Exploring COVID-19 LibGuides in Eleven Links

A Content Management System for the Library

Springshare’s LibGuides emerged in 2007 as a content management system for libraries across the spectrum. Within five years, LibGuides had been fully embraced by the community and become nearly ubiquitous. As one article notes, “By the 2011 ACRL conference, LibGuides had so thoroughly taken root in the library landscape that only one presentation, which described an attempt to replace LibGuides with free, open-source alternatives, dealt with the product.” [1]. Springshare’s website currently notes that their SaaS solution is used by 6,100 libraries in 82 countries, serving more than 20,000,000 users for “communication, outreach and user engagement efforts.” Attending a wide range of library association meetings, Springshare regularly brings together presenters to discuss the spectrum of ways in which their platform is used. 

As a more basic example of how a LibGuide may be used, a LibGuide created by staff at Montana State University - Billings directs users in search of information about the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. to books, movies, websites, and articles covering the period between 1850–1920. The guide spotlights subject-specific licensed information resources as well as resources that are freely accessible. A sidebar offers recommendations for keyword searches and notes important historical figures in the movement. Users have some variety from which to choose—digital exhibitions from the National Women’s History Alliance and the National Archives as well as databases from JSTOR, Proquest and HathiTrust. 

LibGuides have a certain degree of flexibility in their application. In their excellent guide to getting started with LibGuide creation, the University of Illinois Library notes that the tool may serve as a topic or subject guide, a how-to guide, or as a guide for a particular class. The platform can readily be put to use in producing an organized information resource for the public; professionals value it for its ease in delivering accessible, glanceable, and reusable materials. Available templates support a variety of layouts in two-column or three-column design. Modular pop-up options for consultative chats with a librarian are popular. 

While exploring available COVID-19 information resources to be added to a NISO resource page, it occurred to me that I might benefit from searching for available LibGuides. Within milliseconds, the initial result set from Google was in front of me. On that particular day, highly ranked were guides from the University of California - San Diego, from Drexel University, from the Ruth Lilly Medical Library at the Indiana University School of Medicine, and from the Foxchase Cancer Center, affiliated with Temple University. Because the pandemic touches on so many aspects of society, professional schools provide guides as well, such as this one from the Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law. What was interesting to me, however, was the range of approaches used in selecting and presenting relatively similar content in a public-facing context. 

Some guides do differ according to source. The Ruth Lilly Medical Library includes a navigational heading, 3D Printing PPE and Medical Supplies, in its LibGuide. The page provides “information resources for anyone interested in contributing their skills and expertise with 3D design or 3D printing in order to assist healthcare professionals who are facing a shortage of medical supplies, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as face shields and masks.” 

Drexel University Libraries offers a unique element in their left hand sidebar, suggesting resources for fact checking, helping the user to “sort out facts from ‘fake news.’”

The LibGuide creators at the University of California - San Diego assume that their audience would be primarily scientific researchers but, off to the right, include a box containing links to more basic science information. The box includes tips on protecting a home environment, but also links to one of their Spring 2020 Biology courses with televised lectures on the evolution of infectious diseases.

Useful Example

One COVID-19 LibGuide particularly impressed me, both with the scope of its content as well as its clear organizational arrangement. The University of Florida is a state university system, a land-, sea-, and space-grant university. On its collective set of campuses, it serves a population of more than 55,000 undergraduates and nearly 6,000 faculty. It supports a medical school and library. Headed by Judith C. Russell, Dean of the George A. Smathers Libraries, the university holds memberships in the Association of Research Libraries as well as in NISO.  

A message from Russell, dated March 18, notifies visitors to the LibGuide of the closure of the library’s physical spaces and provides information about services available remotely from main campus libraries as well as those from health sciences libraries. That message is followed by two sections of glanceable, boxed content—one for state and local resources and another for national and international resources.

Springshare recommends sidebar navigation for LibGuide use delivered to mobile devices, and this is the approach that the University of Florida has adopted. Organizational headings are shown below with descriptive subsections noted within parentheses:  

  • Home (Dean’s Message; Florida and Local Resources; National and International Resources)
  • For Healthcare Providers (Resources for Healthcare Professionals; Public Health Interests)
  • Immediate Resources for Students (FAQs; Food Resources; Funding Resources; Healthcare)
  • Information for the Public (Patient/Consumer Resources & Information; Information for Special Populations)
  • Visualization Resources (COVID-19 Case Maps; Visualization Tools; SEDAC Global COVID-19 Viewer; COVID-19 in Specific Populations/Geographic Areas)
  • Emerging Research (UF Research & Innovation; Information for UF Researchers; Published and MyNCBI Literature; For Researchers; Preprints; Global Publications)
  • Media (Educational Videos)
  • Additional Resources

Unlike other examples I saw, where content appeared to have been added without any attempt at organization or planning for specific audiences, the University of Florida’s guide offered me organization that was comprehensible at a glance and which clearly directed even the most casual visitors to materials most likely to satisfy their needs for information or understanding. 

I spoke with Nancy Schaefer, a Health Science Center librarian at UF, to learn some of the background of this particular COVID-19 LibGuide. The Health Sciences Center itself offers more than 140 guides, ranging from historical exhibitions (Food & Enslavement in Early America) to clinical practice (Obstetrics & Gynecology) to research-focused fields (Proteomics). She stressed to me that the assembly of the guide had been a collaborative effort between various groups, coming together once it was understood that different populations at the University would be in need of different types of information. One colleague focused on assembling patient resources, while another aggregated resources on visualization of data. Development time available prior to initial launch of the guide was short, measured in days rather than weeks. Efforts at visibility on the library’s main page paid off, however: Over the course of 10 weeks, the LibGuide has seen nearly 10,000 hits.   


[1] Carol A. Leibiger and Alan W. Aldrich, “‘The Mother of All LibGuides’: Applying Principles of Communication and Network Theory in LibGuide Design,” in Imagine, Innovate, Inspire: Proceedings of the ACRL 2013 Conference, ed. Dawn Mueller (Association of College & Research Libraries, 2013), 429-41.