Re-thinking the Library Pathfinder by J. M Kapoun

Kapoun, J. M. (1995). Re-Thinking the Library Pathfinder. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 2(1), 93 – 105.

I’m reproducing the author supplied abstract to facilitate the discussion.

    Pathfinders help library patrons find information, learn about library resources and physical space, and develop research strategies. They can be poorly constructed, excessively detailed, and inconsistently formatted. Some cover too many topics and include forced research strategies that make them difficult to read. This article offers a format and construction guide to aid librarians in preparing readable, useful pathfinders.

Kapoun offers a helpful definition for the library pathfinder in the midst of research literature that tends to use terms like subject guides, library guides, user guides, pathfinders and etc. loosely and interchangeably.


He summarizes what a pathfinder is with the following points:

  1. A pathfinder is a beginning map to library services and resources
  2. A pathfinder’s purpose is to educate about the basic resources for select topics
  3. A pathfinder’s format is simple and direct, not a substitute for human service or instruction
  4. A pathfinder is used to facilitate individual styles of performing research
  5. A pathfinder’s scope is broad and is reviewed after the initial creation
  6. A pathfinder must be easy to read and be evaluated by librarians and the public
  7. A pathfinder is NOT an exhaustive bibliography of primary access tools

In essence, the pathfinder is created for beginners and highlights basic information resources. In contrast to other types of subject guides that might be for more advanced users.


Kapoun also offers a simple pathfinder format which he terms “universal pathfinder format”.

It consists of:


  1. One header or title for each pathfinder
  2. A brief description of the subject in 3 to 4 sentences
  3. List appropriate tools to find subject headings
  4. Books
  5. Periodicals
  6. Special Features
  7. Contact information of the librarian and library

Taking into account that this article was written in 1995, it provides good basic introductory information.


However, it needs updating to incorporate massive changes to information search behaviour in the social web era. For instance,

  1. Direct access links should be incorporated into online and web pathfinders
  2. Inclusion of new formats such as websites and e-books to the list
  3. Besides instruction on how to search for books using various library access tools, canned search lists prepared beforehand can be included to give a quick demonstration of how the instructions work
  4. Screenshots or video tutorials could be included to visually present information