Virtual School Libraries

October 19, 2008

Listen to this blog courtesy of Talkr

Winnipeg Adult Education Centre Virtual School Library needs an update. This hard fact sunk in deeper and deeper as I looked through some of the exemplary virtual school libraries out there and gained a better understanding of which qualities make a good virtual school library.

I looked to a University library model of a virtual school library because the students at universities are adults. Some of the students at my school are also students at neighboring University of Winnipeg. However, I also needed to consider the high school model because the students at my school need a more personal touch and scaffolded support, and the Adult Ed. library supports a K-12 curriculum.

I decided to do a critical analysis of an exemplary University Virtual School Library and 2 exemplary Virtual High School Libraries to help me better understand what would work best for the students at the Winnipeg Adult Education Centre Library.

The international Library Website Hall of Fame includes the University of Saskatchewan Library so I decided to begin with it.

One of the high school virtual libraries I chose was the Springfield Township High School Virtual Library because that’s the school of distinguished educator Dr. Joyce Valenza.

I also wanted to examine an internationally-noted Canadian virtual school library so chose The Gladstone Library Resource Centre because it was listed as a Model of Effective Practice in Joyce’s list of High School Virtual School Libraries and is situated in beautiful BC.

In “A WebQuest About School Library Websites”, Dr. Joyce Valenza provides some very helpful criteria and questions to ask while exploring virtual school libraries.

I used Joyce’s framework to help me evaluate the characteristics of the three virtual school libraries I chose to explore.

University of Saskatchewan Library

1. School/curricular: Is there evidence that the site supports learning and school goals?

WOW – does it ever! I followed the link “find Resources” on the home page and found not only the online catalogue and online catalogues of other universities, but a list of Subject pages for each and every discipline taught at the University. Each subject has contact information for a specialized library staff member as well as numerous “Best bets” and other suggestions.

2. Navigation: Does the site facilitate access? Is it clear and logically organized? Intuitive?

WOW again. The home page fits on the screen and is extremely pleasant to view. Every link I tried worked beautifully. The Home button remained accessible in the same upper right hand corner throughout for easy navigation.

3. Aesthetics / Appeal for the Audience

The site reflects a green Saskatchewan-like personality and is suitable for a university or even high school level student. It has a Web 2.0 polished and professional-looking appeal. There are links and images for special research projects. Pictures of the specialized librarians are present, but I didn’t come across any pictures of students or student samples.

4. Level of Interactivity: Opportunities for collaboration, feedback, involvement

Triple WOW – When “Ask Us” is selected, an Instant Messaging screen pops up allowing an immediate call, or after hours an opportunity to leave a message. FAQ’s are also available as well as other traditional contact information. Students are even invited to book an in-depth appointment with a specialist librarian.

The appearance of the subject pages leads me to believe that Web 2.0 CMS allows each specialist librarian to update their content easily and independently.

Students can log in and make use of RefWorks or create an online list of bookmarks.

There are numerous e-books available for students with logins as well as music and archival materials.

5. Freshness

This virtual school library has a 2008/futuristic look and feel. Beautiful!

Rhonda’s Ramblings: This virtual library website gave me great aspirations and ideas, although my school could probably never afford the professional designer company who set it up. The photos of the specialist librarians with detailed contact information do give a personal touch. I noticed there are no opportunities for students to submit ideas, information or book suggestions through moderated wikis, blogs or forms pages. I’m not sure if it is a university policy issue because everything that goes online under most University banners has to be carefully vetted. In a high school virtual school library I think students could also benefit from interactive pathfinders, seeing photos of a physical space, students, and sample student work, as well as video or podcast tutorials.

Springfield Township High School Virtual Library

1. School/curricular: Is there evidence that the site supports learning and school goals?

The main portal is very inviting and age appropriate. Online lessons and curricular pathfinders show evidence of teacher collaboration. There is an invitation to students to suggest links for pathfinders as well as instructions for creating their own pathfinders. There are also several reading lists which suggests that reading is promoted.

2. Navigation: Does the site facilitate access? Is it clear and logically organized? Intuitive?

The site is student friendly and attractive, logically structured and organized. The opening landscape is very appealing – even to me as an adult. The links below the opening image were hard to find and it took me awhile to realize I needed to scroll down on that page. The image icons are illustrative of Pathfinders, catalogues and databases. The “Welcome from Dr. V.” link on the homepage didn’t work on the day I browsed and the link back to the virtual library from the fantastic list of open source applications didn’t work.

3. Aesthetics / Appeal for the Audience

The site is friendly and approachable. I like the way Wikispaces links and how there is a link back to the virtual library on almost each page. There is a great VideoThread video – “Why I Love Databases” by Dr. V. and a large selection of Instructional Videos and Podcasts . The virtual tour includes photos of the library, but I didn’t come across any photos of students or student work samples.

4. Level of Interactivity: Opportunities for collaboration, feedback, involvement

Each of the wikis have edit page buttons and RSS feed buttons. It is very inviting and interactive and incorporates elements of Web 1.0 with Web 2.0. I like that it gives one a sense that it is dynamic and ever-changing. There are suggestion forms for books and other feedback for the library – very inviting and positive.

5. Freshness

This is a relevant, rich and current virtual school library.

Rhonda’s Ramblings: This virtual library is a model I would love to use to follow for my high school. It’s a combination of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 which is reasonable given that Teacher-librarians aren’t given a budget for professional website designers and upkeep. I saw a note from Dr. V. that wikis are going to be phased in for many of the book lists and pathfinders, which will only continue to increase opportunity for collaboration. It’s not surprising that the website got the “green light” in all the above-listed characteristics since the divine Dr. V. prepared both the characteristic criteria that I used, and the website!

The Gladstone Library Resource Centre

1. School/curricular: Is there evidence that the site supports learning and school goals?

There is a link for Departmental Sites which clearly shows evidence of collaboration with teachers and that the site supports learning and school goals. There is no evidence that the library supports reading, except perhaps through the books available in the online school library catalogue.

2. Navigation: Does the site facilitate access? Is it clear and logically organized? Intuitive?

This is a strength of this website. It is easy to navigate with a static left sidebar. However I found it a little difficult to find information on citing sources and finally found how to create a bibliography in MLA style under “Strategies”. The link to the APA guide didn’t work and there was no evidence given anywhere that students needed to cite their sources within their essays.

3. Aesthetics / Appeal for the Audience

The Webquest section is exceptionally well done with original artwork and good images. I don’t like two animations going at the same time on the homepage. I don’t think the question on the main page “ Can I Learn the Same Stuff from a Video Game?” honours students. There are very few images of the library or students, or examples of student work. One of the messages in the opening animation is not inviting and could have been left off the virtual library site – “While the Library is open at lunch time, students will not be admitted from 12:10 pm to 12:30 pm in order to provide a quiet study atmosphere.”

There are no multimedia elements.

4. Level of Interactivity: Opportunities for collaboration, feedback, involvement

I like the login to get userids and passwords for the online databases and would love to see exactly how this works. There is a link to the librarian’s e-mail address on the homepage as well, but no Web 2.0 collaborative tools.

5. Freshness

I wouldn’t say the site looks 1998, but it also certainly doesn’t look 2008.

Rhonda’s Ramblings: This virtual school library is strictly Web 1.0. Like my own library site, it needs major upgrading.

Personal Reflection: Web 2.0 versus Web 1.0 + Web 2.0

Throughout my exploration of virtual school libraries I’ve been struck with the need to update my own and will begin soon. I also found a handy reference by Dr. Valenza which lists the features and content that should be included in a virtual school library at

I keep pondering whether I should incorporate elements of Web 2.0 into my existing library Web 1.0 website, or if I should use a blog or wiki to start from scratch. The reasons I would start again with WordPress is I already know how to make static and comment pages, and I’m beginning to learn CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) so could further customize the website. To enjoy the full benefits of CSS and adding javascript and html code to WordPress I would have to pay for upgrades. However, the upgrades aren’t costly considering the cost of a web 1.0 editor upgrade. I think it would be easier for the next Teacher-librarian to maintain a virtual school library created as a blog or wiki than one created in Web 1.0 plus Web 2.0 platforms.

On the other hand, Joyce’s model has demonstrated how I could phase in things like VoiceThread (after I learn it!) wikis, Delicious bookmark lists, video, Surveymonkey surveys, podcasts and blogs into my existing Web 1.0 site gradually which may be more realistic for me given the myriad of responsibilities I’m constantly juggling. I could add these Web 2.0 elements at no extra cost to the school.