How to present your research support service offer online
This year I have looked at over 80 academic libraries and their online research support service offering. This post focuses on how libraries present such services online. If a researcher comes to a library website with a question, what does the entry point to library research support services look like?
First of all, what research support services are offered online is influenced by a number of aspects, e.g. local research support policy, strategy and responsibilities in research support or how research-heavy the organisation is, the size of the institution and its user-base of researchers. The range and types of services on offer are dependent on the resources available to serve academic staff.
Secondly, how this offering is presented online is exposed to a number of other factors. In many cases, the library site’s content and look and feel will be influenced by the limitations of the local institution’s corporate design, where an organisation is in its website redesign, or by the flexibility or lack of flexibility in current institutional web designs and implementation processes. In these contexts, what entry-point does the researcher get to when searching for assistance and information on the library website?
I have selected 5 examples that show 5 different library approaches to providing access to research support services for academics.
These examples have not been selected on their merits of how research support should be presented online. They have rather been chosen to show a handful of instances of how it can be done. The following have been highlighted here:
1. Humboldt State University Library, USA
2. U of T Research, University of Toronto Libraries, Canada
3. Library Research Support, Library Services, King’s College London, UK
4. Research Support, The University Library, University of Southampton, UK
5. RESEARCHER@LIBRARY, Leeds University Library, UK
NB This post refers to the status of websites on 10 November 2013.
Humboldt State University Library, USA
Humboldt State University has a concise Library home page. Quick access to key research support services is guaranteed from the outset with links to tools and services directly from the home page. This saves a click to a dedicated research support page as seen on many other library sites. No scrolling, no text-heavy content, but keywords mixed with images provides short and sharp access to research support.
In the website’s left column, Research Tools are given pride of place as the first group of services to be listed and above other library quick links. These primarily include links to online databases for immediate search. In addition, Research Guides provide access to over 55 subject-specific resource guides that include lists and short descriptions of subscribed and free resources, including simultaneous search services.
The Help section below provides extra support for research beginners. This section also links to the Library’s Ask a Librarian service for immediate online support and then lists online tutorials for researchers who want to get better informed in search, literature reviews or citing for example.
This left column flanks a QuickSearch box that expands across the central part of the home page. This above all provides access to scholarly literature and also to information on the Library’s website.
The right column provides a Highlights and News sliding graphic that is sandwiched between researcher access to Chat with a librarian digital referencing via online chat and a Give to the HSU Library button to encourage monetary as well as non-monetary donations.
The main menu bar links to 4 key areas: Home, Search & Locate, Services, and Library Info. Services provides further links to research support library services for two different researcher groups: Faculty and Graduate Students. These pages provide links to further research support services in alphabetical order with one exception: the contact link to subject specialists. Each link provides a description with bullets or sentences. These pages are more text-heavy than the home page with no graphics, where scrolling is necessary to view all content.
In summary, the Humboldt State University Library home page is a concise home page that highlights research support and provides direct fast access to services from it.
U of T Research, University of Toronto Libraries, Canada
The University of Toronto Libraries names its service for researchers U of T Research. Access is provided to this service area on all library pages via the main menu bar next to Catalogue, Research, Services, Students, Faculty, About Us, Help, Quick Links and Strategic Plan. A drop down list provides direct access to the names of six research support service area pages.
Alternatively, clicking on the U of T Research menu item brings you to the U of T Research page listing Toronto’s research support services. Headers list the short names of the services available and 1-2 sentences describe them. They link on to individual online service pages. This content expands across the page by more than two-thirds providing space for the reader to focus on and scan the research support offer.
A narrow right column provides a search box that searches the library site, a digital reference service in online chat with information on chat hours as well as a link to Library FAQs.
A Donate button reaches out to alumni, faculty and friends for financial or in-kind gifts to the Library.
In addition, another service Apps for your library research service appears in the header of all library pages. This image slider serves tomarket various Library services and events.
The University of Toronto Libraries entry point to research support briefly lists research support services using generous spacing to allow for quick text scanning and reading. Information is short and succinct where little scrolling is necessary. The language is easily understandable and uses little library jargon making access to research support simple and quick.
Library Research Support, King’s College London Library Services, UK
Users navigate to King’s College London Library Service web pages from a left column below the university’s horizontal navigation bar. Research Support is positioned in the centre of About Us, News & Events, Visiting Libraries and Archives, Using our Services, NHS, Collections and Resources, Subject Support, Information Management, Help and Guidance, Contact Us and Library Transformation.
Arriving at the Library Research Support page, the main title of the central image speaks directly to the researcher: Research Support. Support through the research lifecycle. Library research support services are organised by where they are needed in the researcher’s workflow. The researcher can therefore navigate to library services from where he/she is in the research lifecycle from start to finish, e.g. from the moment of exploring ideas to finding research funding to managing information to disseminating research, evaluating it and preserving it.
The six research phases are each represented by a fitting and dynamic photograph with one larger image representing Research Support in general. Visuals take up more than two-thirds of the page. Clicking on the image will take you to a dedicated sub-page listing services that serve the researcher in that phase.
Key services are also listed in keyword form under the images for quick access, e.g. Disseminating Research: Publishing & Open Access, Presenting & Papers, Theses: Copyright.
In summary, King’s College London Library Services Research Support speaks directly to the researcher in how it organises its services by research phase, which is still rather unique (e.g. as compared to over 80 other libraries worldwide). It also uses a combination of colourful, active visuals and texts making the entry-point to research support attractive to a wider variety of users.
Research Support, University of Southampton, Library, UK
Southampton’s Library home page and subsequent pages use LibGuides as its navigation infrastructure. The Library home page horizontal menu links to Research Support, which is centrally placed between Subject Guides, Library Services & Sites, Resources & Trainings, Collections and Contact us.
The University of Southampton’s Research Support page includes 3 columns where links make up the left column divided into Useful Links and other Quick Links.
Specific Research Support service clusters take up the broader central body including Open Access, Data Research Management, Bibliometrics, Theses, Keeping Up to Date, and Research IDs. These themes also appear in the horizontal menu bar of this page. Each service area is described succinctly using one sentence. Short service headers link on to corresponding detailed LibGuide sub-pages with 5-10 tabs each per theme.
Links at the base of the page allows users to print pages, get RSS updates or share social media using AddThis buttons as well as a “Like” and a follow UniSotonLibrary Twitter button. A technical issue can also be reported via a link at the base of this page.
To conclude, the Southampton Research Support page’s information is compartmentalised and no scrolling is generally necessary to access the six content containers. The site is readable with short and succinct headers and text, using little jargon. Icons bring some visuals in and break up the text and good spacing allows for quick reading. Access to social media from the page brings the opportunity to engage more with the library. Southampton optimises access to its page with a link at the base of the page to view pages on screen readers or mobile devices.
RESEARCHER@LIBRARY, Leeds University Library, UK
Leeds University Library’s RESEARCHER@LIBRARY provides a wide selection of content to navigate through. This content is arranged in 5 sections.
RESEARCHER@LIBRARY appears on the main Library horizontal navigation bar. It is one of six library navigation buttons: Home, About, Skills@Library, Special Collections and Digital Services. Urgent library notifications are occasionally placed below this bar.
Researchers are alerted to special library highlights below this menu via an image slider featuring the new Leeds publications policy for example.
To the right, a column begins with a search box allowing users to search library website content. Facebook and Twitter logos below this search box encourages user engagement with the Library.
Directly below, links on to research support service area pages exist, echoing those in the lower left column frame.
A Contact Us speech bubble also links on to researcher contact points.
The main section below the main banners (left and centre), contains 3 further columns that highlight research support areas as well as more dynamic recent content.
This section’s left column showcases and organises the Leeds research support offering under key areas of interest to the researcher such as Planning your research or Ethical and legal issues. These collapsible lists link onto sub-pages with more specific services to tackle a specific problem such as Publication and Impact which links on to Presenting your Research, Publishing your Research, Open access Publishing, etc. Sub-pages highlight how tos, guides, links to external websites or contact lists.
This column ends with a small section that provides more current content through recent Library news excerpts.
The right column continues to offer recent current content. It highlights the Library as a scholarly information disseminator promoting the repository via a hyperlinked Recent research results. 3 repository entry titles are then listed that showcase certain researchers and their deposits.
Essential core library services are sandwiched between these columns presented as Essentials with medium-sized icons for quick access.
In summary, the Leeds University Research@Library site provides its researchers with a variety of information and navigation options. Information is short and succinct and no library jargon is used. Titles and keywords are used throughout to allow for quick reading and scanning. In addition, it also tries to increase access to its information for more users by providing a sitemap and by enabling users to adjust fonts for better readability.
With its moving banner, recent excerpts of information from its news site and repository, social media buttons to promote interaction and its Contact Us bubble, Leeds conveys an interactive and dynamic library image.
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