Recipe For A Resource Guide: Helping Washington Libraries In Hard Times


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How the Washington State Library created their Hard Times Resources Guide, and techniques for creating your own dynamic resource guide for any subject.

Originally presented at the WebJunction Online Conference: Technology Essentials 2010.

Published in: Education, Business
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  • Transcript for this presentation:

    Hello! My name is Ahniwa Ferrari and I’m the Online Resources Consultant at the Washington State Library. This means I get to work on fun projects like statewide virtual reference and database trials, and as you may have guessed, the Hard Times Resource Guide.

    As I’ve recently begun to cook (at my wife’s request) I have recipes on the brain, so I’ve tried to organize my thoughts today as a recipe that you might follow to create excellent resources guides of your own.

    It seems appropriate to begin by showing you OUR resource guide. Here’s a screenshot, but you can view it live @ I’m sure that some of you have already created similar resource guides, perhaps on different subjects or maybe even along the same lines as this – if so, please feel free to take this opportunity to post the link in the chat window, so that those reviewing this session later might be able to learn from your excellent examples as well as our own.
    The Washington State Library’s Hard Times Resource Guide went live on our website on August 28, 2009. By the end of September the guide already had over 4,000 unique visitors. Since then the guide has netted over 8,000 visitors and 16,000 pageviews. This doesn’t put us in the Alexa top 100,000, of course, but for traffic to the Washington State Library website it’s pretty great.
    Even better than the numbers, we’ve received some great comments about the site, and I’ll share a few with you to help give you an idea of why it might be worthwhile to stick around and learn some more:
    Sara Houghton-Jan, better known as the Librarian in Black, said on her site: “There is a fabulous Hard Times Resources Guide available from the Washington State Library. Why is it good? The design is simple and easy to use. You can find what you need quickly. The resources listed are of high quality but not too many in number to create confusion. They even provide state-specific information right on the site, like a list of tips on filing unemployment. See what kinds of info you could be providing for your own customers.”
    From Middletown Library in CT - “What an incredible resource you've put together. Comprehensive and extensive. Congratulations on developing such a resource.”
    From North Suburban Library System in IL – “This is one of the best sites like this that I have seen. Congratulations!”
    From National Network of Libraries of Medicine – “What a wonderful contribution to your state and the entire country! Many thanks to the team for their vision and hard work which has resulted in this timely resource, and also to the State of Washington for supporting this effort.”
    From Bates Technical College in WA – “Excellent. Great, easy-to-use info, and very attractive, too. Congratulations and thank you!”
    So the idea of a resource guide isn’t new by any means. Yahoo!, one of the first big sites on the web, was itself just a resource guide to the internet (back when the internet was small enough for such a thing to be possible). We’ve all seen and used pathfinders and annotated bibliographies and the like, and those are basically just resource guides as well.

    The basic recipe for our resource guide, and any of these, is more or less the same.

    First determine your audience. Then determine their need. Then find resources to meet that need. Then find ways to mix resources with audience (aka get the word out), and you’ll have a successful resource guide.

    The basic recipe is simple. If you can, in addition, make the guide attractive and really easy to use, then that’s when you’ll have people coming back for seconds, and could even win the blue ribbon at the fair. I’ll talk more about that in a little bit.

    Determining your audience may seem like a simple task, but like many things, it can become as tricky and complicated as you’d like to make it. A good starting point is to go back to your institutional mission statement, see if the audience is defined there, and ask questions such as:
    • Should this guide serve our entire audience, or should we focus on a specific group?
    • If we do want to focus on a specific group, which one, and what that group?
    • Okay, so we want to serve this specific group, but is an online resource guide the best way to do it?
    • What other approaches besides an online resource guide might work even better?
    • We’ve determined our primary audience, but what secondary audiences might benefit from this as well?
    Working in Library Development here at the State Library, my primary mission is to serve the other libraries in the state, and not to provide direct service to their patrons. That’s their job. As Kirsten mentioned, though, libraries were asking for help providing an easy-to-access, consolidated location to help their patrons with resources related to the tough economy. Many of these libraries didn’t have the time or resources to build their own, so we decided we could build one for them and they could put it on their web sites for their patrons to access.
    Which meant, potentially, we were serving every library user in Washington State.
    Your audience will likely be more localized, which is handy, because it means you can provide more specific and helpful resources. It’s okay to want to serve everyone, but keep in mind that it’s also alright to focus resources to a specific population, and this will often let you provide more focused and tailored help.

    So now you’ve defined, expanded, redefined, honed down, reredefined, expunged, and finally nailed down the target audience that you really, really, really want to serve. Now what?
    Now you get to define that population’s need, and find resources that fill that need. In my opinion, this is the fun part.
    Chances are that you’ve done some of this already; it was probably the impetus for you wanting to create a resource guide in the first place, and you probably thought about it while you were defining an audience. If you just decided to create a resource guide because it’s the cool thing to do, though, here are some methods to consider to help you determine the needs of that population:
    • Survey them – online surveys work well and you can load them on the library computers, or have little cards at the service desks;
    • What their information use – look at where they go, what they look for, what they find when they look, and how helpful that seems to be;
    • Query local experts, or form interest groups or advisory committees;
    • Or perhaps easiest of all (and very helpful), track down resources like the one you want to create, serving populations similar to the one you want to serve, and steal all their best resources and ideas. Someone somewhere has done it already, to some degree, and there’s no need for you to reinvent the wheel.
    I DO recommend a selective, NOT comprehensive, set of resources. Being able to weed through the online detritus and pulling out the real gems is an essential skill, here, and is really why we as librarians SHOULD be creating resource guides, because we’re good at this sort of thing.
    In the end, every resource should offer something unique from the other resources on your guide. If you have two wonderful resources that offer exactly the same content, scrap one of them, no matter how it pains you. Every resource should also meet a specific need as you’ve defined them for your target population. If you find a great looking resource but can’t figure out how it serves your population, don’t include it, or save it for a different resource guide where it WILL serve the population somewhere down the line.
    For our guide, we had fun looking through various philosophies on human need (since we were trying to serve an entire state). I particularly liked Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and we adapted a lot of it to create subject areas for the Hard Times Guide. This is a somewhat abstract way to start defining needs, in most cases, but could be another way to go about it if you’re struggling.

    The nature of the resource guide is that you have a lot of text, with links to more text, and some other text describing the text that links to the site with the other text that you’ve deemed to be more useful text than other text.

    Don’t get me wrong, I adore the written word and find it to be a great way to communicate. Even so, I really recommend you add some pictures to your guide. In fact, I think you should add a lot of them, and not just for decoration, but as another medium for communicating what your resource guide is offering. These 12 pictures are front and center on the Hard Times Resource Guide, more visible than the text, and are MUCH LESS overwhelming than if only text had been used.

    There are a lot of sites out there where you can download and use high quality stock images for little or no cost. We mainly used, and I recommend,, which has a lot of free content on top of premium pay content.

    We all want everything we do to be perfect. What we create is often imperfect, and it’s tempting to fine-tune things to death before you ever let them see the light of day.

    STOP IT!

    Google is known for their perpetual beta, and this is the approach you should take as well. Find the good-enough point, make it live, and THEN fine-tune it gradually, over time.

    Doing this has the added benefit of letting you gather real-world usage data, which lets you see how people are using your resources and where they’re looking, and can help you fine-tune more effectively.

    Sure, you know that it took a lot of work, but in the end you’ve probably compiled a bunch of free web resources on a guide that you are making available for free – so what’s the selling point again?
    Well first off, your sites are better. For instance, anyone can go to a search engine and type “I need a job” but not everyone knows what to do from there or which sites would be the most helpful. You do, and you should say so when you’re getting the word out about your resource guide. You can also mention that the guide itself is a starting point for services you can offer more in-depth for users that come into your library.
    Resources guides are really a “save the time of the user” type tool, and in a world where many people feel like they have less and less time, this can be of great value, so don’t balk at promoting it as such.
    Library websites on a whole are underutilized. This could be a whole other talk for another time, perhaps, but it means that maybe you shouldn’t just stop at putting your resource guide on YOUR site. There are probably a lot of other local websites out there that would be happy to link back to your resource guide. For instance, lots of communities have places like Recreation Centers, WorkSource offices, volunteer centers, the Red Cross, YMCA, YWCA, temp offices, and other community hubs that happen to have websites and are happy to benefit from YOUR hard work.
    Think big, call people on the phone, and make it happen. You worked hard on your resource guide and it deserves to be seen and used.

    It’s tempting to create a great resource guide, put it online, and then just let it be, dreaming of all the wonderful help it is providing people over the years. Don’t. Websites change and new sites appear all the time, so if you want to keep your guide wonderful, you’ll want to set aside some time every week or month (at least) to check and revise as needed.

    Your users’ needs can change to, and it’s equally important to keep your finger on the pulse and make adjustments as necessary. Your users might want or need info about life-changing events, like the earthquake in Haiti or the blizzards affectionately know right now on Twitter as #snOMG.

    For instance, here in Washington, we had a pretty serious cold-snap for about a week (which is kind of a big deal around here), so I included some Cold Weather Resources on the guide for those who might look there for assistance.

    It’s helpful when revising to have access to some good statistics. Knowing what sites your users are coming, where they are going on your guide, how long they stay on a given page, and which sites they click out to is essential. I recommend checking to make sure that you have these statistics available to you, and if you don’t, try and find a way to get them.

    Cats may in fact give good high-5, as you can see this cat doing here. Cats generally don’t have a direct influence on your budget, though, or your job when it comes to your annual performance review. Your users can, though, and you should make sure they have the opportunity to say nice things about your work when possible.

    Put a comment, suggestion, or praise form somewhere on your resource guide. You can make a free survey or use an email form, but have some way to collect comments to show that your work is being valued.

    Share this praise with decision-makers. I promise you that they’ll give you a giant raise and a corner office. Or, at least, your cat would, if here were running things.

    What they might do though is take that praise and share it with THEIR decision-makers: e.g. trustees boards and the like, who might then at least remember your name and that you do praise-worthy things at the library the next time tough budget cuts take place.

    Whether you get a raise and a corner office, or just the adoration of your cat, be sure to celebrate your successes.

    Then be sure to share them.

    Keep in mind what worked best for you, and what flopped. What challenges did you come across, and how did you overcome them? What would you do differently next time?

    Whether you do your own presentations or just talk to your Twitter pals, share your experiences so that others can benefit from your wisdom.

    Hopefully I’ve done just that, and you’ve gained some good insights and ideas that will be of use in creating your own resource guides, for your own communities of users. I hope so, and I look forward to seeing them.
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  • Hello! My name is Ahniwa Ferrari, and as Kirsten mentioned, I’m the Online Resources Consultant at the Washington State Library. This means I get to work on fun projects like statewide virtual reference and database trials, and as you may have guessed, the Hard Times Resource Guide. As I’ve recently begun to cook (at my wife’s request) I have recipes on the brain, so I’ve tried to organize my thoughts today as a recipe that you might follow to create excellent resources guides of your own.
  • Recipe For A Resource Guide: Helping Washington Libraries In Hard Times

    1. 1. Recipe for a Resource Guide<br />Best Practices to Create a Simple, Useful Resource Portal<br />Ahniwa Ferrari<br />Online Resources Consultant<br />Washington State Library<br />Project Manager<br />Hard Times Resource Guide<br />
    2. 2. Hard Times Resource Guide<br />Check it out at<br />
    3. 3. Ingredients:<br />1 c. audience, whole<br />2 t. resources, helpful<br />Mix and let rise.<br />
    4. 4. 1 c. audience, whole:<br />Who is the guide for?<br />How will they use it?<br />How can you create<br />something that serves<br />everyone?<br />Every user their resource.<br />
    5. 5. 2 t. resources, helpful:<br />Selective, not comprehensive.<br /> - avoid information overload.<br />Try to define need and<br />find resources that fill it.<br />Every resource its user.<br />
    6. 6. For extra flavor, add:<br />
    7. 7. Mix and let rise.<br />You can hone a resource guide forever.<br /> - find the good enough point and put<br />it out there where it can help.<br />Look at real-world use,<br />and find ways to improve.<br />
    8. 8. Share recipe with others.<br />Your guide is free, and full of stuff that<br />is also free, so what’s the sell?<br />You found the sites so they<br />don’t have to.<br />Save the time of the user.<br />
    9. 9. Constantly revise.<br />Needs change, and so do resources.<br />Find a balance between workload<br />and currency. <br />The resource guide is a<br />growing organism.<br />
    10. 10. Receive praise.<br />Give your users the opportunity to <br />thank and compliment you.<br />Share praise with <br />decision-makers.<br />Cats give good high-5.<br />
    11. 11. Celebrate.<br />Share your success with the world!<br />Keep in mind the best practices<br />that worked for you, and<br />pass your wisdom along<br />so that others can benefit.<br />
    12. 12. Recipe for a Resource Guide<br />Best Practices to Create a Simple, Useful Resource Portal<br />Ahniwa Ferrari<br />Online Resources Consultant<br />Washington State Library<br />Project Manager<br />Hard Times Resource Guide<br />