Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Advocating for Open Access to Resources

As part of my course I need to reflect on whether I am an advocate of open access to library resources.  In terms of technology I think my library has come a very long way towards becoming more of a library without walls.  The library has a website with many online resources linked to it and our library catalogue is available on-line as well. In the past five years we have an ongoing subscription to World Book Online and some other EBSCO resources as well as subscription to Culturegram. Through this course I have been able to further expand the reference resources available on-line.  For now they are not easily accessible as most of these resources are on my Destiny Library Manager home page.  Since our default catalogue application is DestinyQuest, students have to exit this catalogue and click on a couple of links to access all the reference links.  I need to expand my current reference page on my library website to provide easy and better organized access to reference resources.

At the beginning of last year I was able to advocate for additional library clerk time to keep the library open after school.  I am able to keep the library open 20 minutes after school each day.  This isn't much but is better than the many years of closing after school or opening on ad hoc basis whenever I had time staff it myself.

I would like to improve access to the library during school hours.  Our library schedule is almost fully subscribed (save for about an hour or two a week).  I need to seek ways to manage our small library space so that it still allows for patrons to drop in while other classes are using the library for book exchanges.  In our school, grade two to five teachers facilitate their own book exchanges because of our limited clerk hours and librarian time.  As a result these teachers would be responsible for other students dropping in and there would be no teacher-librarian or clerk support. Students dropping in during library skill classes or resource-based learning classes would have little or non support since my librarian time is fully devoted to the activity at hand.

I think I have advocated for open access to my library resources in terms of library layout and Internet presence but have far to go in terms of signage, advertising and training of students.  Students and staff are not very aware of all that is available to them.  They may only hear once or twice a year about reference resources. This is not enough to make them frequent users.  I am pondering whether I need to curtail some of my literature promotion activities to promote more use of our reference resources.

Library Budgets

In my last lesson I was asked to reflect on how familiar I am with my school and district's budgeting process.  I have to say I am not clear on this process at all.  I do not know the formula by which the district allocates funds to school libraries (it seems to be a token amount of a few hundred dollars for our library). I don't even know if the province earmarks library funds for our district and what autonomy the district has in allocating these funds.

As far as our school budget we do not allocate any funds to an overt library budget.  Instead the library receives an unspecified and unsecured amount of funds through the learning resource budget.  Traditionally all my Canadian literature purchases were funded through the learning resources budget ($1200 annually).  All office supplies and consumables are covered through the school supplies budget and the remainder of my funds are all raised through book fairs, Times-Colonist grants and PAC support.  In recent years I have been fairly successful at fund raising and as a result saw my funding through the learning resources budget evaporate.  I now know that I need to more forcefully advocate for a library budget that comes from school based funding and secure it no matter how small the amount.

The Role of a Teacher Librarian

Posted below is the role of the teacher librarian as defined by the Greater Victoria School District:


In the Greater Victoria School District, the teacher-librarian works in collaboration with the principal, classroom teachers, school and district staff to develop a school library program that supports, enriches and implements the instructional program of the school.

The responsibilities of the teacher-librarian encompass areas including program and instruction, learning resource management and leadership in resource-based learning:


- participating as a teaching partner in helping teachers to address identified learning outcomes through a knowledge of resource-based learning

- working cooperatively with classroom teachers in order to assist students in developing skills in information retrieval and critical thinking so that they may become informed decision-makers and life-long learners

- promoting reading and language development and literature appreciation

- supporting the integration of instructional technology and media literacy and becoming familiar with current technological developments in information retrieval


- establishing and maintaining effective systems for the selection, acquisition, processing and circulation of resources

- managing the library facilities, services and budget in order that these may contribute to the stated goals of the school, school district and Ministry of Education

- cooperatively developing school library policies and procedures

- participating in an information network with district schools, the District Resource Centre, the public library and information agencies

- organizing and directing clerical staff, parent and student volunteers in the school library


- providing leadership and promoting strategies for the effective use of a wide variety of learning resources which support and extend the curriculum

- applying skills in evaluating and selecting learning resources to reflect the curricular, informational and recreational needs of the school and its learners

- participating in and contributing to school and district activities which advocate support for school libraries and resource-based learning

- promoting school library programs in the school and in the community

- seeking opportunities for personal growth in school librarianship and participating in collegial networks

- developing the potential of parent and student volunteers

The success of a school library program is dependent on the teacher-librarian being able to balance all of the above given adequate staffing, budget and facilities in accordance with the entire school program.

Developed by the Steering the Course Committee and the Teacher-Librarians of the Greater Victoria School District

So the question is, how does this reflect my role as a teacher-librarian in my school?  Before answering that question I must say the above job description is both daunting and intimidating.  I always found the literature concerning the role and job descriptions of teacher-librarians to be overly ambitious and idealistic considering the real-life circumstances of school librarians in most jurisdictions.  The part time nature of teacher-librarian positions and limited school budgets make fulfillment of the job description difficult if not outright impossible. All that said I understand that the ideal is really what we need to know about and it pushes the debate and the struggle to improve school libraries forward.

All of the above roles can be fulfilled by a teacher-librarian even when there are on very limited (even non existent) budgets, with the exception of new acquisitions. However, the role cannot be fulfilled without adequate teacher-librarian time.  In my school district an elementary school with less than 300 children will only receive between .2 or 0.3 teacher librarian time.  An elementary school of 500 children qualifies for .5 teacher-librarian time.  With such limited time a teacher-librarian can only spend a small fraction of their time cooperatively teaching and planning, literature appreciation, evaluating and selecting resources and the like. In the case of my role I have been fortunate to be able to dabble in most of the role as outlined above but have devoted a lion's share to resource based learning, literature appreciation and limited library skills.  I do spend a fair bit of my remaining time seeking funding and hosting fund raising events and advocating for the library at open houses, PAC meetings and staff meetings.  I have had little time to network with other librarians and have not made any real contacts with the public library.  For not having devoted much time to such networking I know that I am poorer but time limits are time limits.

Grey Literature and the Invisible Web

Ever heard of grey literature?  It sounds like the name of an anatomy textbook.  Grey literature is essentially non-commercially published materials like technical manuals, conference proceeding, government documents and so on. It is the kind of material that was traditionally put into vertical files in the library.  I must confess that I have never kept a vertical file and all the vertical file information that was kept in my library I have thrown out.  The only materials that I keep that would even approximate this kind of information are the educational catalogues that arrive in alarming volume at our school every month.

So it take a new set of skills and thinking to access this literature which is mostly part of the invisible web.  The invisible web is that part of the Internet that search engines can't access.  One needs to search for databases sites that warehouse this kind of information.  A search engine cannot search a database for you.  However you can use search engines to help locate off ramps to the invisible web when you include the term database in your search.  Searching for statistic database or aircraft accident database is one way to find access points to the invisible web and to a wealth of grey literature.


Indexes are not very sexy.  They are also difficult to advocate for or promote in the K to 5 library. Nevertheless, they are a fundamental component of any library's reference section.  I use indexes to locate information for my own professional development and so do my colleagues.  As I have posted earlier, my K to 5 patrons have access to EBSCO.

I tried out a number of indexes from the UBC library and found them all quite good.  The problem, as a number of other participants in LIBE 467 have pointed out, is the high number of spurious information a search can elicit.  The need to identify and use appropriate subject terms is crucial.  The best index for providing search suggestions is EBSCO's Academic Search Complete which has a subject thesaurus that gives subject terms suggestions based on your initial query.  I wish such a powerful search feature were available for K to 5 students when using a tool like Searchasaurus.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Evaluation of Geographical Reference Sources

From Ann Riedling’s chapter on geographical references sources (from the book Reference Skills for the School Library Media Specialist: Tools and Tips, 2nd Edition) I looked at two websites she recommended in the light of her evaluation criteria.

The first site was the Historical Altas of the 20th Century. When I first looked at this website I immediately dismissed it as a no go and moved on. For some reason I went back and tried to look beyond the unappealing amateurish look of the site and the fact that it had not been updated since 2004 (yes it is historical). I was trying to look for anything useful for an elementary of middle school student. I was surprised to find the General Trends maps very informative and interesting. These maps give world snapshots for every 25 years of the 20th century on themes such as living conditions, war, and population. All of these maps would be excellent discussion starters and quick reference sources.

Seeing that the site looked like a hobby or home project I checked out the FAQ section to learn about the origins of the site and the source of its information. I chuckled when I found out that the person identified themselves as “no one in particular” and someone whose “educational credentials are pretty slim” while listing his occupation as librarian. The FAQ goes on to warn that everyone should double-check the information they get from any website. He says all his information is from public sources and gives a pretty impressive bibliography. I think the FAQ file and the letters to the editor section alone are worth a visit and could serve as an excellent resource for an activity about website evaluation. With all the warnings in the FAQ about the author’s lack of educational credentials it is fascinating to read that the website maps have been published in several books and the website has been cited in at least 45 books and 80 scholarly articles.

All the above said I am quite surprised to see at tacitly recommended by Riedling since it would seem to fail some of her evaluation and selection criteria. It would not pass publisher authority due to the lack of author credentials. It would also fail her format criteria as the site is very crude with quite small print and long lists as the only method of navigating the site. These long lists along with no keyword search feature might not make this site the best indexed (another Riedling criteria). All that said I really think looking at the FAQ and letters to the editors would be extremely worthwhile to helping one grapple with the complicated nature of website evaluation and the evaluation of some reference works in particular.

Another novel website I looked at was Peakware World Relief Maps. This is not really a resource that would have a lot of curriculum connections but it shows what kind of specialized geographical resources can be developed by a community of interested users (in this case mountain climbers) and drawing on existing resources such as GoogleEarth and even Wikipedia. This resource has information on over 3600 mountain peaks around the world and gives maps, climbing information, photographs and weather information. It is well indexed and allows multiple methods for organizing information (i.e. peak name or by peak elevation) and allows for visual search by map or by index list or by keyword search. In the case of this website authority may be an issue since there are many contributors to this resource.

EBSCO Kids Search and Searchasaurus

Unfortunately, we rarely use our EBSCO resources at our school. I know it can be a great resource for teachers to use. I need to promote it again. I think it is a resource that is time consuming to use.  Users must really plan their search terms well to get relevant results.

I must admit that using Kids Search and Searchasaurus with kids has not been easy or very productive and I have shied away from it. The whole searching by lexiles and having to put these numbers in terms that students can understand makes what looks like a kid friendly user interface more complicated than need be (give us some approximate grade level equivalents as well EBSCO). Kids usually find the search results quite overwhelming and the amount of spurious results quite offputting. I really could use some insights and training on how to make elementary kids successful in using this resource.

Great electronic indexes and databases are as close as your local public library website!

As part of my learning about electronic indexes I was assigned the task of checking out what was available from my local public library.  I checked out the Greater Victoria Public Library and was surprised and impressed what was offered in terms of digital resources in general and full text indexes and databases in particular.  The Greater Victoria Public Library has a very substantial eResource section that just requires you to have a library card to access.

In terms of indexes for more general magazines, newspapers, and radio and televison transcripts it has Canadian Newsstand, Canadian Periodical Index, CBCA Current Events (Canadian TV and Radio Transcripts), CBCA Reference (Canadian Magazine Articles), EBSCO Host Master FILE Premier, and Hobbies and Crafts Reference Centre.

For homework help the GVPL has Global Issues in Context and a database from Gale called Opposing Viewpoints. In terms of library and information science the GVPL has Global Books in Print which has reviews, summaries and prices for over 11 million books. Other resources of note include Gale Virtual Reference Library and Green FILE.

One interesting free resource that is linked to by the GVPL is the Khan Academy.  This is an incredible site of 2400 free educational videos from arithmetic to physics to finance and history for K to 12 but mostly for high school. This resource has been highlighted on TED Talks.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Encyclopedias versus Wikipedia

Yes I am one of those people who have been trying to point kids to almost any source but Wikipedia.  I am realizing now that I been fighting battles where there really should be no war at all.

Over the past five years as a teacher-librarian at a K to 5 school I have been discouraging students from using Wikipedia because I lack confidence in their ability to evaluate the reliability of the information.  I have also been a bit biased towards using books over web-based sources for research projects in general with the exception of using World Book Online and Culturegram. My thinking has been to steer students towards resources of more limited scope and usually better readability. I have always believed this makes for more productive research with less time spent going off on tangents and getting buried in avalanche of information. I offer the students the opportunity to engage in web-based research after they have exhausted the aforementioned resources.  Usually because of time constraints students don't end up with a large amount of time left over for web based research.

Over the past few years I am becoming more aware of the flaws in my approach especially in regards to grade 4 and 5 students.  I have pointed students to World Book Online to explore their topics in preparation for inquiry research.  Often the information can be quite limited so they don't get enough background to inspire a truly thoughtful inquiry. As a result they don't ask insightful questions or get really jazzed by their research because they have not adequately explored their topic.  I realize that I may have my checklist of  information sources backwards.  Wikipedia and some more general web browsing is a perfect exploratory activity.  Wikipedia articles are often longer and have more cross references than World Book Online. Students can get a better idea of what interests them about their topic and the breadth it could have. 

I realize that there is much wisdom in first harnessing Wikipedia for its sheer scope.  Yes, everyone uses Wikipedia so why not make sure they use it well as a starting point rather than an endpoint for research. Wikipedia can be used to inspire curiosity and better research.  If students are properly informed about how Wikipedia is created their information appetite will not be quenched by Wikipedia but rather it will be whetted. The very fact that  Wikipedia is not authoritative is perfect motivation to seek out additional sources to confirm or refute what Wikipedia states. Yes use Wikipedia and then see if you can prove or disprove the accuracy of what you have read.  If its wrong you could be the first to correct it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Reference Materials

For our course we are to read from our recommended text Achieving Information Literacy.  When I began the course I assumed this was an optional text that we could supplement with other readings.  I found that I have misjudged this and the book is required reading.  I did order it but it has not arrived as of yet and I fear with the rotating postal strikes it may arrive well after the course is complete.

From my reading the of the discussions I have gained some ideas of what the reading has contained and have learned much from the postings that were made. 

Jody Brummund cited that 70 to 85 percent of a school library collection should consist of nonfiction sources.  She observed that her school's collection was closer to 50 percent.  I would say from casual observation that most elementary school libraries would tend towards levels of even higher than 50 percent fiction  this division with the percentage of nonfiction rising in middle and secondary school libraries. In my main library collection only about 40 percent is non fiction.  I will need to investigate the thinking behind this further but I have intuitively felt that my collection was lacking in balance but if the figure of 70 percent is truly what we are to aim for I will need to learn more.  I suppose that I have been more consistent at culling the nonfiction section and that the size of our fiction collection is large for the size of our school. It has been easier to source funding for fiction purchases in the past because teachers have demanded it much like the experience Susan Roberts has had in her school library.  It shows the importance of having collection development policies that all staff understand to avoid too great of an imbalance developing especially in the fiction versus non fiction tug-of-war.

As to funding levels, I know that my library does not meet the minimum standard in terms of funding per student and despite this I know that my school is doing well compared to others.  Through grants, book fairs and other fund raising I average $5,000 to $6,500 a  year for book purchases for a school population of just under 300 students.  According to the standards mentioned in Achieving Information Literacy I need at least $7500 a year to maintain my collection.  I can attest to the fact that these minimum funding figures are accurate.  I can just barely maintain the average age of my non fiction collection at 13 to 14 years of age with my current level of funding but this is a battle of attrition in which I weeding at slightly faster rate than than I am replacing.

As far as the age of my reference collection it is a real embarassment.  My library stats show it to average at 20 years of age.  This is mainly due to a collection of older dictionaries, and older books of quotations and two animal and science encyclopedia that look brand new but are dated 1991.  I certainly need to just weed these out. Up to this point I was too concerned with the size of the reference section.  It is better to have 30 or 40 reference volumes that are up-to-date than having 100 that are just taking up space. I do have World Book Online and a subscription to Culturegram which makes my reference section a bit more roboust then it first appears.

Periodicals have always been a struggle.  I cancelled all my periodical subscriptions for about two years to get a handle on expenses to develop some pent up demand.  I now have about 8 to 10 subscriptions. This would appear to be lip service to periodicals more than anything else.

As far as DVDs are concerned we have been hoping for more of a district solution such as video streaming as mentioned by a few others in our discussions.  I find that teachers are often looking for shorter clips of video to re-enforce or introduce concepts rather than a full 20 to 60 minute video packed full of information they may not need.  Unfortunately youtube and teacher tube is now the default for videos. I do find it refreshing though that teachers are looking to search for video content to address specific learning outcomes as opposed to more generic "filler."  I think this where the demand and usefulness of video streaming will grow because of the ability to search for content within larger packages of video content.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Alberta's Online Reference Centre for Schools

Alberta’s Online Reference Centre presents a robust selection of reference resources. I think it represents a core of what most teacher-librarians are familiar with in terms of subscription services and that they believe should be made freely available to their patrons.

I very much appreciate the clear indication of the grade levels for which each resource is appropriate. However, if the page were to get much longer I would suggest dividing it into pages that split into elementary, middle, and high school reference resources and even subdivide according to subject area. The Victoria School District has an eResources on their district website which neatly keeps all resources and links on one screen. The subject headings may not necessarily be clear or intuitive for all users but the overall model works. The Victoria School District page has a much wider scope of electronic learning resources as opposed to just reference but it may be a layout that Alberta might consider.

I am not quite clear on what the mandate or scope of the Alberta Online Reference Centre page is. If it is to restrict itself to provide convenient access to provincially purchased subscription based reference/database services then I think it is fairly complete in regards to what I know is available for purchase (my knowledge is not wide in this area). I am a little surprised not to see a link to the French edition of World Book Online. I would also question if Bookflix and Teaching with Books would fit under the category of reference. They are both excellent resources but would seem to expand into the area of electronic learning resources (Bookflix can also be seen as electronic books as well). If the online reference centre had as its mandate to make more books freely available then subscriptions like Bookflix, such as Tumblebooks, could be added. I still believe this is really outside the reference category.

If I could add to the already admirable Online Resource Centre (assuming more monies were available to add such resources) I would add an online video streaming service with curriculum related video content. It would seem that the reference resources on this site albeit electronic are still heavily text based.

I am ignorant on what is available as a subscription purchase in terms of reference in areas of science and mathematics. If there are resources available for purchase in these areas, the reference centre could be made comprehensive through their addition and more resources in the areas of music, languages, physical education (food and health) and the trades.

Overall, the Alberta’s Online Resource Centre is what all provinces should aspire too. It makes great sense economically and administratively to have a standard set of reference resources available in all schools so as to provide equitable access to information. It is merely a continuation of the thinking that pushed to have all libraries in Canada connected to the Internet.

Selection Tools and School Libraries: What Canadian Teacher-Librarians Need

I think the biggest problem facing school libraries in regard to selection tools is their accessibility. There are many useful sources and reviews available but most rely solely on sharing this information in a chronological format. The latest books and resources are reviewed in in the latest publication or post. If I don't keep up (and no one possibly can) with all the websites and print resources I will miss some very good recommendations and perhaps worse yet miss a heads up on resources to avoid.

As a librarian building a collection, especially when I am looking at my nonfiction and reference collection, I often am looking at filling deficits or updating. I want to search for recommendations by topic, subject or resource type. I certainly want to look for new publications but I certainly do not want to be constrained to just the current publication year or even the last two years. The biggest problem I have is that I need to browse a wide number of publications and reviews just in the hope of finding something that matches my need. Each resource is often fairly limited in scope and size and thus requires one to consult many resources. This is far too time consuming.

Canadian teacher-librarians need more robust searchable databases that pulls together the wide array of selection tools. Novelist does this very well. This database is accessible by subject, genre, author, and reading level. From my limited use of this resource I would like to see reviews from a wider number of sources. It also should be a resource that is promoted more agressively and be bundled in with larger district or province wide subscriptions.

I am thinking we should be developing Novelist or tools like it with with capabilities like Follet's Titlewave. With Titlewave I can search by subject, author, item type approximate reading or interest level and by publication date and a myriad of other data types. When I find an item (among the million available) that matches my need I can also read the reviews that are available from a number of reputable sources (and a few biased ones). Certainly, fairly comprehensive databases that are not based on inventory of books that a retailer wants to sell, but rather a database of reviews tailored to the needs of Canadian librarians, and teacher-librarians is technically feasible as Novelist shows. The ability to catalogue the reviews does entail costs and the use of these reviews also requires some compensation to other publications in which they first appeared. I believe these costs still can be covered by a fairly modest subscription fee especially if whole districts and whole provinces sign on. As Anne stated in a later post, the cost of not having good selection tools is in the long run much more expensive for cash strapped libraries.

Personal Bias Towards Print Resources

Despite what I wrote in my previous post about the losing battle of print versus electronic resources, I still have a print bias when it comes to reference resources for students.  I find them better structured and more readable for my K to 5 patrons than most electronic resources. I find just the tactile experience with the physical book actually focuses students much more readily than reading off a computer screen. There are also many less distractions and opportunities to go off on tangents.  A cross reference link in an electronic resource or a link to an image, video or audio clip is guaranteed to sidetrack a student from getting to the relevant text.

Even though I am biased in favour of print resources, the very act of my attempting to reference a print resource has often had the opposite affect on my students.  I will try to find a print resource and often not be able to locate the information that they seek and then go to the electronic resource as the next step. Students see the time as wasted.  They know that an electronic reference search will alway give a result so why bother with the "wild goose chase." It is difficult to change perceptions that a general search on Google is not the exact equivalent (student believe it is superior) to more specialized reference searches using a print resource or specialized electronic database. In the face of this opposition, I think my energies would be better spent defending and promoting reliable and trustworthy electronic resources and databases as well as teaching website evaluation skills rather than cajoling students to always begin with print resources first.

Print and/or Electronic Reference Materials

In the fourth lesson of this course I was asked to reflect on whether those of us who are supporting both print and electronic reference resources are fighting a losing battle and how do student preferences for electronic resources affect my purchasing.

I do think that attempts to support both print and electronic resources are a losing battle but the reasons for the battle loss are not straight out student preference. Cost and accessibility are also significant issues. A subscription to World Book Online provides much more value than purchasing the print version.  I can have an entire school all at once (24/7, both at school and at home) having access to three versions of the encyclopedia (Kid,Student and Advanced) as well as an online atlas and dictionary for an entire year for less than the cost of purchasing one set of World Book Student Encyclopedias. The low annual subscription cost is due to bulk purchasing licencing agreements through our school district. The ability to have a set of encyclopedias in the hands of every student via the electronic version  is an incredible boon to learning. It is rare that just one student needs access to an encyclopedia-it is often a large group.  Teachers won't consider suggesting a student use an encyclopedia unless it is possible for all students to access one at the same time.

The additional value of having this reference data linked to other articles and web resources as well as video and audio makes the print version pale in comparison.  It is only with the very young learners in grades one and two that a print resource can be more time effective and useful. Young students often can get lost in the complex interface of an online source and cannot read or follow the text as easily. This argument is moot if I cannot afford multiple sets of encyclopedias to provide reasonable access. 

The rate at which much of the information changes in our encyclopedias is increasing and our tolerance as a society for even slightly date information is less and less because of the ubiquity of electronic resources. And as a small aside, I am not sure from an environmental perspective we can justify purchasing printed reference works that need to be discarded long before they have physically worn out.  More electronic resources means less trees cut down.

For the aforementioned reasons I only purchase a single set of print encyclopedias and a few dictionaries and atlases and rely electronic reference subscriptions.  Perhaps if I had greater funds available, I would keep a larger print collection but resources are so limited that I cannot afford or justify both. In two or three years time when it comes time to replace my print set (which has been mostly used by me) I will be hard pressed to justify its purchase.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Selecting and Evaluating Reference Materials

In this week's lesson we read about selecting and evaluating reference materials for use in our school libraries.  I read Ann Riedling's criteria for selecting good reference materials in her book Reference Skills for the School Library Media Specialist. I have no dispute with Riedling’s basic criteria for evaluation of reference resources. However, I believe Riedling greatly underemphasizes the need to consider the context in which the resource is to be used. The needs of a K to 5 patron community in British Columbia are going to be quite different than those of a grade 10 to 12 community in Ontario or Quebec. I find this lack of emphasis on audience surprising since Riedling is writing specifically about the specialized context of the school library.

A reference resource that has great scope, accuracy, authority, timeliness and is inexpensive can still be inappropriate if it does not have the appropriate reading level to meet the needs of a specific patron community. Each patron community is going to have specialized needs in terms of content that relates to the curriculum they are covering. A resource that is more limited in scope and is somewhat more expensive may end up being a better choice in certain circumstances. I think Riedling could strengthen the usefulness of her evaluation criteria by overtly adding step a the beginning of each evaluation process. This step would be to define or describe the context in which the resource will be used. Who are the patrons? How old are they? What is the curriculum or areas of interest that are most in need to be addressed or supported? Once this is established then the other evaluation criteria can be more productively applied.

I am very sensitive to this issue as I work in K to 5 library.  I find readability to be the overarching preoccupation.  I also am preoccupied with supporting the curriculum.  My experience over the last five years as a librarian has been that reference inquiries do tend to fall within a particular scope that is most often related to the curriculum they encounter in the classroom.  I am likely to encounter many questions about Canadian animals, Canadian aborigial peoples, British Columbia communites but much less likely to encounter questions about the United States, ancient civilizations, world history etc.. This would seem to make the Encyclopedia of British Columbia and the Canadian Encyclopedia natural choices.  The problem is that they are not written at a reading level appropriate to my patrons and often lack the scope necessary to address the curriculum areas that prompt the reference inquiry. Although these resources may pass Riedling's evaluation criteria these resources are more often than not inappropriate for my context.

Lori Ingles provides some excellent commentary on the definition of what constitutes good reference materials.  Is it just a matter of answering the question?  Can you totally answer the question? Lori states that "according to Stripling, we can never really expect to answer the questions because our inquiry will always lead us to new questions. If this is the case, perhaps we should redefine a good reference source. From this perspective, perhaps a good reference source should be one that serves to answer some of the basic questions but also provides enough information to launch new, more in-depth questions." I think Lori gives some food for thought as to additional criteria for a good reference.  Good references may also be those that  point to other references and acknowledge their own brevity or lack of potential depth.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Promoting an Information Framework

For the past few years I have quietly and informally used the Big 6 and the Big 3 as information frameworks for our school. I only use what has been made freely available from their website. There are numerous other frameworks available but I have yet to switch since I am scared of changing any language or terminology students have become even slightly familiar with. Yet in some way I think I should switch to the model created by the BCTLA since it is more likely students will encounter this model in middle school and high school. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough confidence in the overall appeal of the BCTLA model as of yet to make myself switch. I find it less attractive to younger students. I like the easy to remember questions of the Big 6 and I think it is a little more natural in terms of process and language.

1. What needs to be done? Task Definition

2. What resources can I use? Information Seeking Strategies

3. Where can I find these resources? Location and Access

4. What can I use from these resources? Use of Information

5. What can I make to finish the job? How can I share what I have learned? Synthesis

6. How will I know that I did my job well? Evaluation

In our school we have over the past two years tried to adopt a common language around writing using the the WriteTraits framework. It is a laudable effort but still has far to go before it will become common parlance. Similarly, as a school it would be extremely valuable if we could use an inquiry or information framework that is similar at all grade levels. It is with this consistency that we can practice gradual release with our students. With every grade from 1 to 5, I teach a research and writing unit. It is partly a cooperatively planned and taught unit. We piggy-backed a writing component onto the research process because the library program was the only common program and venue through which we could ensure that students consistently heard the same language used to describe their writing. A little more informally, I also teach the Big 6 in hopes of tacking it onto our Write Traits initiative. Transference of this language and model to classes has not been mandated in the same way as using the Write Traits. Since it is not mandated teachers have yet to adopt its use in their classrooms yet mandating its use seems unwise at this point. I believe I have more work to do to prove its usefulness and effectiveness of this model or any other model.

I have been given reason by Anne, during the discussions,  to reconsider the use of the Big 6 Model because of its commercial nature. This makes some sense since the implementation of the consistent use of an information framework is already hard enough achieve without throwing in a financial barrier to using the model.  This does not address my dilemma of trying to be consistent. I have made a little bit of progress and I believe it can take a number of years for students to assimilate any framework.  Changing the terms or the language can often mean starting the learning process from square one.

 Maria Lou mentions that we need to be careful about trying to mandate a particular model in our school if their are staff members already committed to other models.  I do acknowledge that as educators we do not need to get into the battle of which information model is necessarily superior.  I think we are still at the stage of just encouraging the use of framework in general. I recognize from other posts that the models all have much in common, as stated by Jennifer Parker it is "the amount of detail in each step that is different." 

Chris Ellet puts forward an interesting argument that particular models are suited to particular tasks and that he uses at least four models with his secondary school students. He suggests exercises involving the formulation of a point-of-view or an opinion on an issue may be best suited to the Big 6 because of "its emphasis on synthesis and evaluation" while the BCTLA's Research Quest is particularly useful in activities that involve preparation for a debate. I think Chris's philosophy of using what works best for a student in a particular situation is the one we all need to follow.  Forcing a particular framework can be akin to reducing learning or thinking to a one size fits all formula. We do however need to start with one framework before we can result to multiple ones.

As an elementary educator I struggle with the need to simplify and provide consistency. I think the multiple approach model that Chris uses at the secondary level does not transfer well to the lower grades. I still believe there is a consistency that needs to follow students from year to year until they own some of the processes. Taking Maria's caution to heart I still think I will continue to advocate for commonality within the school but should be content with some diversity still existing.  I see from the discussions that the BCTLA Research Quest is used by many with younger students and that is more similar than I first thought to the Big 6 model. It would seem that switching to this model and advocating for its school wide use at least at the elementary level would be my best plan of action.  

Successful Reference Services: Up to the Challenge?

The following is an edited excerpt from our course notes:

Riedling states that "successful reference services" consist of three components:

1. knowledge of the library media collection
2. effective conversational skills (communication)
3. competence in selecting, acquiring and evaluating resources to meet students' needs.

Given the present time and budget allocated to many school libraries, meeting all of these requirements, to their fullest extent, may be difficult. To add to this challenge there a few other qualities that a teacher-librarian should possess in order to support successful reference services:

4. understanding of the research process and the affective qualities that are inherent in research.
5. patience with the frustrations that often accompany reference services and an ability to stay positive despite these
6. knowledge of and an eagerness to apply information skills, where applicable, to all levels of student research.

Are these unreasonable expectations given your time? Are there ways in which you can improve in these areas? By the end of this course, you should be able to determine how you measure up to these qualities and, hopefully, how you can improve in those areas that may require improvement.

Answers as of Now

It is reasonable to think that a teacher-librarian should possess these skills and offer these services but the resources to do this job are often lacking. My resources are fairly limited in terms of what I can purchase for reference resources and due to my part time status as a teacher-librarian in my school my time available to deliver such instruction and services is severely limited.

Notwithstanding the constraints I just mentioned, I know I need better knowledge in terms of selecting, acquiring and evaluating resources that will facilitate better reference services in my K to 5 library. As mentioned in my previous post, I am at a loss as to what is a reasonable scope for my reference collection for my patrons below grade e and sometimes even for grade 3. World Book Online Kids, World Book Student Encyclopedia and a few Atlases and dictionaries are all that I have that can even begin to serve as quick reference sources.  Do I need more? I hope to be able to answer this more adequately by the end of the course.

I also need to instill patience among teachers and students with the challenges that accompany reference services. If results or information sources cannot be accessed instantly many will give up.  Teachers often will say never mind (often just trying not to consume too much of my time).  My hope and intent each time is to access resources at a reading level that younger students can read themselves and thus not have the teacher or librarian serve as a translator of information and ultimate answerer of the question.  I want to be more of a facilitator of access to information. I hope to have more strategies and resources that will help maintain patience and build more enthusiasm for library references services among staff and students.

Terms Associated with Reference

In our first lesson we looked at some of the terms associated with reference. A term in the glossary or our textbook that I have been thinking a lot about in the past five years is "Scope." Scope is a concept I am struggling with in regards to reference and reference skills for K to 5 students, especially K to 2. What do appropriate reference resources for these patrons look like and what should be the scope of a reference collection be at the K to 5 level?

Oftentimes, I find that in current reference works available for younger students that adjustments made for readability also equals limiting content or scope to such a degree as to make the source useless.  The reference work is so limited and simplistic that it just teaches the young user to go where the older students go for information and reference: Google. I am hoping to find suggestions for quality reference works that have the readability level appropriate for users below grade three.

Our text's glossary also included the Big 6 Problem Solving Model.  This is just one of many models or recipes for inquiry learning.  Our instructor pointed out that it was a proprietary model which made it a little less desirable.  I do agree this is problematic. Nevertheless I find its simplicity and vocabulary to much more accessible to K to 5 users than that used in other models including the Points of Inquiry model produced by the BC Teacher Librarians Association.

In the discussion forum Sarah Tait and Jelica Mihaldzic, and I believe a few others, lamented the acronyms in the glossary.  They found the full terms already difficult to remember without the addition of a meaningless and unmemorable acronym.  I  think they point out something very important.  I think as librarians we should take note of what some lawyers are advocating in terms of simplifying legal language into "plain language".  As librarians we have a mandate to make the retrieval and use of information as easy as possible. Acronyms don't help.

Along with Jennifer Reed and others I share the same surprise at the inclusion of the term reference interview.  Perhaps this surprise is something that is shared more among elementary teacher-librarians in our group who have little opportunity to engage in such discussions.  Anne points out that Ann Riedling is referring more to the public library contexts where such interviews are common.  As Anne points out, the teaching and subsequent use of an information framework would negate the occurrence of the reference interviews that Ann Riedling is referring to.

I found Anica Teglasi's comment that the glossary terms helped her reflect on what materials she had in her own reference collection very useful.  She felt hers was "pitiful." I assume she said this because she had very few of these resources in her own reference collection. Because of Anica's comment, I took some time looking at the different kinds of reference works and realized I didn't have a number of them or they were quite old.  I will need to learn a more about how necessary some are to a K to 5 library before I become too forlorn but the glossary has served as an unexpected cause for reflection and evaluation of my reference collection. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

A New Course: LIBE 467 Information Services I

Rather than create a brand new blog for LIBE 467 I thought I would just continue on with the blog I created for my last course.  So for those who will be reading this blog please note that May 9th marks my transtition to LIBE 467 and all posts older than this date relate to LIBE 465.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Final Note

The organization of learning resources is only part of a librarian's job but it seems that so much flows in and out of this activity that we are never far from it.  I have found the whole concept of cataloguing and organising my collection less daunting and less intimidating after having taken this course.  There are so many great resources available to teacher librarians.

Even though I did not totally master the art of creating MARC records during this course, I certainly have a firm grasp of how they are constructed and organized.  The experience of learning to create a MARC record was much like learning how to program my first webpage using HTML.  I was never going to seriously program pages myself when there were so many great webpage editors available.  Nevertheless my knowledge of HTML has helped me troubleshoot problems and occasionally debug a page when the tools didn't work.  My knowledge of MARC records allows me to enrich and evaluated the records I have.  I will copy catalog 99 percent of the time but now I feel confident to tweak and dig when necessary.

Another highlight of the course was the whole concept of folksonomy and how we tag items or resources.  The articles and the implications of folksonomy especially in the light of new technologies and the growth of the Internet was a real eye opener. With the growth of the web and information in general a thoughtful and informed approach to metadata is key.

I had thought we would spend a lot more time working with the Dewey Decimal System.  I was surprised when it was a comparatively minor topic.  I am not sure what I was expecting.  I did however experience some sense of rejuvenation in my teaching of the Dewey.  I have let such teaching slide quite a bit in the last few years in favour of literature promotion and inquiry based learning units.  I have been awakened to the fact that I have a lot of shelf browsers among my patrons.  I had been lulled into thinking that all my patrons were efficient OPAC users and were simply using Dewey numbers as addresses to what they wanted.  My younger users need to know more about the basic sections and I need to translate those sections into clearer signposts by adding graphics and simple keywords.  If anything I need to teach the Dewey to younger and younger patrons and help them work their way around the numbers and get at the organizational schema in other ways.  I hope to get further along in this effort by updating my Dewey signage and shelf markers.

I very much appreciated the fact that this course, as with all the other teacher-librarianship courses I have taken, grapples with the evolving mandate and roles of the librarian.  It is both exciting and alarming how fast this field is being transformed.  Library 2.0 like Web 2.0 not only allows but requires us to question how we do everything in our libraries. I really hope I can cope with the pace of change and deal with the stress of things always being in flux. 

I suppose the most difficult part of this course for me has been the discussion groups. I find the amount of information and discussion created to unmanageable.  I admire all the participants for their dedication in participating in such discussions.  There is a lot of good information there but for me it is just overload. There is not enough time in the day to thoughtfully consider all that has been posted. Every learning opportunity I attend these days there is a new wiki or blog to read or follow.  As a society we are drowning in text and as educators and students we may be swimming in more text than any other group.  Just look how much text I have generated in this blog. 

In addition to my own posts I did not make a lot of comments (one or two per week) on what my peers wrote because there was such a volume of text already.  I did my best to refrain from commenting just for the sake of participation.  When I did comment  I tried to make what I did write insightful as I believe everyone else did for the most part. It just seems that my colleagues may have a lot more insights than me because I still can't believe how much people found time to read and think about. I could only read half of what was posted.

Perhaps a better approach to written online discussion is to assign less students to any one discussion and have the rest of us read and weigh what they write.  Or create smaller discussion groups so those participating can more easily participate and follow the discussion.  Or perhaps we need less discussion topics overall.

All in all I am very happy to have taken this course and feel that I am better equipped as a teacher-librarian.

Organizing and Maintaining the Collection

In part, the last lesson of this course considered the physical layout of the library collection as an organizational mechanism. How do our libraries assist or impede access to the resources?

I wish in some ways I had taken this course three years ago when I was faced with re-designing our library during a modest renovation project.  I am also encourage by what I have learned in this course in that I think I got a lot of things right as well.

I was lucky enough to be involved with some remodelling of my library about three years ago. Our limited library footprint and budget didn't allow for a lot but we did lower the top of the shelving from a little over six feet to a little under five feet. I would love to have gone lower but we would have eliminated too much shelf space for our collection (even after culling it severely). Far from ideal for a K to 5 library but a little bit of progress. A further aid to my young patrons was putting all paperback easy fiction into alphabeticized plastic totes. This allows for easier browsing of the front covers simply flipping through the books. This also allowed moving the books from the top shelves and putting them on library tables during book exchanges to allow young patrons easy access.

I also was able to reconfigure the shelving layout to make fairly obvious physical divisions between the easy fiction, fiction and nonfiction sections of the library. This was very helpful for my K and 1 students who often wandered into the fiction section.

We have really no free wall space for bulletin boards or displays. To help with displays we had display racks built around the entire perimeter of the library circulation desk and had corner display units built in the corners wherever two library stacks met (this is usually wasted space).

What my library renovation did not include was money for signage. It is three years later and I have still to address the issue. Assignment 3 gave me the impetus to make a plan. The biggest part of it is for detailed shelf markers in the nonfiction section to help my younger non OPAC using patrons to productively browse the shelves. The shelf markers not only provide a dewey number but also a picture and a one or two word description of the section. They are also colour coded to match posters for each section. This allows me to create at least 48 labeled divisions in my nonficition section that can even assist pre readers in locating an interesting nonfiction book. Now all I need is the money to implement the plan.


Organizing Online Resources

The Internet is an incredible resource. It is growing at a dizzying pace and our patrons are fully immersed in it and use it as an alternative if not an outright replacement of the traditional library.  We cannot have our patrons abandon our book collections completely.  We need to demonstrate how to mine the Internet effectively and at the same time make connections to our tradional collections as well. When we facilitate better and more informed access to the Internet we create valuable links to our libraries.  The Internet comes inside the walls of the library and is considered part of it.  At the same time the Internet removes the physical walls of the library and helps create a learning commons that is 24/7 no matter where a patron is.

Libraries should not be in competition with the Internet.  We as librarians cannot say that we are just caretakers of books and periodicals and that students should consult these well considered and well written items before considering the Internet.  If we do so we become irrelevant. We cannot compete with a resource the size of the Internet. If we embrace our role as guides and advisors and organizers of  the Internet we can become the bridge between books and other media.  Information literacy and literature promotion is part of our mandate.  Thus teaching patron how to productively search the Internet is one part of our task but we should also be promoting and highlighting great Internet resources in the same way that we promote great books. This means all libraries need a web presence.

I have to admit that being a web librarian is a bit daunting.  I developed a library website about four or five years ago. I created it so it could assist me in teaching my inquiry learning units. The advantage of this functionality was that students saw the libray website in action many times during the school year.  It is a resource they could revisit and refer to anytime and any place they chose.  I felt pretty good about it.  But as time has marched by and other library responsibilites consumed my time, my site became quite static if not stale.  Part of the reason is that it is not particularly easy to update.  I now spend most of my time using Destiny Library Manager to create public resource lists and put use its home page to post hundreds of links to Internet Resources.  The reason why I have defaulted to this tool is that it is easy to do on the fly.  I can work with the Destiny Library Manager home page anytime and any place there is a computer available.  I can only edit my library website when I am at the one computer that my web editing software is on.  The software requires me to upload items and is fairly technical.

I am still searching for an efficient way of keeping track of all my links and making sure they are still current.  I need to approach my links page the same way as I do weeding of my library collection.  It needs to be done regularly.

I think the greatest challenge for librarians is to set aside time weekly to update their websites and blogs and to stay current on websites and new resources.  This is going to steal some time from other areas but it will be an investment in the survival of libraries. Librarians then need to take advantage of the most convenient Web 2.0 tools available to create sites that are windows/gateways/bridges between traditional library collections and their web-based counter parts.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Online Public Access Catalogues (OPACs)

There is no substitute for an appealing and powerful OPAC that is available 24/7. 

When my library switched from L4U to Library Destiny Manager it increased library circulation.  Students were able to find books more quickly and were more motivated to find the books that they found in the catalogue.  Key features that motivated students were the existence of cover photos for their books and the additional information provided through Titlepeek.  Students were able to get background information on their books and become convinced it was a great pick and worth locating on the shelves. 

The following innovations and features have all improved access to the collection, improved the breadth of items being circulated and increased the number of circulations per student: Visual Search, Resource Lists, Reading Level Searches and MyQuest.

The real revolution in my library surrounding the OPAC for my younger patrons was the Visual Search feature available in the Destiny Library Manager and its companion user interface DestinyQuest.  Younger students lack some creativity and curiosity in terms of what to look for.  Visual searches using icons that represent subjects triggers interests and moves children from the general to the specific without them becoming demotivated by encountering too much text.  Students still struggle with finding the items using the Dewey call numbers but they know what they want and it is a quick and easy task for a librarian, clerk or teacher to help a child locate a book.

Another useful OPAC tool for patrons are public resource lists created by the teacher-librarian.  These public lists allow students to see books on any number of topics or interest levels.  Students go straight to browsing the book covers and descriptions and do not have to make multiple queries to make sure they have found all the books on Black History or Poetry or popular series.  The librarian has done all the work.

Teachers also benefit from resources lists.  After pulling books for a class unit or theme they can scan these books into a private resource list and be ready for the next time they have the same unit.  They won't need to do all the queries again. A teacher-librarian can make such resource lists for teachers and save the labour of pulling the exact same books for another teacher doing the same topic a little later in the year.

A controversial yet useful feature of modern OPACs such as Library Destiny Manager is the ability to narrow searches by reading range. For example, if your school subscribes and uses Accelerated Reader, over 90 percent of the fiction collection and 30 to 40 percent of your non ficiton collection will have have reading levels associated with them.  Searches by reading range does not guarantee a perfect match with a just right book.  It may even filter out some more appropriate books. Nevertheless such ranges will often assist younger readers in making more successful book choices in their earlier years. Dependence and reliance on such flawed systems can lessen over time.  In our school we do subscribe to Accelerated Reader but use it as part of an arsenal of book selection skills and motivational tools.  It seems to be a happy medium.  This librarian is well aware of the stance of the BCTLA on this issue and other associations.  I believe the concerns although valid are too strongly worded and reactionary to the AR zealotry that has swept some schools and districts, expecially in the United States. Book leveling is a reality and needs to be incorporated in a responsible way by librarians--not just outright banned or ignored.

Perhaps the best example of an OPAC interface and feature that has greatly increased user independence and patron engagement is Destiny Quest and MyQuest. The modern interface that incorporated the best of a Google type search engine with colourful graphics and an abundance of information is called DestinyQuest.  With this interface, students even get prompts for other  books that may also be of interest of them when they browse particular titles in the catalogue. Fellow patrons can post reviews of the books which can also  postively inform patron book selection.

MyQuest is the account based feature of Destiny Quest.  MyQuest users become part of a reading community inside their school.  They give and get reading suggestions.  They are able to create reading wish lists.  Students can search the library from home and create a wish list and print it off. They then can come to school ready to get the item off the shelf. 

A well designed OPAC enables users to independently make better book choices.  Patrons spend more time evaluating their options and make choices that will likely lead to more favourable and successful book selections.

Cataloguing, Processing and Repairing

I just finished learning about additional services for cataloguing and processing. The idea of using jobbers to process books and supply records was raised.  Many of the course participants were quite concerned about the cost per book associated with paying some-else to do the processing.  This make me feel there is a real false economy being developed in libraries. We see labour as limited yes, but we still use it as it were free.  We will spend a lot of time to save a few bucks from our local library budget not matter what the actual cost is in terms of labour.
I think as people working in the public sector and in the school systems we lose sight of the cost of labour. This is understandable since we have so little control over staffing and such budgets. How many of us have seen the total costs associated with staffing our libraries? We focus mostly on the actual money we see in our library accounts and make our economic decisions based on that which in the long term, I think, leads to poor value for dollar library practices. We have to work towards influencing and breaking the cycle of bad library economics. We need to look long-term on this issue.

Labour is very expensive. Calculate your own hourly rate and that of your library clerk and then spend a little bit of time with a stopwatch and see how long it takes to process a book completely and then calculate the labour cost. It is much more than you would expect. As teacher-librarians I think we need to have a good grasp of these figures and share this information with district level staff in charge of budget allocations. Having money in hand for the bit extra to have a jobber do some of this processing would allow librarians and clerks to more wisely invest there labour elsewhere. It could save money and free up limited staffing to valuable library tasks.

Let me repeat for the above--we need to take a long term view. I know we don't want to spend the money out of budgets for such processing. At the very least we can track how much processing is costing you terms of labour and library supplies and make your library and district aware of this. This should not be seen as a threat to clerk jobs either. There is plenty of nonstandard cataloguing and processing to go around. If we can't get enough pressure to bear to get more librarian and clerk time we can at least push to make the use of it more efficient. This is a way of getting more staffing time without increasing actual hours of staffing time just a marginal increase in library budgets.

Needless to say, I am a huge fan of jobbers such as Titlewave (beware-heavy American content) who provide free shipping and very good quality processing. Depending on your order you skip the Marc record but still get spine labelling and barcoding (you need to calculate not only your own labour cost but cost for toner, label and tape when you do it yourself). United Library Service is also an excellent Canadian Jobber.

As for rushing to get items on the shelf and patron's hands I think it is best to hold onto it and get it done right first. Once it is out in circulation it is too easy to lose track of it as an item that will be done later. In essence you are cataloguing twice when you make a brief record, only to have to re-catalogue again later. Every rule has an exception but I think in general handling something twice is too liberal an expenditure of limited labour.

Copy Cataloguing

I just finished learning about copy cataloguing.  This is a process I have been doing for a number of years but never knew it had an official term.  This is the act of getting MARC records from sources such as Canada's AMICUS and the Library of Congress.  I do find the AMICUS interface and quirkiness a bit off putting but will use it more often just the same.

What I have not been doing very much, is increasing the quality of these records by adding to the summary or adding to a myriad of other 5xx tags.  I can be using my Sears subject headings handbook and be adding heading that would be useful to my patrons.  I also realize that I can add summary information from a number of existing items I have that would be very useful to helping teachers identify curricular links.

I found another very valuable resource through our course  materials and that is World Cat.  I found I could even pay a subscription fee based on how many MARC records I would likely need to download in a year.  World Cat is kind a cataloguing coop where member organizations share their records.  A very neat feature of World Cat is the free world catalogue search that is available.  You can search a collection of nearly 1.5 billion books world wide and locate a copy in a member library closest to you.  All you have to do is put in your  postal code. 

Teaching the Dewey

During the last number of  years of teaching library, I have really flip flopped on how much Dewey teaching I do. I hate teaching skills out of context or outside of real life situations. It just seems to make the skills irrelevant and boring.  In hindsight, I think it is also reflective of me not having very many exciting ways to teach the concepts. 

I realize that I have unconsciously relegated Dewey just to a retrieval system of physical addresses. I want kids using the OPAC as soon as possible and look for the books they like by keyword or subject searches.  This has not really served the needs of my younger patrons.  My K to 3 students are essentially shelf browsers.  They are browsers by necessity since the use of the OPAC is onerous and not very productive.  These patrons have limited success in locating the  exact call number on the shelves.

I have put some signage up in the library regarding popular Dewey sections and used smallish icons that  represent the section.  I have matched these icons to the icons I use in the visual search queries I have created in Destiny Library Manager. I now see that I need to vastly increase the number of signs I have and perhaps make the pictures on those signs larger.  The subject terms seem to resonate less with younger patrons than do the pictures.

I think reading through the Dewey and pre-selecting books for younger grades out of these sections is very productive and necessary.  I have just been doing this with my Grade 1s over the last few weeks.  Some kids are resistant to having their book choices limited to about forty books just laid out on the library tables.  However, once they have gotten over this, they are finding much better and exciting reads.  I certainly have a lot to learn about what appeals.  This pre-selection of books and comparing and contrasting them with much more difficult books from these sections has also been productive.  Students are becoming slightly more skilled at examining nonfiction books and identifying what will make them a "just right read."  Previously, I just had grade 1s whoe were picture browsers. These were students who only consumedd nonfiction for pictures and reading of any of the text was totally irrelevant.  Now they are thinking about whether they can read it themselves or whether or not it would be a good book to have read to them (they realize that some books just don't lend themselves to having an adult read them to their child--too long, too complicated-etc).

I think the more time I spend on guiding students through the subjects of Dewey and promoting informed shelf browsing, it will help my nonfiction section to better utilized. I have many great books that just don't circulate.  There are Dewey sections that students just don't visit.  Overt and systematic study of each Dewey category will help overcome this.

I think I am going to reinstitute some of my flash card and library mapping activities.  I also think that having students create posters or advertisements for the Dewey categories would be a useful project.  I don't have a lot of wall space for such posters but I think the activity itself and a little show and tell would be valuable.

I have used some websites and games to help with the Dewey.  I have been using Order in the Library for years and some of the thinkquests.  I am really surprised a truly professionally produced game package or subscription website has not yet been developed for teaching the Dewey.  Maybe this is a moneymaker idea for some librarian/programmer out there.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Digital Library Collections

I have just finished my project for creating a digital library.  Check it out.

I also have a length discussion paper attached to the website.

In some ways I think I got a little too consumed with this assignment.  Searching for electronic resources and creating electronic records for them and designing an organizational format to share them was the general thrust of the project.  In an effort to end up with a usable resource for my school, I wanted to be all things to all people.  I had a both students and teachers in mind. I was also very focused on electronic content.  I did pay lip service to videos and some book resources but I wanted mostly to augment my library collection. This is no small task.

The effective organization of electronic resources is incredibly laborious.  Without access to an OPAC that allows you to put your records into a MARC record database, the creation and maintenance of digital libraries is nearly impossible for a busy part time teacher-librarian.

Cataloguing of websites is incredibly difficult.  Some websites are very eclectic in terms of their focus or intended audiences.  Certainly cataloguing of websites requires the use of many more subject headings than we use for more standard physical print resources we catalogue for our libraries.  It seems that some web resources need to be parsed down into sub-sections which are catalogued separately.

Depending on the content being catalogued the use on more and more non-standard subject heading may be required.  Web page cataloguing seems to be a mixture of folksonomy and standardized subject cataloguing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Social Bookmarking and Subject Cataloguing

This week we are looking at  subject cataloguing in libraries and the emergence of  folksonomy for web-based resources.  When searching for any library resource having concise keywords or subject terms are crucial to getting what you want and need.  When we catalogue books, good library practice dictates that we don't just use terms that appeal to ourselves.  A standardized set of subject terminology allows for more consistent cataloguing of books and increases the likelihood that patrons will be able to retrieve all applicable resources available in a library collection;  provided they can identify and apply an approved term.

The Sears List of Subject Headings is the the most common resource used by teacher-librarians to provide subject headings for library items. The practice until recently has been to use one to two subject headings for most nonfiction items and not necessarily any subject heading for fiction items.  With the advent of electronic catalogues and electronic search features this restriction is no longer necessary and perhaps even less desirable or acceptable practice. We have the capacity to give patrons a wider variety of access points to an item.  Libraries also exist in a new context where patrons are conditioned to be less thoughtful in the search terms they use. The Google generation uses any term that comes to mind and more often than not have some sort of success in retrieving relevant information from the web. Whether this is be best and most relevant information is not often a consideration. This is a culture or reality I think librarians and cataloguers need to acknowledge.

Library collections exist in the larger  context of the Internet-based resources.  Recently, the phenomena on the web is to catagorize resources using tags. As people identify useful resources on the Internet the use of browser-based bookmarking has become somewhat unwieldly.  We often use multiple computers so we want these resources to be consistently available.  Social bookmarking sites have become the solution.  Bookmarks can now be web-based and be available on any computer.  In addition, social bookmarking sites have addressed the inadequacy of sorting bookmarks under single subject headings (our equivalent of folders in our browser-based bookmarks or favourites) by the advent of tagging.  Users can attach any number of subject terms of their own choosing or invention to facilitate their retrieval and recollection at some future date. 

The practice of developing personal cataloguing systems of subject headings or descriptors is called folksonomy.  This practice has its drawbacks.  When using nonstandardized terms it may require the searcher to use a great variety of terms to locate sufficient resources on a particular resource. Do you use the word cat, cats, kittens, or felines to find the information you desire?  The use of more standardized terms in the social bookmarking context would seem to be beneficial to all, but the capacity to use a great number of tags is useful since it gives these resources a wide range of access points.  A challenge is when the tags are too general then they lose their usefulness and too specialized or specific as to be irrelevant or inaccessible by most searchers. I believe a technological solution may be possible to some of the downside of folksonomy. The development of search algorithms that will generate and match sophisticated lists of synonyms for tags that also filter for specificity seems within the capacity of even today's technology.

I believe the phenomena of the increasing practice of folksonomy will create tremendous pressure to expand and change library cataloguing practice and technology.  Today's library patrons are keyword searchers.  They are used to web searches which use algorithms that search the entire text of websites. Such searching allows users to utilize terms that are personally relevant and doesn't require much reflection or education as to approved subject terms. The pressure is already on for our library collections to provide full electronic texts for most items in their collection.  Full electronic texts opens the possibility of using search engine type algorithms as a point of access to library items. These access points could be used in addition to librarian provided subject cataloguing.  Perhaps library catalogues will be opened to folksonomists at large.  We already have OPACs that allow patrons to append their own personal reviews of the resources.  Technologically it would be fairly easy to add the ability for patrons to add their own tags to these items and allow such searching of collections by tags.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cataloguing: Making my own MARC record

This week's assignment is to learn the Tags, Indicators and Subfield codes of the MARC record and try to catalog a book independently and then check it against a MARC record developed either by the Library of Congress or from AMICUS our Canadian national catalogue.  During this assignment I registered with AMICUS so as to be access their free MARC records.  My library catalogue system automatically links with AMICUS and a number of other library catalogues in Canada when searching for MARC records for items that have not yet been added to our union catalogue.

My first attempt was for a newly purchased book by Sean Cassidy entitled Kazaak!.  There was a record in our union catalogue but is was incomplete and what was there was formatted in all capitals and looked questionable. This is what I was able to generate on a first try:

020 ## $a 9781554551170

100 1# $a Cassidy, Sean
            $d 1947
245 1# $a Kazaak
260 ## $a Markham, Ontario :
            $b Fitzhenry & Whiteside
            $c 2010
300 ## $a 30 p. :
            $b ill. ;
            $c 21 x 27 cm.

This was the very basic information.  This doesn't give anything in regards to subject or other notes.  When I looked up this record on AMICUS they had added one more tag as follows:

500 ## $a "A tell-me-more! story book"--Cover
This general note tag where variations in the title can be noted.  On the cover is a circular icon with a picture of a porcupine on it and the A Tell-Me-More! Storybook title on it.  It seems this book is one of number of books using a similar format.  It is not really a series though.

Now that I look inside the front cover of the book for a little more help in creating a summary note for tag 520.  I am curious to know what sources cataloguers use for such summary notes or are they all original creations.  Where does plagiarism start and end with these summaries? Can you just take the information of the back cover?

520 ## $a Spike is just learning about his new quills from his friend Rupert, but when Rupert gets into trouble with Bear, Spike must use his imagination and his won quills to save him.

For the subject tag I am not very clear on what subfield codes to be using and the whole part of using $2 if you are using a Sears subject listing. 

650 ## $a Porcupine

Here is my MARC record as complete as I can get for now:

020 ## $a 9781554551170
100 1# $a Cassidy, Sean
            $d 1947
245 1# $a Kazaak
260 ## $a Markham, Ontario :
            $b Fitzhenry & Whiteside
            $c 2010
300 ## $a 30 p. :
            $b ill. ;
            $c 21 x 27 cm.
500 ## $a "A tell-me-more! story book"--Cover
520 ## $a Spike is just learning about his new quills from his friend Rupert, but when Rupert gets into trouble with Bear, Spike must use his imagination and his won quills to save him.
650 10 $a Porupine

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Comparing the Library Catalog Record to the Item in Hand

This week's assignment is to examine five items from my library collection with the record found in Integrated Library System.  The purpose of this exercise is to see how the areas of description from the International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD) have or have not been followed or completed for the item in hand.  It also gives pause as to whether the information is sufficient to meet the needs of patrons.  Do the eight areas of description inform the patron to a sufficient degree that the catalog matches the item they are seeking?

The first two items I looked at happen to be books I had pulled for an author/illustrator unit for my grade ones.  In addition to examining authors we have been exploring the importance of remembering author names so as to be able to quickly go to the stacks and retrieve their favourite stories (area 1 information).  Later when they are capable of looking in the catalog they will see a big discrepancy in how these first two items display and this would easily make them favour one book over the other.

Frederick's Fables: A Treasury of 16 Favorite Leo Lionni Stories

The record is complete for all 8 areas of description.  Most importantly the title is complete--it includes the important subtitle "A treasury of 16 favorite Leo Lionni stories."  It also includes vital notes that the item includes an introduction by the author and names three of the most famous of Lionni's stories included in the treasury.  In fact later in the description it names all the stories in the treasury. All edition information is accurate including the fact that it is revised edition.  In terms of physical description it was useful to know the size of the book.  It is 29 cm which makes it a good choice for a read aloud where children can see the pictures as a group. There is also a picture of the book cover.

My record includes many other additional notes including awards, interest grade level, and reading grade level.  Attached to the record is a link to a subscription service called Title Peek.  This provides additional review information about the book and some background of the author.

Leo Lionni Favorites: Six Classic Stories

This item had:
area 1 --Title and Statement of Information (Author)
area 2 --edition
area 3--Material
area 4--publication
area 5--physical description
area 7--notes
area 8--standard numbers

Even though this item did have all the basics it was the enriched notes and description that were missing that made the item seem far inferior to the first Lionni book I looked at. There was no book picture and no summary.  There was also no link to Title Peek.  The stark difference in the amount of text and empty summary field that visually made the record easy to dismiss. If we were to look at this record and the above record purely in MARC format the difference would be far from dramatic. It appears that the use of area 7 notes and other non standard enhanced physical description can have a huge impact on patrons.

Leonardo da Vinci [video recording]

I have just recently begun updating my video collection.  There is quite a difference in cataloguing quality.  This title is perhaps one of the better catalogued items.  It has all ISBD areas covered-at least to a minimal degree. An interesting bit of data that was put in as area 7 information is who did the animation of the 30 minute DVD.  I am not sure if this should be area 1 information and if so how such information is entered. Is it the same as listing an illustrator for a book?  Since the item in hand is located in our Learning Resources Audio Visual collection it is not easily accessed.  This increases the importance of additional notes describing the content. The information that is there is a summary that sounds more like an advertisement: "Explore the brilliance of of Leonardo da Vinci, whom was a master painter and inventor." The description that is found on the back of the DVD would have been a little more informative

Once again there is not picture of the DVD cover but it does indicate the length of the DVD.

The Night Before Christmas [ebook] by Clement C. Moore

I have a few e-books in my collection mostly because I could get them for free.  These are books that can be viewed on the computer but are not talking books that you can take out an play on an ipod type device. The description just says ebook but it provides not information on what the requirements are required for reading the ebook, as in is there a particular plugin or application required for reading the book. All the other basic areas covered.

Cowboys and Coffin Makers: One Hundred 19th-Century Jobs You Might Have Feared and Fancied by Laurie Coulter

This is a non-fiction book.  What is interesting in how the area 1 information is presented.  It does not say illustrations but rather says art is by Martha Newbigging.  This makes me ask more about the nature of the graphics in this book.  The summary reads: A guide to 100 career opitons in 19th century America featuring a timeline of the 1800s and humorous illustrations.  Should the word artist or illustrator be used for Martha Newbigging?  Where did the term art or illustration come from? Looking at the book in hand one would say illustrator would have been a better term to use.

It is interesting to see how the records in the library collection can have a huge impact on how a patron will perceive and judge the resource before they even have the item in hand.  As librarians we have always been worried about judging a book by its cover now it seems we may have to be as worried by patrons judging books by their electronic record.

Monday, January 24, 2011


This week I have started learning the more technical side of cataloguing.  This is to say what the rest of the world stereotypes to be the librarian's main work. 

I was interested to find out that the kind of cataloguing I do most often in my library is what is called copy cataloguing. According to the Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science (ODLIS) this the practice of adapting a pre-existing bibliographic record to fit the item in hand.  I also learned that rather than referring to an item it is more useful to refer to the material to be catalogued as a package.  This allows one to think of form the item takes and this would be one of the aspects that we catalogue and use to differentiate it from other packages.

I was surprised to discover that the MARC record and Machine Readable Cataloguing standard has been in existence since the 1960s.  This just show how forward looking and up-to-date librarianship has been and continues to be.

The ODLIS is quite the collection of terminology and cataloguing minutia.  It at first looked like one of the driest collection of terms one could ever hope to assemble.  After a little browsing though it turns out to be a cornucopia of obscure but fascinating concepts and terms not just about cataloguing but about the packages themselves that are catalog (I may have inserted my tongue slightly into my cheek here, but there is no denying the usefulness and importance of this resource).  Here are just a couple to whet your appetite:

chiffon silk: A layer of extra-thin but strong silk tissue applied to mend or strengthen a leaf in a book or other document printed on paper.

chi-rho: A monogram consisting of the letters XP, the first two characters of the name for Jesus Christ (chi and rho) in Greek, often used symbol in early Christian art

cinching: A condition that results when loosely wound film is rewound too tightly on a reel, causing the film to move against itself on the roll.  As the film tightens, any dirt or irregularities on its surface will cause fine scratches called cinch marks, angled in the direction of movement.

cocked: A serious binding defect in which the spine of the book is angled or twisted in a way that prevents the boards from line  up evenly with each other.
cockle: A slightly puckered finish produced naturally or artificially as paper shrinks unevenly when dried under little or no tension, as in the production of onionskin.

Monday, January 17, 2011

How Search Engines Determine Relevancy and Ranking

What you see and what you get when you use a search engine is a result of a fairly complex set of factors. These factors vary according to the search engine or directory you use. I did some sleuthing about how search engines in general operate and how Yahoo in particular works.

 The spider software that each search engine uses is the first part of the process.  No seach engine site has the capacity to have their spider examine all the pages on the Internet--the amount of pages is just too vast.  What the spider looks at will vary from spider to spider. It would seem where on the Internet that these spiders work also varies.  The strategy, agenda or market to which search index and engine developers appeal to or follow is a mystery but I would think that looking for sites that are popular and could provide marketing opportunities to the search engine service would be the ones to be indexed first by their spider. Already the ranking of information has been influenced.

 It is not always completely clear exactly how each service's spider reads web pages.  Yahoo say that they gather information from the "web page text, title and description as well as its its source, associated links, and other unique document characterisitcs."  From what I have read elsewhere on the Yahoo site these unique characteristics would include any metadata or metatag information that has been included in the site. This will determine what they will put in their index or database. This is what you actually search when using a search engine.  You are not searching the world wide web directly.

How information is retrieved is a product of a complex algorythm that webservice uses (and which it constantly tweaks).  How this search engine works is of course a trade secret.  Knowing how they work makes them vulnerable to manipulation by webpage creators who wish to have their web pages ranked at the top without having to pay for the privilege.  Sponsoring a link is surest way to get it moved to more relevant ranking position when the search engine is used to retrieve information from the index (a little more about that later).

Website designers can improve the ranking of their sites by careful titling of their webpages, including the terms that they believe they will be searched by in the text of their webpage and in their internal links. Sites that use keyword metatags and description metatags that are relevant to each particular page of their site will in general get a better relevancy ranking than sites which use the same general keywords for their entire site.

It would seem that the saviness of a website designer has a lot to do with whether or not a website will show near the top of the relevancy rankings.  If titles and metatags, and links are not well planned no matter how important or relevant the site content it may still get a low relevancy score.  Although this fact is may lead to a disappointing overlooking of good information relevant to search engines users it is something that is fairly easy to accept.  A well crafted webpage would most likely have more superior content on average than those which are amateurishly made. The fact that results are greatly influenced by sponsorship shows the greatest need to search engine users to educate themselves.  In Yahoo a web site owner can sponser their site by biding on keywords.  The more they have bid on those words the higher their site will be ranked when those terms are searched.  The search engine user is not necessarily getting the most relevant site, just the site which the sponsor wants you to see the most.  What is the agenda of that sponsor?  Who knows?  They certainly want to either attract you for an opportunity to advertise to you and sell you a service or to push their point of view to the exclusion of other competing websites on the same topic.