School Technology Trends

Library 2.0: 8 Tips from Teacher Librarians

This article is the second in a two-part series focused on library technologies and Web 2.0. Part 1, "Library 2.0: Enter the Teacher Librarian Enthusiast," can be accessed here.

School libraries across the country are increasingly fine-tuning and debating the best ways to use Web 2.0 technologies. THE Journal talked with several teacher librarian (TL) enthusiasts about how they incorporate technologies at their schools and what tools they find most useful.

The result was a list of eight tips, some broad, some narrow, focusing on learning activities and events, along with examples of specific tools that high-tech TLs are utilizing to support student research projects.

Perspective and tips came from librarians and academics in Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, Utah, New Mexico, and Florida, as well as from review of dozens of library Web sites.

1. Consider the Learning 2.0 Project

More than 700 libraries and organizations have followed the lead of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (PLCMC) in Charlotte, NC, and implemented the Learning 2.0 Project. As a way to encourage librarians (and teachers) to experiment with emerging technologies, the project is a fun, low-pressure way to jump start interest and participation.

In 2006, PLCMC gave participants prizes for completing 23 exercises over a nine-week period. Activities ranged from starting a blog to using an online image generator to adding entries to a wiki. More than 350 people took part, and resources to replicate the program were put online.

Helene Blowers, PLCMC's former technology director, designed Learning 2.0 with a focus on Web 2.0 technologies that were freely available on the Internet. The program material could be adapted for the latest technologies, she said, such as substituting Facebook for a blog.

"The tools aren't the important thing in the program's design," Blowers said. "It's how the program design supports peer-to-peer learning and interaction and how it creates a community of learners all going through the same experience at the same time."

The format of making the program voluntary was key to its success, said Blowers, who is now the director of digital strategy for the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio. 

"By having the participants reflect on their learning through their blog, it helped create a real sense of community as other participants read and responded to each other," she said.

Learn More About Learning 2.0

2. Look into Learning Commons

Much of the discussion about Library 2.0 has focused on resources offered online and how librarians can collaborate with teachers to assist with class research projects in innovative ways. Another angle--a more costly one--is the possibility of transitioning traditional library spaces into creative, modern places where students want to gather for learning activities.

The idea of developing school libraries and computer labs into "Learning Commons" has been gaining attention only in the last couple years. Chelmsford High School Learning Commons in Chelmsford, MA debuted in September 2008 and received attention for being innovative and one of the first--or possibly the very first--to take the concept to reality. A video tour is on YouTube.

Experts flew in for the opening celebration, including David Loertscher, a professor of library and information science at San Jose State University in San Jose, CA and an author of the book The New Learning Commons Where Learners Win! Reinventing School Libraries and Computer Labs.

"It is tough to do the 180 degree thinking needed to innovate, but this generation deserves and is begging to be engaged," Loertscher said

Examples of other schools with Learning Commons--provided by Loertscher--include the Allen Centre for Information and the Arts at an elementary school in Outram, New Zealand, the Adam Scott C.V.I & Intermediate School Learning Commons in Ontario, Canada, and Staples High School Library Media Center in Westport, CT.

These Web sites include details about new print and digital resources, offer online databases and research tools, and feature student projects. All include photos, and the Adam Scott C.V.I. & Intermediate School Learning Commons also provides a video tour.

Introducing Learning Commons need not be viewed as an all-or-nothing approach. Even with limited budgets, elements can be incorporated into most school libraries.

In an online discussion of what "pushes" school libraries or computer labs toward a "client-side" environment, librarians described longer hours, book parties, a book club wiki, math teachers requesting help to create class wikis, and a listening lunch for Banned Books Week.

Learn More About Learning Commons

3. Check Out the TL Community

There are several TL resource sites and dozens of TL blogs available online to check out for ideas, project examples, and camaraderie.

The TeacherLibrarianNing, created by Joyce Valenza, librarian at Springfield Township High School Library in Erdenheim, PA, is an active online community that cites more than 4,600 members. The site include blogs, groups, events, and photos, as well as a discussion forum that seems particular useful. Recent topics included a discussion of photo copyright and library Facebook pages.

Another site--School Library InfoTech Programs--is smaller (127 members) and offers advocacy ideas, articles, blog posts, and Webinars, such as one scheduled for April 5 on what it means to be a change agent in educational technology.

Valenza also listed resources in a December 2009 article in Tech & Learning, which suggested a "roadmap" for professional development, including links to discussion hubs, blogs, conferences, bookmark sharing groups, video learning portals, and Tweeters.

Most of the TLs and experts interviewed for this article have blogs, including Helene Blowers, Joyce Valenza, Karen Burns, and AnnaLaura Brown. There also are several compilations of bloggers online, including a list of the 100 "best," which was put under the heading "Librarians of the Future." It is becoming a popular enough genre that Salem Press even developed a Library Blog Awards competition.

Learn More About the TL Community

4. Host a Special Event

Public libraries in cities across the country, including Rapid City, Madison, and Oakland, have hosted Guitar Hero tournaments to attract youth to the library. While this likely would not pass muster at most schools, the idea of staying interesting to youth is essential for maintaining libraries' relevancy.

The American Library Association's Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) sponsors a Teen Tech Week that includes online ideas for activities that could be adapted at school libraries anytime during the school year. Ideas range from online quizzes and digital storytelling to a short film challenge and scavenger hunt.

Linda Braun, 2009-2010 YALSA president, said in an e-mail interview that 320 registrants identified as school librarians or teachers for Teen Tech Week in March 2010. To accomplish this, she said, school librarians often schedule after school activities, including creation of book trailers, podcasts, or songs using audio and video technologies. Activities that support classroom projects include teaching database skills and use of library-sponsored digital research tools.

"Librarians in schools often do face challenges when it comes to providing access to technologies," Braun said. "Teen Tech Week proves to be a perfect opportunity to expand teen technology access in schools and educate teachers, administrators, and parents on why they should work with teens to help them become safe, smart, ethical, and effective users of technology."

Learn More About Special Events

5. Create an Extension of the Library

While blogs remain an easy, inexpensive, and quick way to get started offering content online, many school librarians are now using wikis instead.

With blogs, design templates are available; there is free hosting; knowledge of HTML is not required; and no special software is needed. The primary downside of blogs--compared to Web sites--is that they are not flexible content management systems.

A list of school library blogs provides inspiration, and there also is a blog service specifically for educators, as alternative to free options like WordPress and Blogger.

Library wiki pages also don't require learning HTML and are touted as a good option to easily access, edit, and update content. They're also particularly useful for collaboration. A School Library Journal article outlined some of the options.

After looking through dozens of school library blogs, some with bad links and others not updated in months, the strongest are those that remain current and clearly aim to serve as an extension of the library--with updates about new books in the collection, peer reviews of those books, and promotion of upcoming events.

For those who want to experiment more with their library blog, student involvement can be encouraged with polls or a RSS feed, and a library newsletter or other information can be offered via e-mail. Parents may also appreciate the additional communication.

Learn More About Creating an Extension to the Library

6. Experiment with a Facebook Fan Page

Facebook fan pages should at least be considered as a way to communicate with students older than 13--and their parents. The site is becoming increasingly a part of everyday life for youth, though it is yet to be determined whether students want this realm linked to their education.

It may be telling that a particularly popular Facebook page related to libraries, called Librarians and Facebook, focuses on how librarians are using the medium to communicate with students, censorship issues, and privacy issues, rather than targeting students. There are nearly 12,000 members.

There is also the limitation that many schools block Facebook and other social networking sites, though some librarians have found a way around that--and others have reconsidered their audience.

"Even if the school blocks Facebook for students, if the librarian can use it, it can still be a great way to publicize what they offer to the parents," said AnnaLaura Brown, a network marketer and academic librarian in Salt Lake City, UT, who writes the Social Networking in Libraries blog.

In October 2007, Laurie Charnigo, who cofounded Librarians and Facebook, told School Library Journal that while Facebook has evolved into a valid method of communication, she had not had significant success with it as an outreach tool.

"It seems students are not very interested with any sort of educational experiences with online social networks," Charnigo said in the article. THE Journal was not able to reach her for an update on her Facebook experiment.

A notable example is Creekview High School Media Center in Canton, GA, which has 380 fans on its The Unquiet Library Facebook page. There are about 20 postings each month--some with comments--and recent topics included a summary of the top 25 books at the library, links to articles, and YouTube videos made by teachers at the school. The school also has a blog (WordPress), wiki site, and Twitter account.

Participants on the TLNing had a discussion about Facebook in September 2009 when a TL asked who had Facebook pages for their library. One respondent, librarian Suzanne Dix from Caravel Academy in Bear, DE, wrote that she was running a contest to get students to become fans. Three names were to be drawn at random to win gift certificates to Borders, iTunes, and Starbucks. She noted that joining the page had to happen outside of school hours.

In a blog posting about Facebook at the university level, David Lee King found that pages with the most fans were doing one thing in common--humanizing their posts, posting content, interacting with visitors and "doing stuff."

"Think of your Facebook Page like a party," wrote King, who is the digital branch and services manager at Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library in Topeka, KS. "If there's nothing going on, the party goers quickly find an excuse to leave."

In another twist, School Library Journal reported in late March that high school students in California's Tracy Unified School District had launched a Facebook fan site to protest budget cuts on school libraries. As of late March, the page had nearly 600 fans.

Learn More About Facebook for Libraries

7. Don't Rule Out Twitter and Texting

Ideas for incorporating Twitter into school lessons have been discussed on THE Journal and elsewhere, but the tool also provides a great opportunity for K-12 libraries--if they can get past blocks on the site and if texting is allowed.

Public libraries with popular Twitter followings show the type of content library-goers find appealing. Looking at The New York Public Library (19,000+ followers), the Houston Public Library (4,000+ followers) and Columbus Library (3,000+ followers), the main tweets announce books, give trivia, and provide information about events. All of these ideas could easily be used by school librarians.

A blog called Libraries and Literacy noted last year that some libraries have created spaces for conversations that simply aren't taking place. The blog suggested that Twitter could be a way to address the problem: "In order to get library users to engage in conversations, libraries need to do more than provide the tools, they need to ask and answer questions where their users can see and engage."

Twitter also can be used for research projects. Karen Burns, a librarian at Gig Harbor High School in Washington, created a Twitter search widget for current events in Africa to help ninth graders with their research projects. Although the tool did not result in a real connection for her students, she said, she continues experimenting.

"It was just too much to add to the process," Burns said in an e-mail interview. "I think setting up a Twitter account for a single project is a good way to utilize the power of Twitter, and I hope to try it again in the future."

In a recent tweet, Burns wrote that she likes Twitter because she gets current ideas for instruction and follows authors so she knows about new releases.

Texting also can be used to contact librarians with research questions. "Since a high percentage of students have cell phones now and use texting, this can be an excellent way for students to contact the librarian and ask questions," said AnnaLaura Brown.

Learn More About Libraries and Twitter

8. Look at How 2.0 Tools Can Work Together

TLs are finding creative ways to integrate a wide variety of online tools to support student projects and research, particularly citing the benefits of Wiki pages, Google Apps, Pageflakes, and NoodleTools.

Valenza said that 2.0 tools are like puzzle pieces--they don't stand apart. She views the wiki as her students' pencil and paper, and additional tools are added from there. In a senior project that focused on Hamlet, she worked with a teacher to set up the project and provide online resources.

Students selected and researched a passage and then created a remix of their selection. The assignment was on a Wikispace page. To assist with the project, students used Elizabethan links and databases, searched for soliloquy examples on YouTube, selected images from copyright-friendly sources, and completed the project with VoiceThread. Examples of student projects are online.

Burns said that she got ninth grade students started with Google Apps and then asked them to use Google Docs to write an annotated bibliography about a current problem in Africa. Students shared the document with their teacher, who could comment on their work and provide encouragement.

Burns then created a pageflake as a pathfinder for the project and included glogs to explain primary and secondary sources. At the same time, teachers created glogster.edu accounts for their classes. In addition, students got NoodleTools accounts to create bibliographies and make "notecards" that could be shared with their teacher.

"Overall we are seeing higher levels of engagement and accountability in the projects on the part of students and teachers alike," Burns said. "We have a progressive technology department, so use of everything but Facebook and My Space is open to the students in our district."

A blog called Cool Tools for Library 2.0, started by graduate students in the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University, reached 60 items by November 2009. The most recent suggestions were Shelfari, GoogleSites, Goodread, and SlideShare.

A School Library Journal article proposed the 10 best digital resources in June 2009, including Animoto, Global Issues in Context, and Big Universe.

Beverley Crane, author of Using Web 2.0 Tools in the K-12 Classroom, said that while most classrooms now have access to the Internet, school libraries remain the key place where subscriptions to databases are located.

"Proquest is not taking someone in marketing and saying write out a lesson plan," said Crane, who works with Dialog, an online service that is owned by ProQuest. "The goal for K-12 is to provide as much support material as possible, to help when you need ideas."

Librarians may also take a different approach and investigate what resources teachers at their school most need.

Marcia Mardis, assistant professor at Florida State University's (FSU) School of Library and Information Studies, previously worked on the Michigan Teacher Network, researching search string logs. She found that the majority of searches were conducted during the school day, and the most popular searches were related to classroom management, followed by mathematics and science topics.

"We're learning that teachers have search habits of normal human beings," Mardis said. "They prefer the search tools of least resistance."

Rather than Google supplanting common research questions, it is important for school librarians to know where to go to access digital content, she said, adding that the Utah Education Network is a prime example and that many other states also provide resources.

Learn More About Providing and Integrating 2.0 Tools

This article is the second in a two-part series focused on library technologies and Web 2.0. Part 1, "Library 2.0: Enter the Teacher Librarian Enthusiast," can be accessed here.

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