Apr
29

Subject guides on web 2.0 startup pages – 12 widgets

Filed Under (Internet tools) by on April 29, 2009 and tagged , , ,

In the past few years, libraries have become increasingly innovative in the different ways they display their subject guide. Practically everything under the sun has being tried.

Libraries have tried wikis (here), paid for Libguides (here), used Delicious linkrolls (
here) and Squidoo (here). I haven’t heard of a library using Google Knol, but I won’t be surprised. Libraries have also tried opensource software such as Subjects Plus (here) , LibData (here), Research Guide, Pirate Source (here) , Library à la Carte (here)

I have being exploring two related ideas, but the one I will discuss here involves using web 2.0 startup service pages like Igoogle, Netvibes, Pageflakes, others

Many libraries have used Netvibes in particular. Though the use seems to be mainly as generic library portals + subject guides, rather than outright subject guide, but the principle is similar

What do such services do? They are dynamic personalized pages where you can choose to aggregate material from different sites. Typically you install widgets such as calenders, web-mail etc together with RSS feeds to put all your most commonly used material on one page.

Of course there is nothing to stop libraries from creating pages made up of different widgets/modules and RSS feeds and opening access to the world. Such pages will function as normal pages for users who don’t use such services, while other users who do use such services can grab whatever modules/widgets they need to mix and match on their own pages.

It’s unclear how many users use such services, so the question is why use this over static pages?

Basically such services provide a lot of flexibility. Staff can easily create tabs, arrange the layout of each section by drag and drop, grab different sections or pages etc. In comparison, wikis or static pages are harder to customize this way.

A good example is Central Medical Library, University Medical Center Groningen‘s Netvibes page.

Looking at what libraries have done, you can see there is a lot of room for creativity out there, but let me describe some ideas I like. I basically looked at my own static subject guide and thought how I could convert it to something more dynamic.

Let’s take it as given that the OPAC search box, FAQs, instructions etc are already available and focus on subject specific material.

Examples will be drawn from Central Medical Library, University Medical Center Groningen , Shrewsbury and Telford Health Libraries , Dublin City Public Library . My own institution also offers Nexus, which is similar (will blog more about it in another post).

Add RSS feeds of journal or database searches

Why offer lists of high impact journals when you can list table of contents of the latest issues of those journals?

This is a pretty obvious idea, get the RSS feed of the table of contents of the latest issue of the top journals in a given field and then feed it into a widget/module to display the results. Most journals offer the RSS feed on their homepages or you can try ticToOCS Journal Service. To ensure that the link works to handle the ezproxy properly you should convert the RSS feed using the Yahoo pipes method I described previously.


The most basic way would be to offer each RSS feed individually.

But a more advanced idea would be to offer a widget that combines RSS feeds of several journals/search engines, filter out results that don’t meet a certain specified keyword , dedupe (and rank?) and display results.

Or how about a widget/module that tracks citation alerts/mentions from Scopus/web of science and Google scholar, and dedupes results? I’m sure that will come in handy for people tracking citations of their papers. A widget linking to citeulike, various web-based citation managers?

Add searchboxes of databases

Why offer a boring static link to the recommended say Economics databases, when you can offer dynamic search widgets?

Using the method I described here on now to Creating custom search boxes for library use , one can also offer search widgets to be placed on the startup page. If you are a truly progresive library offering opensearch plugins, you can also provide a link to it too.


As the image above shows, the user can grab the whole widget to put on their startup page (click on wrench icon), or they can click on “add search to browser” link next to the title to add the opensearch plugin version to their browser’s search box!

Topcited articles in given area

Use Scopus topcited to list top cited article in an area of interest.




Add book related widgets

You can create a RSS feed from your OPAC showing a list of new books in a certain subject, or popular books.


Shrewsbury and Telford Health Libraries , Dublin City Public Library

Or better yet embed a Librarything Widget!

Central Medical Library, University Medical Center Groningen

Add Delicious, social bookmarking widgets

Your library uses Delicious to tag internet links? Insert a blog roll as a widget!



Dublin City Public Library

Add instructional tips

If you have being linking to powerpoints of your subject specific tutorials, convert them into slideshare (or similar alternatives) and then put in the widget. It’s a bit clunky to have one slideshare widget for one presentation, so package them all in one using slideshare presentation pack to combine several in one (see below). Have screencasts of tutorials? Even better!





Most popular blog posts in given area

My subject area is Economics so I can use palgrave’s Econolog which tracks and ranks most popular (based on comments) Economics blog posts.


But what if you want to add blogs on other topics? What you should do is to combine the top 20 or so blogs in your area, aggregate and rank them using Postrank and grab only the top posts.

If you are not sure what the top blogs are in a given area, you can use delicious to search for most popular blogs (e.g. Geography+blog), grab and combine the posts from these feeds and then pass then through Postrank , a service which checks for duplicates and ranks or just displays top blog posts based on popularity (number of comments, number of clicks, number of blog trackbacks, links from social media sites like Twitter, Friendfeed, Digg, delicious, see details etc).

Excellent resources on this topic include

Add other library widgets

If you have created subject specific library widgets like conduit toolbars, bookmarklets etc , why not offer them here?



Central Medical Library, University Medical Center Groningen

Add calender widget

Use various calender 2.0 services like Google calender, 30boxes, upcoming etc to list events. E.g upcoming talks of interest (e.g. database talk, tutorials etc).

Dublin City Public Library

Add feedback widget

Insert Meebo or your favourite chat widget so you can get feedback. Add a poll, or a askalibrarian form. If you are really bold, how about adding a twitter widget or even a getsatisfaction page/widget!


Central Medical Library, University Medical Center Groningen


Add custom google search engine

Most subject guides have a link to a list of free online resources. Why not create a custom search engine to search those sites? Use either Google custom search engine or Rollyo search engine
and offer it as a widget

Add Google analytics

Want to know how often your public Netvibes page is being accessed? Add a module with the google analyics code included! Of course, this works only for the public page, but typically each module/widget usage will be automatically tracked as well.


Central Medical Library, University Medical Center Groningen


I’m just scratching the surface of what can be done. In the future I will from time to time post about specific library widgets that have useful functionality.

Until then
Aaron Tay



4 Responses to “Subject guides on web 2.0 startup pages – 12 widgets”

  1.   Lisa Philpotts Says:

    Thanks for the post, Aaron! I’m actually writing up a report right now on how US/Canadian academic libraries are using Web 2.0 to create/promote their subject guides, as our library is thinking about switching over ourselves so we don’t have to churn out all our pages in DreamWeaver. I looked at about 25 large academic libraries and they all seem to be using either LibGuides or wikis. Your post certainly gives me some other options to consider, though.

  2.   Jeff Karlsen Says:

    I’m getting a lot out of your posts–thanks so much for being so generous with examples here (and in previous posts). It’s interesting how LibGuides seems to have hit upon a very marketable formula simply by gearing a widget-based start page toward library uses. While I’m attracted to the idea of adapting an all-purpose service to these purposes, I’m not sure how well it works in practice–most of the examples are visually pretty cluttered/busy; perhaps best directed toward advanced users rather than those requiring basic orientation in a particular research goal. It may be that these start pages don’t provide enough flexibility in layout, or it may be that one just needs to work a bit harder to optimize them than happened in the cases you point to.

    By the way, I was intrigued by the idea of using iGoogle–then learned that you cannot make iGoogle pages public. You can of course use Google Sites, but in some ways Sites is a very restrictive wiki environment, since any scripting must be done via Google Gadgets–not a difficult environment to work in, but still an extra step to take before including any widget content (unless it already exists as a Google Gadget).

  3.   Yvonne Says:

    Is it possible to make global changes across several subject guides using a service like NetVibes?

  4.   Aaron Tay Says:

    Yvonne, what type of global changes? I suspect it’s not possible.

    Jeff sorry for the late reply.

    You are right some of the examples are a bit cluttered, too many tabs etc, or too much material on one tab.

    The examples I point to technically try to be more than subject guides, they also seem to double as portal pages, which perhaps explain the clutter.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

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