Comparing Apples to Apples Oranges: An Exploration of the Use of LibGuides in ARL Libraries
The University of Louisville (UofL) Libraries, like thousands of libraries all over the world, use LibGuides content management software from Springshare to create and maintain several hundred subject guide webpages. Although the librarians spend countless hours every year on their guides, a study of guide usage has never been undertaken. As the authors began to look at the usage statistics for their institution, they wondered if examining only statistics from UofL Libraries would be looking at them in a vacuum. The UofL Libraries is a mid-size to large library system with six separate libraries and is a member of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). The authors decided to use UofL’s statistics as a reference point in asking the following questions: How did UofL’s usage compare to other, similar libraries? What types of guides have libraries created? What guide types are the most heavily used? How does guide placement affect use? The question of how to increase usage was also important given the amount of funding and time spent on the guides. A number of challenges were present as the authors attempted to embark on the research. Since UofL Libraries is a member of ARL, the study was limited to other ARL member Libraries. Although LibGuides are ubiquitous at ARL Libraries, collecting usage data was dependent on the goodwill of those libraries as it was not publicly available. The implementation of the guides at institutions can be radically different and those implementations are affected by internal policies that were not readily available. In addition, LibGuides are more ephemeral in nature than it would first appear. They appear, change, and disappear with a rapidity that makes it difficult to do in-depth, meaningful analysis. Nevertheless, this article will provide a snapshot in time of the use of the software across 27 libraries, demonstrate the wide variation in use of the guides, and provide some practical suggestions for increasing usage based on the authors’ findings.