Subject Guides

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Subject guides are lists of resources created by librarians to assist students with their research needs. These list of resources may include topics including but not limited to books, journals, databases, websites, as well as any other topics the librarian feels would assist students with their research.


LibGuidesare a type of subject guide used by libraries across the world. A LibGuide is a content management and publishing system created by SpringShare. Libraries may use LibGuides to create subject guides, course guides, information portals, or research help pages to name a few. LibGuides use a WYSIWYG approach to creating subject guides. Users can select templates, copy other LibGuides, or start with a blank page. In fact, users can use virtually any LibGuide available on the web as a template. Various pages can be linked together by creating tabs within the LibGuides. These tabs act much like browser tabs in Firefox or Internet Explorer, you have one browser window, but various tabs for different web pages. Because of the web 2.0 nature of LibGuides, users may integrate multimedia content, such as embedding YouTube videos, Twitter feeds, or chat widgets into their pages. LibGuides can also be used as a collaboration tool. LibGuides can be setup to allow "co-owners" of LibGuide pages, allowing multiple users to edit the content on the guide.

An important aspect of LibGuides that may interest librarians is the statistical features of LibGuides. LibGuides provides a full set of statistics reports so you can see how your guides are being used. For example you can see how many times your system has been accessed, how much content you have in the system, how many guides, how popular the guides are, etc.

Subject Guides We Like

El Dorado Center Library's Internet Subject Directories,

The EDC Librarian's Guide developed by Librarian, Regina Jimenez, provides a more manageable search tool that points students and faculty to a number of extensive subject directories and featured sites organized and selected by librarians and other competent information professionals throughout the world. All the selected subject directories within each subject heading have been carefully selected to support the curricular offerings at Folsom Lake College.

Canadian Studies Research Guide. University of Toronto Libraries,

This is a student's guide to selected resources for the study of Canadian culture, society, economics, and political science. Here you will find links to key resources such as article databases, web sites, books, biographies and primary sources.

Japanese Studies Resources, Perkins Library, Duke University,

This site provides a comprehensive guide to resources for Japanese studies, from Anthropology through Women's Studies. It focuses, naturally, on resources available at Duke Univ., but also has links to web resources for different subjects, study abroad, funding resources, culture, etc. It gives researchers, students, and librarians a good starting place regarding key reference materials for social sciences or humanities subjects. Remember that you might be able to access the resources via ILL if you cannot get to Duke.

The site is undergoing some revision to make it more navigable and less dense. Suggestions welcome!

BizWiki Ohio University,

Wiki for general, company, industry and international business and marketing information.

Georgetown Law Library Research Databases, Guides and Tutorials,

This is an excellent source for research guides containing a wide variety of legal subjects.. Also contains helpful tutorials.

Medicine: Clinical Sciences, University of Saskatchewan,

Our Web Advisory Group liked the tabbing organization in these guides, as well as the flexibility in the categories which allows librarians to tailor their guides to their audience. There is also an article about their redesign project [1], which is helpful.

Cal Poly, Pomona Ethnic & Women's Studies

This LibGuide provides a resource portal for students of the Ethnic & Women's Studies courses to begin their research. Note the use of various tabs to separate the subject guide information. The librarian not only provides excellent resources and guides for the students, but provides multimedia examples to help support the material in the use of embedded YouTube videos.

Tips for Developing Good Subject Guides

Often, as library professionals we don’t realize how overwhelming the library can be for patrons who are not familiar with the resources and services we offer. Well thought out subject guides can be very useful tools for helping patrons successfully navigate through your library’s resources.

First, it is important to point out that a subject guide is not a laundry list of every reference book or Internet link related to a topic. Instead, a truly useful subject guide is a list of carefully selected resources that will help users begin finding the information they are looking for.

Since there is a good chance that the patrons are not as familiar with the resources you include in the subject guide as you are, it is beneficial to include starting points and explain how the resource is formatted (i.e. dictionary, collection of articles, divided by geographic area, etc.).

The topic and purpose of the subject guide should be clearly identified. In the opening paragraph (or web page) explain any specialized terms that users will need to know when researching a topic, and identify key authorities in the field (i.e. professional organizations, non-profit groups, government agencies, national organizations, etc.).



Who are the intended users? Middle school or high school students? Undergraduates? Graduate students? General public? Consider your audience when developing subject guides.

Consider the subject area. Some disciplines, especially in the humanities, rely heavily on reference sources in foreign languages. Note where language skills may be needed to use a resources and provide English language alternatives whenever possible.

For online resources, does your library limit or prohibit access to offsite users? If so, be sure to describe any access policies your library might have for online resources. If applicable, give instructions for access from offsite.


If there is a chance your users are new to the library’s catalog include a description of how to use the catalog. If you are creating an online subject guide, include a link to your library’s online catalog. Links to any tutorials your library has on using the catalog are helpful as well.

Subject Headings: Include key words and subject headings that will produce successful catalog searches. Call Number Ranges: Some people prefer to just browse the shelves. For these users include call number ranges that will have the most information about the topic.


List a handful of useful reference books and general collection books. Many reference source are available in print and online. Be sure to note which form applies to the sources you list, with call numbers for print versions and links to online versions.

Especially in reference books where the entire work is often not devoted to one single topic, it is useful to include access points and an annotation explaining what users can expect.


If you are making an online subject guide, include links to the indexes or databases. It is useful to include a brief statement explaining what the database covers and does not cover, whether it has full-text articles, how to use citations to find the article.


List key journals or magazines your library owns that may be useful sources of information on the topic. Include a few citations (or links to articles) to show users what they can expect to find.


Government documents can be a surprisingly useful source of information and much of it is available online. It is definitely worth exploring what is out there on your topic.


Archives and special collections are rich resources for research using primary sources in many different subject areas. If your library has an archives or special collections department, include links to their web site and to any relevant resources they may have. Check with the special collections/archives staff about additional resources in other archives in your local area. Many special collections departments have digitized portions of their collections and made them available online.

If you include archives/special collections resources in your subject guide, it's a good idea to briefly explaining the difference between primary and secondary sources.

A few general interest archival resources are: American Memory, from the Library of Congress American Memory THOMAS: Legislative Information from the Library of Congress THOMAS Charters of Freedom, from the National Archives Charters of Freedom Repositories of Primary Sources - A list of links to hundreds of special collections libraries and archives all over the world, compiled by Terry Abraham of the University of Idaho. [ Repositories of Primary Sources]


It is essential that when using sources for a project or paper, you must properly cite them both in-text and at the end for the list of references. Two very suitable sites that offer assistance with citations are Purdue OWL (from Purdue University)[2], and Diana Hacker's Research and Documentation Online [3], both of which give examples of most of the widely used citation styles (eg. MLA, APA). Most databases have a citing feature that can generate them automatically, but it is still a good idea to check the citations with the two listed above or the respective MLA or APA guides. These and other helpful sites can be embedded in subject guides.


Depending on your topic, it may be helpful to include other types of resources such as video collections, audio samples, dissertations, teacher kits, etc.


1. Keep it on topic! I know you have a wealth of information to share, but you will only confuse users if you don’t stay on one topic.

2. Don’t overwhelm users with exhaustive lists. If you have more than 5 examples under any one area, you are probably not being selective enough.

3. Make the subject guide specific to your library whenever possible. Nothing is more frustrating than a guide that promises resources not housed in the library. If you include resources your library doesn’t own, be sure they are publicly and easily available and note how the patrons can access the material.

4. When using examples, be sure to make it clear that your examples are only a sample of what is out there on the topic. It is not a complete list.

5. Make it creative and have fun!

Blogs/Websites to Watch

Specific Blog Posts/Articles to Check Out

Fichter D. Designing a BETTER SUBJECT PAGE to Make Users' Searches More Successful. Computers in Libraries. 2005 10;25(9):6-56. [