Students, Librarians, and Subject Guides by B. Reeb & S. Gibbons

To prepare for a project, I started reading up on the subject matter – library subject guides.

One of the articles is:

Reeb, B., & Gibbons, S. (2004). Students, Librarians, and Subject Guides: Improving a Poor Rate of Return. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 4(1), 123-130.


Reeb and Gibbons discovered a disconnect between library subject guides and its intended users. They used surveys, usability tests, and usage statistics to prove that students did not relate well to the subject guides. They also discovered that users were unable to use the guides effectively.

They argued that guides are usually created to reflect the discipline, that is, organizing the resources according to a discipline. However the intended users’ do not usually approach an information search with the discipline in mind. Their objective is much narrower, to complete an assignment or to do well for a course.


They suggest that librarians find ways to make subject guides more contextual:

  1. Meaningful names for the subject guides
  2. Locations of the access points to the subject guides
  3. Moving from a discipline-based to more course-based approach to organizing library resources

The key idea is to meet the users where they are. Their context, past experience and knowledge should be taken into account.


They believe that once a connection is made, librarians can bring the users to “a place of broader knowledge, awareness of content, and greater information literacy” (Reeb and Gibbons 2004, p128)


What they said resonates with me. This is really systemic thinking with an assumption that the world is a large system and everything is connected in some ways. I fare better when I have connected to the background, the past, the present (where I am) and where I am going/doing and especially why I am going/doing. In short, something personally meaningful.

  • In my short time woirkng on Emory’s LibGuides, I feel like we could really do more to create a uniformity in our guides. (If it were up to me, I would limit us to using just two columns of boxes per page.) But you’re right that much of what librarians write on these guides could be duplicated. Perhaps we need to be lobbying libraries to make more of their reference material like LibGuides Creative Commons licensed? Then again, it’s helped me better learn our collections to create a subject guide. And since I don’t actually think many students use them (a hunch–I’ve got no data), then making a new one ex nihilo might be the best approach after all.