Making the Most of Today's Library Resources
by Cindy Rogers, Librarian
It's not the same library you visited in back in Junior High... At least, it shouldn't be! You will still find books in the library, but there now is so much more. Technology is a vital part of your school library. Do you know what is available and how to use it? Let's take a look at the technological resources that may be found in your school's library and what you can do to maximize the time you spend in the library with your students.
Most importantly, talk to the librarian before you visit. Let him or her know what you are studying in class. This only takes a few minutes, but will help the librarian gear whatever lesson she is teaching to your class, whether it be a quick book talk or a formal lesson. Feel free to let the librarian know what needs you see among your students. We know what skills need to be taught in the library, but you know your students best. Most librarians have to toot their own horns, working hard to make faculty aware of new resources. If you show a little bit of interest in collaborating with him or her, your librarian will make a point of sharing the new features with you.
Technology includes all the electronic equipment in your library, but let's skip the obvious things like VCR's, DVD players, and overhead projectors. Computer technology is the hot topic, and it changes constantly. Please don't assume that because the machines and programs look the same, nothing new is happening. Programs are updated constantly. New networks hook more machines together. Some technology options now in my library were not available even last year.
Libraries are full of books. And the computer link with those books is the On-line Patron Access Catalog, or OPAC. What do you know about the OPAC at your school? Can you access it from your classroom? From your home? Are you comfortable using it, or do you long for the inky smell of the card catalog?
The OPAC is, in my opinion, the greatest piece of automation in the library. It is more up-to-date than a card catalog could ever be, it will tell you the status of a book, and its search capabilities constantly improve. You are no longer limited to title, author, and subject searches, although they are still available. You can now search by keyword, bringing you far more results. Sometimes more results are a curse. Do your students know when to use subject and keyword searches, or do you need to schedule a time in the library for them to learn that? Search options on the OPAC may also include reading level, publication year, or incentive programs. All entries include links to take you to other books by the same author, illustrator, or on the same subject. Talk to your librarian to see what your OPAC can do.
Now that you've searched and found the books you want, what do you do? Many OPAC programs include a "bookbag" feature, in which you may collect the titles you desire. This list can then be printed or e-mailed to your librarian, who will pull those titles for you and may even deliver them. All of this can be accomplished from the desk in your classroom!
With the software my district purchased, another feature of the OPAC program is direct links to sites on the World Wide Web. Does your OPAC offer this element? These links are age-appropriate, correlate with the subject matter of a title, and are updated regularly. This feature prevents you from having to search during your "free" time or sending students to dead-ends. Are you familiar with this feature? If your school does not have it, express an interest. Your librarian may be debating where to spend some unused monies.
Speaking of World Wide Web, we are living at a time when there is more information available to us than ever before. Learning to search the World Wide Web and evaluate websites for authenticity takes time. Talk to your librarian about presenting a lesson on one or both of these subject. Or your librarian can help students cope with information overload by providing them with meta-search tool and Boolean search strategies. Additionally, a lesson covering WHEN it's most appropriate to search the Internet, versus picking up a book, is something most students need. Many students see computers as fun and books as boring, causing them to make computers their primary research tool. However, I've witnessed too many students wasting too much time on the Internet while trying to locate a fact that could be found in minutes with the right resource. For example, when looking for the population of Oklahoma, an almanac would be the best choice.
What better way to wrap up a novel you have just finished in class than to visit the author's website, where students can learn more about the author and factual information about the book? Your librarian should be able to direct you to useful websites; whether about authors or other subjects you are studying. Ask him or her about locating sites for you and then having them saved in a folder on the computer desktop for students to use, saved at a teacher's website such as www.schoolnotes.com which can be accessed from home, or provided to your students in printed form. By finding the sites ahead of time, you can save your students the time of searching, allowing you focus on the other important aspects of doing research.
Other resources available through the Internet and your library are full-text databases. When you hear terms like Bigchalk, SIRS mandarin, Proquest, or EBSCOhost do you know what they are? Do you know how to use them? Do your students? Your librarian should be quite familiar with these and eager to teach you and your students all about them. Like the OPAC, on-line databases provide the user with expanded searching abilities, beyond those in the printed Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. Here in Texas, we are fortunate to be provided with the Texas Library Connection, which provides over $40,000 worth of resources including access to Infotrac. If we don't use it, we'll lose it, so this is a topic my teachers hear about regularly. Find out which database resources are available to you.
World Wide Web, websites, web home pages. Your library probably has its own web page, either through one of the many free sites offering this service or as a link from the district or school site. If your librarian is in charge of maintaining that site, he has the knowledge to help you or your class create web pages. Students find this a great way to show off what they have learned on a given subject.
And last but not least, what if you can't find what you need in the library? Today's technology makes inter-library loans simpler and faster than ever. Your district may belong to part of a statewide network, like the Texas Library Connection, or your district may have a Union Catalog. Ask your librarian what other resources are available to you and how you can access them.
With today's advancements in technology, there is more information made available each day. Your librarian should be there to help guide you, sometimes holding your hand and sometimes pushing you to try something new. Go talk to him or her today. Find out what they can do as your partner to help educate your students. Librarians don't have all the answers, but they should be able to find them!
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