Pathfinders: Best Practices

In my last post, I threw praise and exultation to my fellow MLIS colleagues. They go above and beyond the call of duty with assignments and life in general—the pathfinder for IST605 was no different.

Their professional work ethic goes something like this: “If I research the living bejeezers out of _______, I will be super-prepared for life.”

So, with that ethic, I will discuss some lessons I have learned and look deeper into the phenomenon of The Pathfinder.

From Paper to Tumblr: What’s a pathfinder made of?

Folks getting crazy creative with the medium.
For me,
the best features of a pathfinder are ample visuals and a clear scope (i.e. an awareness of the resources available). Call me an old sap, but I am moved by the creativity of my brilliant classmates who upped the ante for quality pathfinders.
Let’s explore some possibilities, and some of their ideas:

  • Print (Touch it! Smell it! Make a paper crane!)
  • Online (Link, Link, Link, Link )
    • Webpage (e.g. Sarah’s and Mallory’s legendary pathfinders at
    • Image
    • Pinterest (My medium of choice for my pathfinder)
    • Google Sites
    • LibGuides by Springshare (a platform that the CLRC allows students to use for 30 days as a trial, to play around with making a LibGuide. Your pathfinder does disapparate after about 6 months, however).
    • Tumblr
    • Prezi (I tried it. Then…I ditched it. However, an astute classmate created a storyline for her pathfinder, harnessing the elements of Prezi that limited mine. Prezi’s format complemented her topic). The moral of the story here is that the medium you choose for your pathfinder depends on the subject.
    • Blog post(s).

The Winners.

The most user-friendly and effective subject guides I have seen thus far have been simple webpages with minimalist design.

Pathfinders: Adding Value

The very act of constructing a pathfinder adds value and information to a field of study. Sound familiar?

Likewise, the act of cataloging information and creating metadata is a creative act. To say that organizing information is merely repeating information already known, is tantamount to saying a surgeon is not healing a wound, but merely rearranging skin and blood.
Gathering resources into a subject guide creates another resource on the topic and makes a statement that the topic is worth researching because you spent the time and effort compiling a bibliography.

Remember high school? Well, there was always a trending subject being discussed, whether it was homecoming, the new lunch menu, who is dating who, or the senior prank involving molasses and 4 pigs. Similarly in the scholarly community, there are subject trends. Usually, the popular topics are the ones deemed most important. It may be irrational, but the fact stands: The frequency of a topic in our consciousness, i.e. the more we talk about, think about, and hear about it, the more we are apt to give it our attention, and our endorsement.

Thus, creating a pathfinder not only births another way of organizing data and showing relationships among data, but also validates the topic in the scholarly community. Putting a spotlight on a radish gives the radish makes you pay attention to the radish. And radishes are banal, compared to Food and Literature or Pompeii, two subject guides created by Syracuse MLIS students mentioned above.

Orphaned Pathfinders

Have pathfinders been forgotten? Lisa Bankert, librarian at OCPL Central Library in Syracuse, worries about just that. She says the subject guide links on their website sit cold and unclicked. What’s the deal with diminished use?

  • Pathfinders: Still relevant and useful. Every researcher needs sources. Every person has a curiosity. There will always be a demand for information collected in a meaningful way around an area of interest.

Can we construct engaging pathfinders that will fire up those cold links?
Can we market, and for the sweet love of Raganathan, can we please choose one unifying name for subject guides?! (Pathfinders. Subject Guides. Annotated Bibliographies. Research Portals. Good lord).

On a Happy Note

The interest in creating innovative pathfinders has resulted in an outpouring debate in the scholarly arena, and other informal sources.

Check it:

1)  “Rethinking the Library pathfinder. ” Jim M. Kapoun

2) Pathfinder (Library Science). Wikipedia.

3) A pathfinder for constructing pathfinders

One would not think that there would be heaps of literature on the science, definition, and best practices of pathfinder-crafting, but like WOW fans and nanotechnologists you can go into serious detail.

What other way could you use put resources together for research? What crazy (i.e. revolutionary, yet effective) pathfinder ideas are out there?


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