Sunday, 19 October 2008

Virtually Virtual in a Virtual World

Our assignment this week was to explore and report on virtual libraries. No problem, I mean how many virtual libraries could there be? But . . . what the heck is a virtual library? Better figure that out before I go looking for them, otherwise I’ll get lost on the virtual highway, wouldn’t want to make a virtual wrong turn!

As usual I decided to start somewhere other than the obvious. Our wonderful instructor provided us with a multitude of links to virtual libraries, but I wanted to know what I was looking at before I looked at it. So, I went to Wikipedia, because, as one of my colleagues in this class recently pointed out, its becoming increasingly clear that Wikipedia is a great place to BEGIN research. According to Wikipedia “Virtual Library” can also be termed Digital Library. The definition provided comes from The DELOS Digital Library Reference Model, and is reported to be:

“An organisation, which might be virtual, that comprehensively collects, manages and preserves for the long term rich digital content, and offers to its user communities specialised functionality on that content, of measurable quality and according to codified policies.”

WOW that’s a mouthful! Is that really all a virtual library is? An organisation that collects, manages and preserves digitally? I’m pretty sure that virtual libraries are much more dynamic and fluid, or at least that’s what I would expect. I’d better do some more research . . .

I found this article by Audrey Church called “YOUR LIBRARY GOES VIRTUAL: Promoting Reading and Supporting Research.” In this article Church says, “Your school library Web page is your library’s presence outside of the physical library walls. It provides you a space and an opportunity to inform, guide, and instruct. It can be an advocacy tool, a visibility tool, and a public relations tool.” Okay, a virtual library is like a school library web page that is full of virtual life and virtual activity, and interactive (?). Let’s read more . . .

Church lists 10 things a virtual library should have to promote reading and 10 things it should have to promote research, they are as follows:

To Promote Reading: an online catalogue, links to author websites, e-books (and audio books), online games based on books, reading lists, Computerized Reading Program Test Lists (like Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts), book recommendations, book blogs, PR concerning reading events and subscription to What Should I Read Next or NoveList. (I added the underlined one; it seemed applicable as well).

To Promote Research: subscription databases, curriculum-related web sites, Pathfinders (see for an example), Information Literacy Skills, search tools, critical evaluation of web sites, guidance through the research process, citation guidance, connections to other libraries, and a virtual reference service (instant message or ask a librarian service)

WHEW! That’s a pretty comprehensive list of requirements. But now I have a much better sense of what to look for and how to critique the virtual libraries I visit. (I’m actully scared to look at my own school’s web-site, because I KNOW it does not have many of these items!)

But just before I go looking and get lost in the virtual ocean that is the web, I wanted to ask one more question: Why do we need virtual libraries in the first place? My practical brain says: “DUH, it just seems like the next logical step in the evolution of libraries”, but lets see what the research says . . .

After reading many, many articles (see the list at the bottom of my post) I have discovered that essentially there are 4 reasons to go virtual. The first and most obvious is to improve access to the teacher-librarian’s skills and the libarary itself. According to Virtual School Libraries by Brenda S. Gonzalez,

“your mission as a professional librarian is to provide students and staff with seamless access to information resources and to teach students information access skills needed to become effective users of ideas, information, and technology.”

But as The Virtual Teacher-Librarian: Establishing and Maintaining an Effective Web Presence by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson points out,

“as a busy media specialist, you're often pulled in many directions as you try to meet the diverse needs of your patrons. While you can't clone yourself, you can create an online environment providing virtual resources and services that are available even when you're busy with other professional activities.”

Another reason to consider improving access as a reason to go virtual is that when you consider who your users are, mainly students, “they prefer the Internet to traditional libraries because they consider the Internet to be easier to use, more convenient, open 24/7, and full of more up-to-date material (Digital Disconnect )” (Church). So it seems only natural to meet their needs with a virtual library. One more aspect of improving access is the fact that “library managers know that they cannot afford to acquire all the information their users need so the managers secure access to the information not available at their library” (A Delphi Study) by utilizing a virtual library with links to outside sources.

The second (and third) reason I found to go virtual is to improve student achievement by improving student engagement. According to Virtual School Libraries, “research on the effectiveness of technology in schools concludes that technology positively affects students' attitudes toward learning and achievement, as well as promotes student-centered and cooperative learning.” So how can virtual libraries engage students more? Well according to Joan K. Lippincott, in the chapter “Net Generation Students and Libraries” teacher-librarians and virtual libraries can do this “by blending the technology skills and mindset that students have developed all their lives with the fruits of the academy, (then) libraries can offer environments that resonate with Net Gen students while enriching their college (or elementary or middle or senior) education and lifelong learning capabilities.” (brackets are my additions!)

The last and maybe most important reason is that virtual libraries can provide a venue and an audience for library advocacy and marketing. Lamb and Johnson suggest that “by using Web-based materials you will be encouraging young people to use the virtual resources as well as the physical library materials.” And Shifra Baruchson-Arbib and Jenny Bronstein in a Delphi Study argue that “library and information professionals also need to believe in their skills and in the services they provide and conduct “outreach” and marketing for their users.” What better place to conduct this advocacy, than the Virtual Library?

So now I know what a virtual library is, and why I should build one, let’s look at some examples, both good and bad (yikes!). Let’s start with the good.

I took a look at all the links provided by my instructor and of all those the one that I gravitated towards the most was Joyce Valenza’s Springfield Township HS Virtual Library. I liked the visual interface and when I compared it to the twenty items Church listed as items that promote reading and research it scored quite high in the research area,, but could have had more to promote reading, like linking to author blogs, or podcasts.

I also found the Calgary board of Education online Library. It has a link to 3 different library pages one for elementary, middle and senior high school students. Each site is visually appealing and has many links that are applicable to students, not to mention they all have many of the items on Church’s checklist.

Other Virtual libraries I liked were Awesome Library, Latimer Road Virtual School Library (which is actually a site developed by a former student in this course I think!) and Greece Athena Media Center all of which had a visually appealing interface and a lot of very good links, reference materials and online resources, all easily accessible by students.

One of the “recommended sites” I looked at, but didn’t like very much was Bessie Chin Library. Although it does have almost everything on the list suggested by Church, I just found the site way too busy with way too much information.

I also decided to check out my own school division’s websites. In my division, all schools have their own school websites and the school library has access to a page (or multiple pages) off that main school homepage. Unfortunately, we have a policy that restricts access for updating and changing the website to one person in each school (who is not the teacher-librarian). I looked at all 11 middle schools and all 6 high schools in my division and of those I found 4 middle schools didn’t even have a link to our divisional online catalogue, 4 only had a link to our online catalogue, two had mediocre supplemental links to other resources and one had a decent library site with much of the information suggested for promoting research and reading. In their defense, many of these schools did have curricular links and other links to online resources, but they were not part of an online school library site, they were just part of the school’s basic site. The high schools fared a bit better with only 1 having no reference to a library at all, and 4 of them having decent sites that are just in need of updating and revamping. Two of our high schools had good sites. Feel free to check them out for yourself. Go to our divisional website and click on the link to each school. See if you can find the library!

One thing I did notice, and was very aware of, was the use of Web 2.0 tools on these various Virtual library sites I was viewing. Not many of the sites took full advantage of the available Web 2.0 tools. Librarians who had blogs themselves, and were actively participating in the Web 2.0 world ran those sites that did include many of these online tools. Joyce Valenza is a perfect example. She has many links to podcasts, voice threads, videos, Wikis, blogs, and many more.

I think this is an important lesson. To achieve the goals of a virtual library i.e. to promote research and reading, improve achievement, engagement and access and to advocate for your services the teacher-librarian should use ALL the tools at her fingertips, especially those that his students are most familiar with. And those are online in the virtual Web 2.0 world.

This post is very long and I apologize for that, but after much work and reading, I now know that when I return to work I will be a strong advocate for updating and revamping my school’s awful excuse for a Virtual Library!

List of Articles:

The Virtual Teacher-Librarian: Establishing and Maintaining an Effective Web Presence. By Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson

Virtual School Libraries – THE TIME IS NOW! By Audrey Church

YOUR LIBRARY GOES VIRTUAL: Promoting reading and Supporting Research By Audrey Church

Virtual School Libraries by Brenda S. Gonzalez

Extending Library Services Through Emerging Interactive Media

A view to the Future of the Library and Information Profession: A Delphi Study

Helping Students Use Virtual Libraries Effectively

Virtual Libraries Supporting Student Learning

Whose knowledge? Whose management? Cognitive considerations for the provision of virtual library services to school communities

Lippincott, Joan K. “Net Generation Students and Libraries.” Educating the Net Generation. Eds. Diana G. Oblinger and James L. Oblinger. 2005. 24 March 2005.

The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap Between Internet Savvy Students And Their Schools

1 comment:

Joanne de Groot said...

Hi Christine,

Thanks for the thoughtful and interesting post about virtual school libraries. You have done a beautiful job collecting resources, summarizing research, and highlighting the main purposes of VSLs. The Latimer School Library site you found was created by Andrea Langelaar, who is a student in the other section of this course this term. The Bessie Chin Library site was included in the list because it isn't the greatest looking site, but it does include many of the functions that a VSL should have--it's a good example perhaps of what not to do! I'm glad this week's assignment has given you so much to consider for your own school--given the limitations on the websites in your division, perhaps using a blog or a wiki as the foundation for a school library site is a something to think about...