The Virtual Library

July 23, 2009

Modern libraryCole is a 13 year old boy who just loves hockey.  He plays hockey in the winter, ball hockey in the summer, takes power skating camps, always watches the Oilers and usually another game or two a week, and plays street hockey with his buddies any chance he gets.

Mrs. Quincy is the grade 8 language arts teacher at Holy Cross School and has asked her class to write a fictional piece of work, but include really strong descriptions of the characters, the world they live in, and the activities they participate in.  Cole decides that he is going to write a story about an NHL lockout where replacement players are used and the trials and tribulations of one team of misfits who can’t seem to get along on or off the ice.  At lunch that day, Cole heads to the library to see what sort of information he can find.

From the computer, Cole is able to see the books that are available in his school that are related to hockey.  He is also able to see the books available at other schools in his school division.  One of the books that Cole wants to take out is at his school, but he was able to request that it be sent to his school, with some help from the school librarian.

Also included in Cole’s search for hockey related content is Webpath Express Results.  These results are Internet sites that have been selected by librarians for their appropriateness for school aged children. On the National Hockey League, the results produced 11 pages that would be perfect background information for his story.

The Virtual Library

The virtual library is the digitization of services that previously existed physically in the traditional library.  This digitization has advantages and disadvantages.  As identified in the Wikipedia article on digital libraries, advantages include the fact that digital information takes up very little room.  Instead of books taking up shelves and shelves of information, servers take up a much smaller amount of space and can hold massive amounts of information.   As I am very aware with the schedule I keep, it is wonderful to be able to work at all hours of the day or night.  Being able to access information from the library at any time makes it possible for me to work on coursework outside of regular library hours.  Digital versions of an article allow for multiple individuals work to research the article at the same time.  For instructors of courses, this means not having to put information on reserve for students.  The students can access it from the internet without having to get the item from a library reserve room and read it or photocopy it at the library.  With items being digitized, there is more ways to search them.  This is the power of electronic searching.  If there is a title, a phrase, a reference within a text, it is search-able and can more readily be found. Non-electronic searching limited how a document could be cataloged and found.  It is now easier to get more results when searching.  This requires the user to have better skills and be able to weed out less useful results.

The change in how information is discovered occurred as a result of the physical space change, but also as a change in how teacher librarians were sharing information.  The TL skill set has changed as well.  The TL is an “uber responsive educator” that is able to make it happen (Koechlin and Zwaan, 2008).  The students themselves need to have a certain skill set as well.  If these skills are deficient, aid of a teacher librarian will be required.  According to Fitzgerald and Galloway (2001) the following comprises the skills required:

  1. A reasonable level of technology literacy to access and manipulate the system
  2. At least a minimal amount of domain knowledge in order to choose a database
  3. Ability to search using a database
  4. Ability to interpret search results and problem solve in order to refine searches
  5. Ability to assess the relevance of articles
  6. Ability to critically assess the quality of  information
  7. Ability to reconcile all of the information and make a judgment on the usefulness of the search items.

What I like

There has been much discussion on our e-class site and in blogs about student safety in an on-line environment.  With the creation of virtual libraries there is the gentle pushing of students towards resources that have been judged to be safe by experts (teachers / librarians).  I do not think that this push should take away the fact that students need to be able to critically view data that is presented to them if they were to perform their research themselves in more traditional means.  The Internet biggest fault is the perceived dangers that exist.  Having a virtual library is a fabulous way to alleviate some of the concerns that would exist regarding students using the Internet.

More on what I would do with a Virtual Library in the next post…


Fitzgerald, M.A. and Galloway, C. (2001). Helping students use virtual libraries effectively. Teacher Librarian, 29(1). p. 8. Retrieved July 22, 2009 from CBCA Education.

Koechlin, C. and Zwaan, S. (2008). Everyone wins: Differentiation in the school library. Teacher Librarian, 35(5). p. 8. Retrieved July 22, 2009 from CBCA Education.

One comment

  1. I think teachers will, and do, appreciate having the sites recommended in databases and virtual libraries as “safe” places for their students to go when doing research, but I also agree we need to continue teaching those critical thinking skills that students will use to determine if a site is a pertinent one.

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