When I attended the Lilac conference 2015, there was a session about libguides, a solution used by many university libraries to manage content for their subjects. It looked particularly useful for subjects such as careers, where a lot of the resources were useful for multiple pages. I took notes and left it at that.
This year I came to the realisation that I have a lot of useful knowledge about websites and other resources that I can’t currently promote effectively. Students are generally too lazy to use the VLE and the Online Library and want faster and easier ways to access the information they need. Our online subscription databases are used very little and nobody uses the library catalogue. Those students whom I catch studying in the library and interrogate about what they’re doing, benefit from my expertise but only because they were here and I started the conversation. Promoting resources to teachers doesn’t help much because I a) can’t catch them in the first place and b) they forget the resources exist and don’t use/promote them either. Offering to promote them in lessons is met with no reply- the library is forgotten despite my best efforts. Yet, when I help students they are often surprised and pleased that resources exist.
I decided to try to change the way I provide information to our 6th form students.
Our VLE is SharePoint and I find it very clunky to add certain resources- some items are blocked by filters, which is a shame as I find that social media such as Twitter can be very useful to discover new reports and information. Even dropbox is blocked! There was a need for me to able to upload documents, link to database pages and include links to resources. I also realised that I would need multiple pages to display information, which might not be suitable for the VLE and might clash with subject pages that already exist for class work. Lastly, I know from talking to students that they are TOO LAZY to sign in to the VLE. I know, I can’t believe it either, but there you go…
While searching for libguides again, and realising that I would probably need some real money to pay for it (we have no money in the budget left) I stumbled across SubjectsPlus. SubjectsPlus is an open source content management system like libguides, allowing you to add resources in a flexible way. You can create guides and collections, add FAQs and basically build a database of electronic resources and uploaded documents. I realised that this might solve some of my problems, so I asked our techies to install it for me to play with.
My first thoughts- this will require some technical knowledge. My optimistic self decided that I would learn a lot from just attempting to make a database on this, so I wasn’t phased. Also, there are good wikis and Google+ groups to help the less knowledgeable user. However, finding out what it is exactly I need to learn is proving tricky. Simple tasks like linking my Delicious account to SubjectsPlus haven’t worked and I don’t know why not. I’m VERY good at finding and following instructions and it’s hard to tell how much of the issue is caused by the school’s firewalls without spending quality time at home. Does this also mean that students won’t be able to see these links in school?
Planning is also key. You can collate guides under collections and sort items by department. Deciding how you’re going to structure this resource will take some time and investigation into how the elements work together. Unfortunately, I don’t have time right now and again, I suspect I’ll need to play with this at home or wait until later in the year when I’m less busy. The one part I don’t understand so far is adding resources- this appears to be where you can add databases. I need to research how this works some more, and see how others have used it.My earlier investigations made sense, but other library activities have distracted me and I’ve forgotten what its purpose was.
Finally, I realised that most of the information I have isn’t recorded at all and is just tacit knowledge. Therefore, deciding to try SubjectsPlus has been useful as a knowledge management exercise, as I’m now making books lists and extended reading lists to add to the database. I’ve reorganised my links and created a taxonomy to tag them with, so that they can be sorted by subject, key stage and some purpose, such as “Research” or “Information Literacy”. The knock on effect though, is that I’m now looking at my physical collection with the same eyes and finding that it’s lacking organisation and consistency!
In summary, SubjectsPlus could provide solutions for school libraries and librarians looking to organise their resources and knowledge for curriculum, extra curricular and careers/HE topics. However, it does require a resilient and determined approach and/or technical knowledge and planning to build and implement. There is a wealth of guidance online to help use SubjectsPlus and some example websites, but not many examples that fully implement its potential resources. My aim is to start small- add a few guides, upload pre-existing documents and start creating book lists to upload and add as I go along. Have you had any experience of building a similar database? Let me know!
Images from SubjectsPlus.