Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blog #5 The World of Virtual Libraries

What exactly is a virtual library? “Virtual libraries are multipage online resources devoted to the needs of their specific learning communities” (Valenza, 2005, p.54). The Government of Canada’s terminology for a virtual library states “virtual libraries are delocalized and universally accessible; instead of having a physical address, they are constructed on Internet sites” and “individuals access them via a computer connected to the Internet, navigate from one site to another, and participate in discussion groups, seminars and conferences organized on these sites. They may also download documents to their own computers for later consultation” (Government of Canada, 2008, p.1). In her article The Real and the Virtual Intersecting Communities at the Library, Kelly Czarnecki (2008) writes that “The virtual community can often work in concert with face-to-face interaction such as discussions or programs the library might provide. Being able to offer both, especially to people of a generation comfortable with finding their friends and developing their likes and dislikes through a virtual community, is a great library service” (p.11).

While many school libraries have space on the school webpage, many simply post general library information that does not reach out and engage the user. From a virtual library homepage, users should be able to access databases, search engines, references and school information. Given the wealth of information virtual libraries can offer, one thing is certain is that they can offer users library services ‘after hours’. An example of an exemplary virtual library school homepage is that from Joyce Valenza’s Springfield Township High School. The artwork is colourful and fun, the homepage links are easy to follow and the site is not overcrowded with information.

Students Prefer Digital Learning
In 2002 the Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted a survey of approximately 2,000 middle and high school students on how students incorporate the Internet into their schoolwork. The results showed that 78% of students choose to use the Internet to conduct research (Minkel, 2002). The study titled The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap Between Inter net-Savvy Students and Their Schools discusses in depth how students today view the Internet as a ‘virtual library’, replacing traditional school or public libraries. Students voiced concern with traditional libraries by saying “students say they must ‘wait in line to check out books and other materials and pay to use a copy machine to duplicate important material for reports and projects. Material online, however, can be printed directly from the Internet onto a local printer’” (Minkel, 2002, p. 1). Students in the study also mentioned the lack of quality Internet access stifled online learning because of school filtering and blocking tools. Little research exists regarding Internet use and students homework habits. The study of virtual communities “is important because of the pervasive nature of the Internet has linked the world in ways never imagined” (Czarnecki, 2008, p.11). The impact that the Internet has on information searching and retrieval is extensive. A more recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that “64% of online teens in 2007 (ages 12-17) have participated in content-creating activities (up from 57% when the study was done in 2004) (Czarnecki, 2008). Cultivating virtual library services within a school setting can enhance and expand learning opportunities available for students by promoting a comprehensive online community.

The digital generation of learners today need to access rich digital resources, search engines and subscription databases. A school’s virtual library “can become an integral part of the instructional culture of the school” (Valenza, 2005, p.57). Essentially virtual libraries are windows that open up a world of learning by providing systematic order to information such as WebQuests, curricular lessons, archived information, website sharing, and handouts. Research conducted by Keith Curry Lance indicates that students’ academic achievement scores are higher in schools where information technology is incorporated and library media specialists teach information literacy (Church, 2005). One common element found in both public and school libraries is the ‘Ask Me’ or ‘Ask a Librarian’ feature.
University of Alberta - Ask Us
Library of Congress - Ask a Librarian…
Toronto Public Library

Creating a Virtual Library
Before designing a virtual school library, you will want to consider the following three key elements: content, graphics and links. Web designers will want to add detailed components that enhance the three key elements to their fullest potential. Before undertaking the task of creating a virtual library take time to visit existing sites and read resources that give web design tips. A great place to begin background reading is with Minkel’s article listing seven recommendations in Remaking Your Web Site in Seven Easy Steps.

The best way to gather creative ideas for building a virtual library is to invest time visiting, reviewing and analyzing existing sites. Well-constructed virtual libraries should reflect age appropriate information, databases, links and resources that are maintained and up-to-date. Here are a few examples of well-structured, aesthetically appealing virtual libraries:

Elementary Schools
Birch Lane School Library
Barbara Bush Virtual Library
KVL Elementary Schools
John Newberry Elementary School
My favourite out of the four listed above is the Barbara Bush Virtual Library. The white background gives the page a clean, easy to view landscape. The small photos used in conjunction to reference links are age appropriate for the elementary setting. There is an abundance of relevant links to engage and satisfy users across all elementary grade levels.

Middle Schools
Calgary Board of Education
Virtual Middle School
The Calgary Board of Education homepage is similar to Joyce Valenza’s Springfield Township High School. The use of colourful designer artwork is enhanced by multimedia animations. Students have access to ‘Ask a Teacher-Librarian’, web tools, subject specific links, career pathways, reference centres and research help.

High Schools
Harry Ainlay High School Library
Cherokee High School
Harry Ainlay appeals to my online curiosity by creating a website that is organized in an aesthetically appealing way. Well orgainzed, this site does not utilize an overabundance of icons, but instead controls information through the main menu at the top of the page through five main links: Library Home, Resources, Databases, Services and Information.

Post Secondary Insitution
University of Alberta
I access this site on a regular basis. Actually, I probably do not utilize this site enough in my graduate studies. What is really a significant development in the accessibility of post secondary virtual libraries is recognizing the references and resources needed to support distance-learning programs such as the Teacher-Librarianship by Distance Learning program. Virtual libraries at this level help promote parts of academic institutions enormous resource and reference collections to undergraduate and graduate students reaching out to all corners of the globe.

Church, A. (2005). Virtual school libraries – the time is now! MultiMedia & Internet@Schools. 12(2), 8-12. Retrieved from ProQuest.

Czarnecki, K. (2008). The real and the virtual intersecting communities at the library. MultiMedia & Internet@Schools. 15(3). Retrieved from ProQuest.

Government of Canada. (2008). Handbook of terminology. Retrieved from

Minkel, W. (2002). Pew study: Students prefer ‘virtual library’. School Library Journal. 10(1). Retrieved from

Minkel, W. (2002). Remaking your web site in seven easy steps. School Library Journal. 5(1). Retrieved from

Valenza, J. (2005). The virtual library. Educational Leadership. 63(4), 54-59. Retrieved from ProQuest.


Jo-Anne Gibson said...

Do you think that teacher-librarians have to know something about web design to create a virtual library that will appeal to students? It seems like all the ones we've pick out that we really like are pretty complex on the web design side.


Carol said...

I think T-L's should have some knowledge of web design in order to fully engage the end users. I don't think websites need to be complex, but certainly need to be engaging.


Joanne de Groot said...

I agree that a website for a school library needs to be engaging but I think that with the new tools that are available and even web design programs like Dreamweaver and Frontpage make it easier to create an engaging site that may or may not be complex...without a lot of experience or background. I guess the only thing I wonder about is who actually has time to do this as part of their job? Most TLs have so little library time (and what time they do have is not usually spent behind a computer creating a website!) so when is the work going to get done?

Sounds like the conference is great, Carol. Thanks for posting about it--we can all enjoy it vicariously through you!