Sunday, May 07, 2006

Pathfinder 4.0

A few collected thoughts on the history and future of library subject guides. I find it convenient to call them "pathfinders" because it's one word, not two like "subject guides."

1.0 -- Typed, handwritten, or word processed
2.0 -- Web pages
3.0 -- Wikis
4.0 -- Mashups

Pathfinder 1.0
Subject research guides must have been handwritten before the invention of the typewriter in the early 1800s. After the personal computer became commonplace in libraries in the 1980s, pathfinders were no longer typewritten but created from early word processing programs such as WordStar, WordPerfect, and PC-Write. But there were no online links in the pathfinders because there wasn't yet any online world as we know it until the creation of graphical internet interfaces such as Mosaic and Netscape Navigator in the early 1990s. The pathfinder file could now be kept on the computer and edited and copied more easily. Pathfinders were (and are) copied in different colors and multiple copies placed in racks in the reference department--the
only access point for users. They were used primarily for finding in-house resources associated with the subject.

Pathfinder 2.0
Sometime probably in the late 1990s pathfinders were created not just to be printed out and kept in the racks. By this time, most libraries placed many of their resources online on their web site. Now pathfinders were created as web pages with programs like FrontPage. They included links to databases and external resources available somewhere on the web. Users could now access the pathfinders online or by taking a printed copy from a rack of them.

Pathfinder 3.0
Sometime in the early or mid-2000s, wiki-based pathfinders made their introduction. Wiki pages encourage collaboration, as often many people are permitted to edit the information and contribute their knowledge of the subject. Two prominent examples are the subject guides available at the St. Joseph County Public Library, and Ohio University's Biz Wiki.

Pathfinder 4.0
Mashup pages incorporate content from several different sources. 4.0 combines a number of Web 2.0 applications: wiki, blog, RSS, IM, video, etc. I don't know of any that have been created. If you do, please drop me a line. This is my concept of where the pathfinders are headed next. The idea is to create an entire community around the pathfinder subject within one web page. SharePoint can do the type of thing I want. More people will become familiar with SharePoint and create things with it next year as it is integrated into Office 2007. There may be other products out there that can easily create a mashup like this, but SharePoint is the one I'm familiar with.

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