School Libraries Go Interactive


An Illinois high school library uses online forms to stay in contact with the needs and requests of students and teachers.

HOW OFTEN HAVE WE SPIED that disoriented look on a parent’s face as she visits the school library? She seems to be wondering, Why aren’t the students hovering about the old card catalog with its neatly typed Dewey Decimal numbers on index cards? Truth is, in so many schools today, the card catalog is as much a relic of a previous time as is the reel-toreel projector. And as we’re well aware, the library is now just as likely to be called the Media Center.

By any name, today’s school library is not the same place many parents remember. New technology permeates every resource the facility holds, The Netevery action that is taken. That old card catalog system has gone online, and it not only contains books kept at the school, but also those from the larger community— public libraries, state library systems, and college libraries. Newspaper and magazine articles are searched for and printed out online via subscription databases. Full-text reference materials are also available online through subject databases. Selected online references are posted on school library sites to make searching more productive for students.

Many librarians are ready to take the next step and collaborate with teachers to create online forms that support their curriculum and provide online interactivity for students. At Downers Grove North High School (DGN) in Illinois, we have done just that.

Putting Online Forms to Use
This generation of students prefers to gather information and communicate via the computer. So at DGN, we decided to make the most of students’ technology skills by developing forms on our library’s Web site ( for many library- and school-related tasks. (See box on next page for links to forms on the DGN library Web site.) Created in FrontPage 2000 or Acrobat 6.0, online forms facilitate communication between students and librarians, as well as assist teachers with assignments. They engage students in doing research and provide a constructive means for students to provide feedback to faculty. At DGN, we use forms in a number of ways:

Borrowing books. Libraries still perform their traditional function of providing leisure/selfselected reading. In fact, with the provisions of No Child Left Behind, even more pressure is being put on libraries to offer enticing materials to encourage students to read. However, this mandate often lacks the corresponding funds. Interlibrary loaning has helped school libraries make up for any shortages. Borrowing books from other libraries expands their inventory and improves their ability to fulfill student requests. One of our online forms allows DGN students to request a book title or magazine article that the library does not own. Once the student presses the submit button, the form automatically is sent to the person in charge of our interlibrary loans, who then carries out the order. If the student has an e-mail account, the library sends a letter when the book or article arrives. If the student does not have e-mail, the library delivers a note to the student’s class. Using this form encourages students to use our resources, even if they are not physically in the library.

Selecting interesting reading. One component of DGN’s English curriculum is a freshman self-selected reading requirement. All freshmen must bring books to class twice a week and do sustained silent reading. In September, as part of their orientation to the library, the freshmen are introduced to the school’s online catalog, and then complete an online reading-interest inventory form. Before students hand the forms in to their teacher, the librarians use the forms to conference with the students about their reading interests. Using the form helps us recommend titles. The site also provides a form the students can fill out after they have chosen a book for self-selected reading. This form documents the date the book was chosen, why it was selected, etc., making record-keeping much easier for the teacher.

Reviewing books. To encourage reading and help students choose good titles to read, we have created an online bookreview form. Once students complete the forms, they are submitted to our aide, who reformats the information and puts it on our Web site, allowing students to see what their peers are reading. We also have provided an active link from our online Follett catalog ( to these student and staff reviews, so when a student searches the catalog and locates a book to read, a link will connect to the student review.

Forms for Teachers
Part of our library’s mission is to help students acquire and develop research skills. We have created several online forms to support teachers in that effort. Popular with teachers are forms that help students write essential and foundational questions, select keywords or phrases for searching, and choose the most appropriate sources for research. One form asks students to evaluate their Web sources, while another has them reflect on their research once they’ve finished the project. Completing at least some of the forms throughout the research process increases student accountability and can even help limit plagiarism. (Students do not need their own e-mail addresses to submit the forms. Many times they are provided an option: Either e-mail the form or, in the case of some assignments, fill the form out online, print it out, and hand it in to the teacher.)

Particularly useful for teachers are assignment forms we’ve developed that correspond to specific Web sites. Students search the linked Web site for answers to questions presented on the form, which, once completed, is submitted to the teacher’s e-mail address for review. Since these are extra-credit assignments, the student is free to choose whether or not to do one, and can complete it at any time. The teacher does not have to distribute handouts and keep track of loose papers, which frequently become lost.

We also use online forms to communicate with our teachers regarding scheduling library time and the use of audiovisual equipment. A teacher who wishes to reserve a library classroom or AV equipment checks the calendar posted on our Web site and then submits a form requesting a specific day and period, along with any desired equipment. The form asks the teacher to name the assignment, and then offers to pull books for a book cart or post Web links appropriate to the assignment in a teachers-only section on the library Web site. This has proven to be a highly popular, effective way for our teachers to get in contact with us.

Continuing to Advance Communication
The use of online forms has increased the library’s visibility at DGN and broadened our involvement in the school’s academic life. We expect it only to grow more as we think up more ways for forms to serve our teachers and students. For example, we are in the process of creating a form that a student can submit directly to a librarian for a “Reader’s Advisory.” The student indicates the type and length of the book he would like to read, and we will respond within 24 hours with a recommended title. We will also include links to booklists that we have created, as well as a link to online student book reviews for the booklist subjects.

Forms will never replace face-to-face communication among librarians, teachers, and students, but they do provide a productive method for making contact when time or access is limited, as it often is. Forms are yet another advance in the way educators and students communicate to the benefit of both, and we at the DGN library are delighted to participate.

Links to Forms on the Downers Grove North Library Web Site

To borrow a book from another library:

To find out what students are interested in reading:

To create an online book review:

To help students develop research skills:

To have students evaluate their Web sources:

To have students reflect on the research process once a project is done:

Teacher assignment forms that are tied to specific Web sites:

To schedule library classroom time or AV equipment use:

Chris Balsano is the retired department chair of the Downers Grove North High School Library.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.