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Volunteer Guide: State Agency Databases Project

Brief handbook for project volunteers

Project Scope

As established in 2007, this project seeks to locate and annotate publicly searchable databases produced by agencies of the 50 state governments of the United States plus the District of Columbia.

This guide is intended as a how-to guide for project for current and prospective volunteers. 

Interest has been expressed in creating database listings for local governments of the 50 states, commonwealths and other outlying territories of the United States. We're open to this. It would be up to an individual to step forward and create such pages. In the case of creating pages for local governments of one of the fifty states, the documents specialist for that page would need to be consulted.

Basic Responsibilities

By adopting a project guide, you are agreeing to do the following:

  1. Check the page for broken links using LibGuides built-in link checker.  This should be done quarterly (around , Mar 15, Jun 15 ,Sep 15 & Dec 15 of each year). Information on using the link checker is at (must have LibGuides account to view)
  2. Look for new databases produced by your state. There are a number of approaches to locating state databases. The databases you find ought to meet the criteria listed on the What is a Database? page. When in doubt if a resource is a database ask Susanne Caro, project coordinator.
  3. Annotate your databases with one or two sentences that indicate what fields can be searched in a given database and what sort of information the database records have. Indicate any special technology needs (i.e. IE only, etc)
  4. Accept e-mail from people who have suggestions for database additions, edits or deletions.
  5. Create a LibGuides profile that includes one way for the public to contact you and some kind of picture, either of you or something that relates your home state or something you manage. Once you have your account information, visit to add these items.

Every January, the project coordinator will review the LibGuides login history. If a volunteer has not logged in during the previous calendar year, any guide they have will be placed into "orphan" status without notice to volunteer. Then the guide(s) will be offered out for adoption. 

Getting Started

  1. To adopt a guide in this project, send use the "Email Me" link in the "project coordinator" box to your left. This e-mail should include: your name, an e-mail you wish to use for your LibGuides account, which state(s) you wish to adopt and a brief description of your experience with government information. 
  2. If accepted as a project volunteer, you will receive a LibGuides invitation.
  3. Once you activate your LibGuides account, download SpringShare's "Libguides Step by Step" handout from  It may also be helpful to visit and check out the first two recordings. If you need more instruction after this, please e-mail Project Coordinator Daniel Cornwall with questions.
  4. Set up your LibGuides profile. At a minimum, it should have your name, an e-mail that people can use to mail you feedback on your Guide and a picture. If you'd rather not use a personal picture, some picture that represents a state you manage or that you find fun in a "safe for work" way is acceptable. More information on customizing your profile can be found at Don't put any information here you do not want the public to have. 
  5. Go to the LibGuides dashboard and select "Edit existing guide." Type the name of your state and it should pop right up. Review the existing links. Fix any that are broken. 

State Guide Structure, Practices and Options

This section discusses the structure of State LibGuides. There are a set of required elements and a set of optional elements.

Required elements on a state guide's "home" page.

Every State LibGuide's first page is called the "home" page. With most states, there may only be a "home" page. A state's home page came with these required elements that should not be removed:


Introduction Box - Used to introduce what the guide is about and to highlight the last time you checked the guide for broken links. 


Table of Contents - If you are a new volunteer taking over a state guide, your Table of Contents (TOC) will be auto generated from the other boxes in your guide. In the logged in view, this TOC will show all subject boxes. In the public view, it will only show the boxes that have not been hidden. If you are an existing volunteer who wishes to make their TOC self updating, see the top box in the upper right hand column. 

Profile Box - This contains your name, a picture (needn't be personal) and at least one way to contact you. We present ourselves this way in part to make it clear who to contact with suggestions for edits, adds and deletions; and in part to highlight the expertise of government information specialists. You may title the profile box any way you'd like.  


List of Subject Boxes. The column two list of subject boxes is arranged as follows (items in italics are optional):

  • About [state]
  • Agriculture & Food Sources
    • Farming
    • Fish & Aquaculture
  • Business, Finance & Economy
  • Community & Social Services
    • Housing
    • Planning
    • Public Utilities
  • Crime, Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement
    • Courts
    • Missing Persons
    • Offenders
  • Earth & the Environment
    • Climate, Weather
    • Conservation
    • Emergency Preparedness
    • Natural Resources & Energy Sources
    • Wildlife
  • Education
  • Government Agencies & Elected Officials
  • Government Finances & Contracts
    • Taxation
    • Unclaimed Property
  • Health, Medicine & Safety
  • History, People & Culture
    • Arts & Entertainment
    • Land Records
    • Libraries, Library Catalogs, Archives
    • Newspapers
    • Vital Records
  • Jobs & Unemployment
  • Laws, Legislative Materials, and Legal Issues
  • Licensing
  • Military & Veterans
  • Recreation, Travel & Tourism
  • Science & Technology
  • Statistics, Data & Mapping/GIS
  • Transportation
  • Voting & Elections


The main list of subjects correspond to boxes in your guide. Do not remove any of these boxes. If you don't have databases that fit in a particular box, leave the box empty of any content. Then click on the pencil in the upper right and corner and in the box that appears click on "draft mode." This will keep your empty box from displaying in the public view of your guide. 

The indented subjects are subheadings within the main subject box and may be used or not at your discretion. Databases do NOT have to match a subheading. If you do use subheadings, add them as HTML items, and add your databases as link items. 

If you have empty boxes in your guide, your final box will be "Empty Subjects - Can you help?" which will list any topic areas your state does not current have. You may copy the box in Alaska as a guide, customizing the state and the exact list of missing topics. 

Optional elements in State LibGuides

If a project volunteer wishes, they may add the following optional elements to their State LibGuide:

  • Local Government Databases page - If you desire to also list out searchable databases produced by political subdivisions, please create a separate page/tab on your guide. If you organize that page by subject, use the project's subject headings to create your guide boxes. Alternatively you may organize the page by political-subdivision. 
  • Other Resources page - If you have resources that you find valuable but are either not searchable databases or not produced by a government agency of its state, you may create a separate page/tab titled "other resources" You are encouraged to use the project subject headings for your boxes on this page. 
  • Blog - LibGuides allow for the use of guide level blogs that support e-mail subscriptions. If you wish to create a state themed blog for your guide, you are welcome to do so. 

The use of these elements is completely up to you. If you create these optional features and then leave the project, the next state volunteer will not be obligated to keep them up. 

Subject Guides

There are two types of subject guides associated with State Agency Databases Project:

  • Broad Subject Guides - These are guides with the same names as the main subject headings in the state guides. We generated these guides by reusing the corresponding subject boxes within each state. As a result, these guides are self updating - whenever a volunteer updates a link a guide's subject area, it automatically updates the corresponding entry in the broad subject guide.
  • Single-Subject guides - These are guides on a narrow topic. As of April 2017, we had two single topic guides - Healthcare practitioners databases and Prisoner Locator Tools. We encourage the re-use of links from a state or subject guide as reused links will automatically update when a state volunteer updates their links. Any project volunteer may create a new single subject guide. Let the project coordinator know about it so it can be linked from the home page.

Resources for Volunteers

You may find the following resources useful in your work for our project:

Creating a Self-Updating Table of Contents

Current volunteers are encouraged to change their guides to a side-nav layout in order to have a self-updating table of contents. Thanks for Laura Kromer (MO) for this "How-To":

In order to auto-generate a Table of Contents, you simply need to change the Layout of your Guide to a “Side Nav” as opposed to a “Tabbed Nav.”

Springshare has an illustrated tutorial (login required) on changing your layout to side-nav.

When you change to “System Default – Side-Nav Layout”, make sure that BOTH BOXES are checked. Without the second box checked, it will not auto-generate the Table of Contents. The links under the Table of Contents will be to the content boxes that you add in the right column. So in order to change anything within the Table of Contents, you would have to change it within the title of the content box in the right column.

You can also add your Documents Specialist box with your content information below the Table of Contents by clicking “Add Box.”