Mass. High School Realizes Dream Of Providing Library Resources to All

As you travel along the 'Pike through central Massachusetts to the rural western part of the state, you will find that your stereotypical vision of a small town seems pretty accurate -- unless you turn off the main road at Exit 8 and visit the high school in Palmer. A modern glass facade rises from the trees, suggesting the presence of a progressive spirit in this quiet town of 12,000. After touring the school's library media center, one discovers that, although Palmer students are far away from a major metropolitan area, access to the entire world lies at their fingertips. Turning Vision into Reality Much of the credit for the expansive library resources offered at Palmer Public Schools g'es to Donna Guerin, director of library media and information services. A media specialist at Palmer High School since 1979 and former English department chair, Guerin continually formulates state-of-the-art resource scenarios, then proceeds to turn vision into reality. One day in 1984, Guerin says, she "grew tired of the lines of students" at the few computers that were equipped with periodical databases. She envisioned each student from a class sitting at a terminal performing research and accessing information simultaneously. By 1989, Guerin had already educated herself about several promising new technologies and had become active in library and education associations. At the same time, plans for a new high school were underway. The building project, for which Guerin was a member of the technology committee, gave her the opportunity to propose the library of her imagination. She quickly sought the advice of a system consultant. "I knew what I wanted, I just didn't technically know how to get there," she explains. Michael DiBari of Systems Software Support, located in Northfield, Mass., helped implement a LAN that connected Palmer High and the nearby elementary school via fiber optic link. As a result, computer labs and administrative systems at both sites are now all networked through two central file servers. Configuration Supports Growth In addition, the schools' library media centers and CD towers are accessible from multiple locations on either campus. This configuration facilitates a redirection of educational focus from text-based toward resource-based learning. It also supports the inevitable changes, enhancements and growth in technology. Students use the network in all places of instruction to access and retrieve information for their research projects. Guerin collaborates with teachers across all disciplines to develop relevant projects. She and the teachers bring classes to a computer lab, where each student sits at a terminal and loads the library's resource menu, which lists its many databases. One of the CD-ROM resources on the network is Magazine Article Summaries (MAS) Full Text Elite, from EBSCO Publishing in Peabody, Mass. This trio of discs contains indexes and abstracts for over 400 general-interest magazines, plus the full text of 125 popular titles. Palmer officials say they selected MAS because of the quality of its publications and the inclusion of full-text articles. They also cite the freedom to network within one building at no extra charge. Comments Guerin, "When I'm training students on our various databases, the first one I'll go to is EBSCO." During instruction, she chooses a broad topic, such as planets, and asks students to narrow the search using the subject heading list. The exercise of prioritizing and organizing the information they obtain helps students improve their analytical faculties, according to Guerin. She finds that students respond favorably to the full text in particular. "Many younger students can't believe that the entire article is there in the computer and on the screen, ready to be printed out." Harnessing Today's Technology By her account, colleagues and visitors often say, "Donna, that's the wave of the future," to which she responds, "No, that's the present. Why not have it now?" MAS's full text is completely keyword searchable. The search word is highlighted throughout an article for quick visual location. Guerin has observed that many students scan multiple articles as they appear onscreen. Their enthusiasm is evident in the final work they submit. "I would say on average, they use five to eight articles when three are required," Guerin says. "They get into a topic because it's so easy to access information. That's the key -- the ease." The result has been heightened attention to information synthesis and development of critical thinking and problem solving skills. There is also noticeable enthusiasm for independent learning. "It's exciting to see kids sit at a terminal. Their eyes light up because there's instant information and they're so successful," Guerin states. More Engaged Learners By exploiting EBSCO's Magazine Article Summaries as a research tool, students at Palmer are now engaged, active learners who can use, evaluate and communicate information. Palmer schools have changed dramatically in a matter of years. Although the earlier vision of an advanced information system is now tangible, Guerin d'es not bask in her success. As you may have guessed, she is already well on her way to realizing her next technology goal: networking the middle school with a high-speed telephone link, and providing Internet access for all.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.