this guide be used?

In my hypothetical model, I imagined that these students were just starting out on learning CS. I did not suppose their various starting positions but I allowed for all kinds of variables, from people new to programming to people new to computers, period. That allowed for variety in my resources, even as I kept the scope focused on CS 101 and beginner-level inquiries. I admit, I threw in some information about DIY computer building, including links to Raspberry Pi and Arduino, but since many public libraries and computer hobbyist groups are opening up to having workshops on using these specific kits, I didn’t feel too conflicted about including them.

The hardest part might have been walking the line between explaining terms that needed explaining and sounding patronizing in certain areas. I mean, we can’t always assume where a patron is coming from, but you can’t write to them and help them as if they are utterly clueless about everything. Then again, some people really appreciate having things spelled out so explicitly and in detail, just to give them security. So, again, there’s a careful balance that I aimed for, and I’d like to think I hit it.

So, here is what helped the most: I had to think like a patron. I had to imagine myself as a patron of this hypothetical library guide, and ask myself what resources I would appreciate seeing, what information I would need and what information I would find useless. And when I did that, I could better gauge how useful a link or video I was about to place actually was. And really, so many library services could benefit from just placing yourself in the feet of the patron and asking if you would actually want this or if you would ignore it.

Speaking of library guides, there are several guides to these guides on YouTube, one of which you can watch below. Also, I love that more and more libraries have YouTube channels and making content for them. Yay, library videos!

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