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Using Links and Widgets to Assist Users at the Point of Need: [T]HE STRATEGIC PLACEMENT OF LINKS AND WIDGETS ON THE LIBRARY'S WEBSITE, CATALOG, RESEARCH GUIDES, AND DATABASES HELPS OUR USERS LOCATE INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS, AS WELL AS CONTACT US FOR ADDITIONAL SUPPORT....

Brenau University is a private, nonprofit institution of higher education founded in 1878, with its primary campuses in Gainesville, Ga., and satellite campuses in North Atlanta (Norcross), South Atlanta (Fairburn), and Augusta, Ga., as well as Jacksonville, Fla. It offers a range of associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in addition to a number of specialist degrees and professional certifications. As of Oct. 29, 2018, it has 2,842 students, who are geographically dispersed and study a range of disciplines under 148 full-time and part-time faculty members; 32% of Brenau students study online (Brenau University, n.d.; Brenau University Research and Planning 2018).

The Need for 'E'

Since many students are located outside the Gainesville area and are unlikely to visit the physical campus, the Brenau Trustee Library's collection development policy prefers the selection of titles in electronic format. However, we continue to maintain a print collection of scholarly academic materials and other titles that support the university curriculum. These include a curriculum lab of juvenile and young adult books that support the College of Education, a small selection of musical scores that support the department of music, and a browsing section that features recently published popular novels and high-demand nonfiction. However, our collection policy states that "to support the largest number of constituencies, each title will be evaluated in terms of its availability in digital format" (Brenau University, 2018, p. 3). For audiovisual materials, this means that formats will be chosen that best support the nature of the course, while electronic versions are generally preferred for books and periodicals.

Given Brenau's focus on electronic resources, it is imperative that the library's online presence is configured to provide an easy means for users to obtain assistance, no matter their geographic location. Although ongoing maintenance ensures the e-resources themselves remain functional, the strategic placement of links and widgets on the library's website, catalog, research guides, and databases helps our users locate instructional materials, as well as contact us for additional support with research or any technical problems they encounter. As a consequence, users not only are better able to access our informational and instructional materials, they also have access to the librarians who provide individualized assistance at the point of need.

Webpage

Upon visiting our library's website, users will see several options for receiving assistance (Brenau Trustee Library, n.d.). For instance, not only is there a Contact Us link in the upper-right corner of the screen, but that link is also present in the bottom navigational menus. These links are coded into the header and footer of the website, so they appear on each page our users visit. In addition, an Ask a Librarian widget floats along the right side of the page. No matter how far our users scroll, the position of this widget remains within their fields of vision. When clicked, it launches a form that users can submit to the library's LibAnswers queue, where their questions either will be answered by research and instruction librarians or forwarded to technical services as appropriate.

However, the site's most prominent feature is the search widget located in the center of the homepage. Hand coded by the previous technical services librarian and updated as necessary, this widget provides tabs that allow users to search all Brenau holdings or to limit their searches to articles or streaming media. Additional tabs search the titles of databases in the A-Z list, as well as the content within the library's general reference database. No matter the tab that users select, they are also presented with links beneath the search box for viewing locally created tutorials on using the catalog, as well as a list of frequently asked questions submitted through Ask a Librarian. Clicking the Get Started tab for general reference reveals additional links to videos and libguides on the subjects of choosing a research topic, selecting search terms, evaluating websites, and citing sources.

Other libraries won't have the same CMS, or they may lack a CMS altogether. Nonetheless, it could be beneficial for them to investigate the capabilities of their existing setup and how these can be configured to meet the needs of their users. Some CMSs, for example, have plug-ins or extensions to perform commonly repeated tasks, which may make hand-coded HTML unnecessary.

Catalog

Another means by which we assist our users involves the inclusion of links within the catalog. Upon entering their queries into the widget on the library homepage, users are directed to WorldCat Discovery, which the library has selected as its public search tool. This system allows libraries to embed customizable links within the footer and the drop-down navigational menu in the upper right-hand corner of the browser window. For Brenau, this menu includes the Databases A-Z and Journals A-Z lists, as well as an interlibrary loan request form and links to libguides and the Ask a Librarian service. These are the same links featured prominently on the library webpage.

WorldCat also provides options that allow users to submit feedback regarding their experiences with the catalog. One feature of WorldCat Discovery is the presence of a link to Send Feedback in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. Although the associated form is intended to provide feedback to OCLC, WorldCat also allows libraries to receive copies of anything submitted through this form via their institution's catalog. As a result, we've chosen to enable this preference, in the event a user is unfamiliar with OCLC and doesn't understand that his or her comments will be sent to the company as well. If a request for research help or technical assistance were accidentally submitted in this location, we want to have a means of reaching the user and providing the assistance they expect.

In my experience, one of the most helpful tools has been the Report a Broken Link feature located to the right of the list of access options for electronic resources. Clicking it launches a form that allows users to enter their names, contact information, and a description of the difficulties they encountered, while the system fills in the name of the problematic article, journal, or database. Although colleagues initially were concerned about large numbers of false reports, we've since discovered after enabling the feature that the link is used appropriately. The reports often allow us to identify issues of which we previously were unaware, thus improving access for everyone.

Obviously, not every library will use the same catalog; however, customization isn't inherent to one platform. Technical services and systems personnel should take time to read the documentation and release notes for the software in place at their institutions and learn about the features they can

Research Guides

Brenau University is a Springshare subscriber and has purchased access to its LibGuides, LibAnswers, and LibCal products. These products can easily be integrated, permitting LibGuides visitors to ask questions through the general LibAnswers (i.e., Ask a Librarian) queue or to schedule an appointment with particular librarians based on their preset availability. Local policy directs each page of every guide to display the Ask a Librarian widget, as well as the guide owner's profile box. For the research and instruction librarians, the profile boxes include LibCal links for appointment scheduling, in addition to their basic contact information. Although other librarians have chosen not to enable appointment scheduling, the profile box and Ask a Librarian widget remain present. Indeed, the presence of these links on every LibGuides page allows users to contact us at their point of need, instead of forcing them to backtrack and search elsewhere.

Springshare has configured the embed codes for these links to be easily editable. Librarians simply choose the options for their links in the administrative interface for each service, and the system will create the codes per their specifications; no knowledge of HTML or CSS is necessary. Once the codes are created, librarians can copy and paste them into their LibApps profile boxes, displaying the widgets on every page for which the librarian is the guide owner. If the codes require future edits, only a single modification is necessary.

How might the libraries without Springshare subscriptions cope with this issue? One solution might be to code an email link that can be placed within the HTML files of the general library website. Although the widget may require updates in more than one location--and thus demand a greater time commitment for routine maintenance--users will have easy access to their librarians and won't be forced to track down their contact information on other pages.

Proxy Login and Databases

Once our users locate resources they would like to investigate further, they're required to authenticate through the library's locally hosted instance of EZproxy. The HTML code for the proxy login pages resides on the local server and is manually editable by the technical services librarian. Currently, the code is written to resemble the main library webpage as closely as possible, with particular regard to logo placement, top navigational menu links, and color scheme. In addition to these characteristics, the page also provides links to two LibAnswers questions, which include login instructions, as well as directions for locating one's proxy credentials. Finally, at the bottom of the page is a Request Assistance link that lets users complete a form with their contact information and description of their problem. They're also encouraged, but not required, to attach screenshots. We've found that some users are prone to ignore forms that require the completion of many fields.

As technical services librarian, I typically take responsibility for questions about difficulties with logging in, but the form is also sent to a general email account accessible by all librarians. This means that other librarians can respond to these requests, and a student is not kept from working on assignments in the event that I am away from the office for an extended period.

Many databases allow libraries to configure links in the header, footer, and navigation menus of their interfaces. At Brenau, for instance, the footer of each EBSCO database page includes links to our catalog, LibGuides, and the Ask a Librarian service, as well as a guide to citing in APA style. The Ask a Librarian link also appears in the navigation menu at the top of the page, providing users with multiple routes by which they can obtain help. ProQuest databases offer this functionality as well, and Brenau has configured this vendor's databases to display links to the LibGuides and library webpage in both the footer and side navigation.

Libraries that authenticate users by something other than EZproxy may need to consider different options for providing login help. For example, librarians at institutions using a single sign-on service may wish to speak with their IT departments about determining responsibility for assisting users with access. In addition, librarians should consider approaching their databases in the same way I recommend for the catalog: Read the documentation and determine the amount of customization possible for the platform. If permitted, include links that will allow users to (re-)access the web-page, the catalog, or other instructional tools. By doing so, users can continue their search for information in as uninterrupted a manner as possible.

Conclusion

At Brenau Trustee Library, we ensure that users can access our informational resources, as well as our human resources (i.e., our librarians), through the inclusion of links on the library webpage and research guides directing them to tools they may find useful for engaging in research. These links also exist in the library catalog, alongside features that allow users to report broken links, obtain login assistance, and submit additional feedback. Several major databases also provide methods for returning to the website or research guides for support. By including these links throughout our systems, we can ensure that our users can easily navigate to a means of receiving help, so we can assist them at their points of need.

HELPING USERS: The Tipsheet

1. Provide multiple methods for users to contact the library. These may include contact links in the primary navigational menus or, if your library has access to commercial platforms, widgets that allow the submission of questions to a queue or real-time chat session monitored by librarians.

2. Explore the features included within your library's public catalog. If available, make use of links that allow users to return to the library website or research guides. Consider enabling any features that allow users to report errors.

3. Make use of the embed codes offered by other platforms to which your library subscribes. These codes are often system-generated and, if updated, need only be copied and pasted from one service to another. Look for opportunities to paste them into locations that wilt have a duplicative effect across several pages.

4. Ensure that users have means of receiving login help. If login pages are directly editable by librarians, consider the inclusion of links to tutorials in addition to forms that can be submitted to request further assistance. For some forms of authentication, your institution's IT department may be a good point of contact as well.

5. Configure individual databases to display links that return users to the library website and research guides, as well as means to contact librarians, if such customization options are present.

References

Brenau University, (n.d.). BRENAU UNIVERSITY AT A GLANCE. Retrieved from brenau.edu/about/quickfacts.

Brenau University Research and Planning. (2018, Nov. 29). Fast Facts--11/5/2018. Retrieved from archive.brenau.edu/facts.

Brenau Trustee Library, (n.d.). Brenau Trustee Library. Retrieved from library.brenau.edu.

Brenau University. (2018, June). Library Collection Policy. Retrieved from archive.brenau.edu/policywonk/uploads/20180628103136.AA.LIB.200.01%20Library%20Collection%20Policy.pdf?pollD=100149&adm AdministrativeDivisionlDir=Asc&admAdministrativeDivisionlPageSize=10&s_respoff=44.

Image marked Courtesy of OCLC depicts the WorldCat[R] interface, [c]2018 OCLC, Inc.; used with permission.

Thomas Waters (twaters10brenau.edu) is the technical services librarian at Brenau University's Brenau Trustee Library. He has handled e-resource maintenance, ILS administration, webpage updates, and original cataloging for the library since July 2018.

Caption: Brenau Trustee Library's homepage with Contact Us links in the upper-right and bottom-left comers, as well as a widget to Ask a Librarian floating along the right side. Users may also schedule an appointment with a librarian using the Research Appointment link at the upper left.

Caption: Detail image of the custom search widget and miscellaneous options for search and research assistance on the Brenau Trustee Library homepage

Caption: WorldCat Discovery interface with library-specific links in the upper-right drop-down menu and bottom-left navigation; Links to report a broken link are also present to the right of each electronic resource.

Caption: Sample libguide from Brenau Trustee Library; the Ask Us widget and profile box are available on each page through the use of embed codes.

Caption: Proxy login page for Brenau Trustee Library. Users are provided with options for locating their credentials and requesting assistance, as well as with links allowing navigation to other library resources and services.
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Author:Waters, Thomas
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2019
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