The Big LibGuide of Art. . .(and Design)

Redesigning the Art Research Guide was the impetus for taking on this directed fieldwork. I had come across the guide during a reference interview and thought it could stand a little makeover. It being the largest and more time consuming of the projects Angela and I discussed when I approached her about the fieldwork, I am very excited to announce its completion!

Here’s an inside look into the process:


Step 1: Consult the “client” (Angela: UW Art, Drama & Dance Librarian)
Step 2: Conduct user analysis
Step 3: Create wire frames
Step 4: Collect resources
Step 5: Review art- & design-related LibGuides around the globe
Step 6: Build it
Step 7: Gather feedback
Step 8: Publish!

Step 1: Consult the client

I met with Angela to discuss exactly what her end goals were, what she hoped the the new guide would look like or, at the very least, the type of content and organizational structure she had in mind. Other than just a few aesthetic changes (add more visuals), we both agreed that the guide (in its current state) heavily supported the “art” side of “art & design”, but not so much the “design” side. Main goal: make this a resource for design students as well as art students. This left a lot of room for creativity and flexibility in just how robust it could be.

Step 2: User Analysis

Before creating any web-based tool, I like to start with a general analysis of the user(s) to really nail down the purpose of the product. Although I didn’t go through the process of creating personas for this project, I did use the personas created by the UW Libraries in 2009 (updated 2014) as a starting point. I also spent some time on the School of Art + Art History + Design website to get a sense of hot topics and core courses in each of the concentrations. Luckily, being good friends with a student in the design program, I was able to get my hands on several of the course syllabi, which allowed me to see the various types of information and resources students would need to complete their requisite course assignments.

Step 3: Create Wire Frames

Let’s be very clear here: in no way, shape, or form are these wireframes “professional” or even worth showing. However, I believe in transparency, so please, forgive the incredibly poor quality of the following items.

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Prior to starting, I knew there was an existing research guide that I was particularly enamored with in terms of layout and general organization. As illustrated above, I borrowed heavily from the Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies guide to develop the overall structure of the new iteration of the art & design guide. While the final iteration of the guide eventually deviated from these frames, the process of wireframing helped me see the product as a whole, work out kinks, and play around with ideas in a way that diving right in would not have allowed.

For more information about the process and benefits of wireframing, check out Smashing Magazine’s article: 35 Excellent Wireframing Resources (note: you’ll see there are official tools for creating wireframes that are way fancier than those presented here!).

Step 4: Collect Resources

It’s no secret that there is (what seems to be) an infinite amount of art + design resources available, both behind the subscription paywall and on the open web. The older version of the art research guide linked to subscription-based resources that the University subscribes to, in addition to a few open access resources, but it left something to be desired (see below).

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I spent some time reading articles and looking at “Best-Of” lists gathering links and descriptions and organizing them into a Google Spreadsheet. I won’t share the spreadsheet here, because it’s even more of a mess than those wireframes! Basically, I created several columns and sheets. One sheet dedicated to collecting all of the information organized by the tab it would live in, and the other sheet dedicated to the exact grouping and organization of the information within each tab.

The content on the new Articles tab is the same as it was before, but I separated it into two categories: Art + Art History and Design + Applied Arts. The Art + Art History databases seems like a more robust list compared to the Design + Applied Arts database listings, but this is simply due to the differing nature of the two subjects. Art + Art History resources, like all humanities-based subjects are analytical, critical, and the cycle of information is generally much longer. Whereas Design + Applied Arts resources have a faster cycle of information; information is topical and trending.

Because of this discrepancy, the majority of the resources for design + applied arts were moved to the “Web Resources” page and their own “Resources by Topic” subpage.

Step 5: Review LibGuides

One of the great thing about librarians is that we love to share resources! I knew that in creating this LibGuide, I was creating a tool for other librarians to use, as much as I was creating a student/faculty resource. I did a quick search on Google for “art and LibGuide” and “design and LibGuide” and then poked around a few places to get an idea of the types of information and organization that’s happening at other institutions.

This search also uncovered that curating resources for design students (broken down by industrial, interactive, and visual communication) is not an easy task. There is no “standard” content or even presentation. Guides are either totally devoted to Design, in that they are fleshed out and present information that exists elsewhere in the UW Library Guides. Or, they exist as a subset of a larger art guide (as is the case here) and barely scratch the surface of research related-content.

Overall, no two LibGuides are alike, which was relieving to see.

Step 6: Build it

Putting together a LibGuide (for anyone who has done it) provides both a sense of satisfaction and immense frustration, often at the same time. For those who aren’t familiar, LibGuides are a widely-used content management system among universities. The guides have pre-formatted boxes that can be customized with original content. There is a rich and plain text editor, but overall the platform is very limiting in terms of how creative one can get.

I had a lot of new content that could have become overwhelming to categorize and accurately represent under such rigid restrictions, but thankfully, the wireframing and spreadsheet process outlined above helped keep the process relatively streamlined.

Step 7: Gather feedback

Here is where good friends and helpful coworkers really paid off! Once I had the majority of the structure built and content uploaded, I met with Angela to make sure I was on the right track. She provided really useful feedback and made pragmatic suggestions for edits and additions. Once I made the appropriate updates, I presented the page to a group of coworkers and asked for their feedback. Again, useful feedback and one suggestion for a simple page update.

The final test will be to get feedback from my friend in the design program, who already admitted that no matter what I present, he and his classmates will probably think it’s poorly designed simply because he’s trained to judge things with a critical eye. Design aesthetics aside, I’ll be able to gather usability information straight from the user and adjust accordingly.

Step 8: Publish!

I submitted the guide to Angela for final review and with the go ahead it’s now published for public consumption! Check it out and leave a comment with your thoughts!

View the guide here: Art Research Guide

Learning Outcomes: 1,2,3,4

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