A Wiki as a Research Guide

It seems like these days everybody has got a wiki, so I thought I should have one as well. I have begun experimenting with using a wiki to replace the typical library research guide, subject guide, or pathfinder (or whatever you call your list of links and resources organized by subject).

In my area, I currently have three different research guides: one for general business, one for international business, and one for marketing, and I also have a blog to compliment these as well. Three research guides can be difficult to maintain, and because a lot of information is redundant between the three, one change often leads to two additional changes.

The usefulness of these research guides can be questioned as well. While I can measure through web stats that the guides are being clicked on, I honestly cannot believe that students or patrons are reading the information all the way through. I can attest that they are not the most interesting things to read. And, while they are organized in an outline fashion, they are not the easiest things to use either. They are not really searchable by themselves(unless you count using Ctrl-F as searching), and you certainly cannot “search” all three at once. The traditional solution might be to lump all three into one research guide, but then that might be considered cruel and unusual punishment for the patrons who are actually using them to find business information sources. Individually, they are quite length, and combining them would make the sheer quantity of information unbearable.

Therefore, I decided that as I update my research guides this summer, I am not going to rehash the same tried-and-true format that I (and countless librarians before me) have been using. As I go through the list of links, databases, websites, and reference books, I am adding what is worth keeping to what I am currently calling The Biz Wiki. The Biz Wiki will contain the content of all three of my research guides and will be organized by category. Currently there are broad categories of business information such as Company, Industry, International Business, and Marketing, and each of these contain subcategories with topics such as company histories, brands, advertising, etc. This organization will basically be a more narrowly categorized breakdown of what is listed in my three research guides. I have also included a new category that I am calling “Research How-To’s”. This category will contain guides such as How to Find Country Economic Analysis Information or Finding Industry Financial Ratios. While there is not a huge amount of content in this category right now, the flexibility of the wiki software will allow me to add How-To’s as the need arises. Previously, I had used my Business Blog for such on-the-fly how-to’s, but I am finding that I like the wiki’s organizational abilities better than a blog.

The Biz Wiki has only been running for less than a week, so currently it is a little rough around the edges. Overall, I am quite satisfied with how quickly I am able to create new entries and edit them to my liking. The Media Wiki software that runs the wiki was very easy to install, and it only took me about a day or so to get comfortable with the software. The Wiki Media help pages are very helpful, and are a necessary tool when trying to figure out how to format the pages.

In showing this to my colleagues in the Reference department, many of them seem very supportive of this new research guide format. Some seem to think that this will make their time at the desk a little easier when they are approached by business researchers. I hope to use the wiki to compliment classroom instruction, thereby making it easier for me to teach business research both in and out of the classroom. At the same time, I hope the wiki will make research easier for those researchers who never make it to one of my instructional sessions or to the reference desk. Only time will tell how (or if) The Biz Wiki is used, and what impact it will make for our library patrons.

2 thoughts on “A Wiki as a Research Guide

  1. Very cool! I’ve been evangelizing about the use of wikis as research guides for a while, but you’re the first one I know of who’s actually done it. Are you intending for students and faculty to add resources? I would think that would be the purpose, especially since people easily can edit pages, but I didn’t see anything on the front or about page calling for people to add to it. I think that’s really the best part of a wiki research guide, having a guide that actually represents the community using it. When faculty and students add resources that they think are useful, they are creating a tool that is far more useful than anything we librarians can create alone. I’d be very interested in hearing about what you hope for it to be and how it goes. 🙂

  2. You’re right, Meredith, I don’t currently have anything calling for people to add to the wiki. I hope to get a great deal more content in there first, and then add some more detailed instructions on how to add stuff. I do hope to invite faculty and students and my colleagues to add stuff to the wiki, as the strength of the resource depends on those who are adding content. It could be a fairly interesting experiment to see what kind of information gets added or edited. I don’t want to get my hopes up, however, because in over a year of operation with the Business Blog, I did not get a single comment from users on any of the posts. I suppose I had delusions of grandeur that the blog would be a great discussion area for doing research. I had hoped that students would write stuff like, “This resource worked great, but I also found some great stuff in this other one as well.” The students know that they can comment on the blog, as the blog is the last thing I talk about in all of my instruction sessions. Perhaps the wiki will be a little more inviting for group participation. Only time will tell. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

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