Flash Subject Guides


What is a Flash Subject Guide?

A Flash Subject Guide is a research guide and call to learning in response to urgent challenges facing communities served by librarians and libraries. They have much in common with the “Topical Syllabus” that teachers are producing. The difference lies in the ways we rhetorically frame bibliographies for the classroom, and the way we frame library guides for research and learning outside of the classroom. For all intents and purposes, this guide is also useful for those looking to design a syllabus as opposed to a guide.

A traditional Subject Guide usually focus on vast areas of knowledge designed to cater to large groups of dedicated researchers abiding by the measured rhythms of the academy and public libraries. The Flash Subject Guide imagines a different timescale, one measured by the urgency of the moment, peaks on interest tied to news cycles and a general orientation for social justice in the now.

For examples, see our Catalogue of Flash Subject Guides. Feel free to add your own contributions.

When is a Flash Subject Guide called for?

Distinction between nimble and responsive

To be nimble generally requires some agility, ability to respond quickly. Library workers can make ourselves ready to respond fast when our communities need information fast.

To be responsive may or may not require us to be nimble in this same way. Some of the issues we need to respond to are decades or even centuries in the making. That does not make them less urgent.

Best Practices

Compilation Methods

We recommend working in a small team of two or three librarians. If you do so, you can move quicker without sacrificing the coherence of the guide you will produce. Because the goal of a Flash Subject Guide is supposed to point to resources both within and without your institution, you should consider pairing up with librarians outside of it.

On the first few days, after you decide to do a guide, you might want to send out a general call on social media to your community of librarians, with a link to a spreadsheet you have already prepared to receive community suggestions. Depending on the impetus of your community, this will decrease your collection time enormously. If folks in your community are Zotero users, you may want to use a public group library that can outlive the exercise. Regardless of the data collection method, make sure to acknowledge their contributions!

Timelines and tools

Timing is of the essence. As a librarian, you have the great advantage of having a general sense of the resources and types of resources available for research and learning. You also should have access to tools that allow you to create these guides at your disposal. If you are working with a small team of like-minded colleagues, we recommend you give yourself a week to produce a vetted guide. To vet, you rely on your peers. Try to get 2 or 3 colleagues who were not involved in the gathering or design, and ask them for their feedback and critique. A peer critique is the best safeguard

A common tool used for Subject Guides is LibGuides. You may have access to this tool from your institution. You may want to consider that LigGuides are owned by the private company Springshare. Some libraries provide their own CMS (Wordpress, Adobe Experience Manager, etc) for Subject Guides. If you have a cross-institutional team, and your institution is flexible in the sorts of contributions you can make to the open web, you may also consider a neutral platform like Github Pages.

At the end of the process, and depending on what path you chose, you may need to retire the Guide at some point. Remember there is still value in a Guide that appears at the right moment even if it doesn’t live forever.

Design and Implementation Tips

In order for your Flash Guide to be effective, you must try to design how you present it well. Consider using a template that is attractive to contemporary reading publics and make sure your design choices are intentional. If you can implement custom styles, the following sections include recommendations for greater legibility and accessibility. Some of the recommendations below come from articles in our Resources section below.

Write for the Web1

Font and Layout

Accessibility Requirements

Following these rules will make your guide more accessible to users who use assistive devices:


  1. From “Usability Recommendations from Harvard University”