At first glance, a School Library today looks much the same as a half-century ago: rows and rows of books. However, a second look reveals the influx of technology with desktop, laptop, and tablet computers. By the turn of the millenium, computers and their associated digital applications, along with online subscription database information resources available through networking and the Internet, had already begun to significantly change schools and School Libraries.
So Many Online Services, So Little Time!
Online subscription resources in K-12 schools began as add-ons to print resources and were distinct—digitized copies of familiar print resources, like encyclopedias and periodicals, and a few specialty databases, like biographies. They were costly, so most schools had only one, or just a few. As online subscription services proliferated, they became affordable, and now may be the primary reference resource in many schools. Service providers began to combine different types of reference into their brand-name tools, so now a single resource can provide multiple forms of reference beyond what the tool’s common name would suggest.
In my medium-sized district, our middle schools have access to nearly 50 different online subscription databases—4 encyclopedias, 9 periodical databases, and more than 30 specialty reference databases and e-books. Imagine that long list of resource names on a school webpage: teachers and students, pressed for time to find information, are too bewildered to determine which to use for their information need, and the numerous features of each service make resource selection even more difficult for the intermittent user. It’s no wonder they become discouraged and simply type some search terms into Google.
It’s unrealistic to expect teachers or students to be told about and remember all the online subscription database services—if it isn’t relevant to classroom learning, it’s meaningless and quickly forgotten. These online subscription services do provide online help about the features of each resource, but it’s even more unrealistic to expect teachers or students to examine the ins & outs of these database services in order to use them.
School Librarians are the professionals who are trained in information resources; we are the educators who are familiar with everyone’s curriculum; we are the FutureReadyLibrarians who curate, manage, and integrate digital resources for our students and teachers. It’s our responsibility as School Librarians to know what each of these online subscription services offer, and to determine when and with whom to use each feature of each resource. So, rather than telling teachers or students what’s available, we need to integrate specific features of specific tools into classroom activities, progressively building their skills so students become proficient in the use of our online subscription database resources before they leave our campus.
Integrating Online Subscription Resources
I treat online resources the same as the collection of print materials. I don’t introduce all the Dewey Subject books at once, but rather, each topical group as it applies to a classroom assignment. So also, I introduce online resources during subject area visits, focusing on features that fulfill the purpose of the library visit, and avoiding anything that does not achieve that purpose.
I use my Library Lesson Matrix to organize online resource lessons. Just as I began with one subject curriculum guide to identify the need for a library lesson/visit, so I also pick a single online subscription service to begin adding online resources to my Library Lesson Matrix. I examine each feature to see how it works and which middle school curriculum need it can satisfy, that is, it provides the subject information needed and is suitable for the grade level. I record the brand name into the subject unit on my Library Lesson Matrix; then I move on to the next feature to see what it can provide for curriculum needs. It takes some time to go through all the services, but I become comfortable enough with each tool to correctly integrate it and teach it to students.
How I Teach Online Subscription Services
Carefully crafted Library Lessons, customized for each grade level, scaffolded throughout the school year, and aligned with classroom curriculum activities, help students (and teachers) become adept at determining which online subscription resource feature to use for their information need. It takes a lot of time and curriculum savvy to create these lessons, but we can use them year after year if we keep the same online services.
WebQuests are my favorite way to introduce online subscription database services. Using the term “WebQuest” to introduce these online resources emphasizes to students that they are the first, best choice for gathering information online. My WebQuests are designed for a single class period, with only 3 different online resources and just 1 or 2 features of each resource. Teachers appreciate the guided online introduction to high-quality resources, and, because students respond on a printed or digital worksheet, they have an instant daily grade for the class period.
I believe an encyclopedia is the best reference tool for students to begin research, so the first WebQuest of the school year introduces a grade-appropriate online encyclopedia, and it’s used for that grade’s online lessons throughout the school year. By repeatedly using a familiar tool, we activate prior knowledge and students become comfortable using the tool, and we can develop online browsing and searching skills that they can apply to other online resources.
As an example, my first two 6g WebQuests—one for Science, one for Social Studies—occur about 2 weeks apart. The only difference is in the features I introduce to meet the needs of the two different subjects.
|6g Science Biography WebQuest||6g Social Studies Countries WebQuest|
Any following 6g WebQuests begin with the same encyclopedia and offer two additional resources that meet the needs of the subject, the project, the research, and the lesson. 6g students learn to locate and use features of all the online tools relevant to their grade-level; I bypass other tools, which I assure them they will learn about in higher-grade-levels.
Bookmarking and compiling articles into created folders is a feature now offered by most online subscription services, so we can guide students to specific topical information within the limited time frame they are given for an assignment. Once we create a named folder within a service, we can use that same folder and its articles for the same lessons in following years, as long as we have the online service.
I use the bookmarking feature across all 3 middle school grade levels for an English/Language Arts unit on expository text. The unit theme (technology & the power of information), content skills (summarization, inference, and interpretation), required resources (non-fiction books, newspapers, magazines, memoirs, speeches), and the final product (an expository essay) are all perfect for using bookmarked online articles. I can progressively build student Info-Lit skills using different formats of resources to activate prior knowledge and lead into new experiences.
|6g||1) Examine components of non-fiction print books (table of contents, index, glossary, graphics).
2) Learn how to summarize a print magazine article.
3) Access a librarian-chosen subscription database and read a bookmarked online magazine article for an expository essay poster.
|7g||1) Compare non-fiction print books and e-books.
2) Locate and summarize bookmarked online magazine article from a new librarian-chosen subscription database.
3) Access the same subscription database and read at least 2 topical online newspaper or magazine articles for their written essay.
|8g||1) Examine print memoirs from the Biography area.
2) Access and compare a topical non-fiction print book, an e-book, and a free Web-based memoir.
3) Access various online services and read bookmarked and self-searched articles to produce an online e-zine.
Once students have learned how to access and use grade-appropriate online subscription services, I guide them less formally to relevant online resources through customized Resource Lists. Others may call it a Subject Guide, Library Guide, or Pathfinder, but I use the term “Resource List” because that’s what it is—a list of resources which drive a research assignment. (Academic librarian Patricia Knapp devised and named the “Pathfinder” in the 1960s as course resources for college students.)
I build a Resource List using my Library Lesson Planner, just as I would any library lesson. Why so much work?
- I want to be sure the Resource List fulfills subject & information literacy standards and meets research requirements of the final product.
- Teachers typically intend a library visit as an introduction to a research project, so I want a short, meaningful lesson to cultivate the requisite Information Literacy skills along with presenting the Resource List.
As I fill out my Library Lesson Planner for “Resources students will use,” I refer to my Library Lesson Matrix to glean print and online resources I’ve already selected as grade and subject appropriate for the assignment. I also enter any guidelines from teachers or subject curriculum guides to help me choose other Web sites that will be helpful for students.
I organize my Resource List according to the problem-solving model I’ve chosen as best for the particular research assignment, and I create it as a webpage so students can access it 24/7 (and so I can make changes or additions without issuing a new handout). Here is a brief enumeration of what I might include on my Resource Lists, as applicable to the project and the problem-solving model:
1. Problem-solving model as organizational structure
2. Recommended resources for background reading/investigation
3. Guidelines for creating questions about the research topic
4. Search strategies for different resources
5. Reminders about citation and creating a bibliography
6. Reminders about paraphrasing and summarizing
7. Resources available in the library (books, reference, other)
8. Recommended online subscription resources
9. Recommended Web sites chosen by the librarian or teachers
10. Reminders about assignment requirements (from the teacher’s checklist)
Correct Use of Informational Materials
There’s continuing confusion about requiring students to use print or digital or online resources for their assignments. I believe that the format of information (print vs digital vs online) is NOT important, but rather we need to focus on the TYPE of resource and its content value:
- Encyclopedias for general information and overview of topic;
- Content-specific resources for in-depth information;
- Periodicals for short, current articles.
Encyclopedias and periodicals, in print, digital, or online versions, are pretty obvious, but content resources aren’t as obvious to students and teachers, so I always include specifics about these:
- Print content includes all those specialty tomes we have in our reference area or topical books in the Dewey area.
- Digital includes CDs and DVDs that we got for teachers to use but actually students can be using them, too.
- Online includes e-books, subscription services (like a biography database), and Web-based books (like Google Books, Project Gutenberg, Digital Book Index).
I collaborate with teachers to articulate the different types of resources available and recommend what is best for students to use for the assignment. Through my Library Lesson I then teach students about the types of resources and how to use whichever format is accessible—print version, in-house digital version, or online version—when they are working on the assignment. This is especially important in a digitally-divided school where students may or may not have online access from home.
By crafting and scaffolding relevant Library Lessons about online subscription resources, and by focusing on types rather than format, students and teachers learn a wide range of information resources, and understand that both print and digital resources can contribute to student success.