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.