Getting Them Where They Live: Designing Virtual Library Sites for 21st Century Learners

What a ball of fire Joyce Valenza is! She is passionate about helping students learn by using the new tools of the web and truly models lifelong learning. I have been an admirer of her library web site for several years and was anxious to hear what she would have to say about designing a virtual library site and incorporating Web 2.0 tools. Needless to say, she did not disappoint!

Joyce started her presentation by talking about school library web sites in general. She said that since there aren’t really any models of best practice in this area, none of us are there yet. Her vision is for the library’s web site to be a knowledge management tool where all of the school’s information is collected. She sees the library site as another “door” into the library – there is a physical door and a virtual door. The library web site should allow the school library to be there anytime and anywhere a student or teacher needs information. It should be as ubiquitous as Google or Wikipedia and we should aspire to having just a tiny piece of real estate on the customized home page of all learners in the school. Joyce feels strongly about this and declares that in the shifting informational landscape, having a web presence is not optional anymore. If you don’t know how to create a web site, you web presence can be a blog or a moodle site, but you must have one!

Having done some research in this area with her own students, Joyce shared some things she has discovered that kids like and don’t like about library web sites. They LIKE to feel a sense of ownership for the site and they like graphical organization. They also LIKE for there to be mouse-over descriptions that pop up on the links to explain what things are. They DON’T LIKE it when the language and organization used on the site don’t make sense to them, e.g., calling databases by their vendor names and/or listing resources alphabetically instead of by subject. They also DON’T LIKE to have too many choices and having to remember lots of different passwords. They really recommend that we (librarians) stop using “library” terminology and start using everyday language to describe things on our sites. Joyce referenced a great site to help us with this: Library Terms That Users Understand.

In the next section of her presentation, Joyce gave lots of examples of things to consider including on a virtual library site, organized under the three components of a 21st century library as described in Information Power.

Under the umbrella of Program Administration you might want to have the following items:

  • Mission statements
  • Policies (materials selection, reconsideration, academic integrity, etc.)
  • ┬áCalendar for library sign-up
  • Assignment planner form for teachers to complete and submit online
  • Surveys can be posted periodically using online survey tools such as
  • A form for book purchase requests or a link to an wish list for your school library
  • An ILL request form that can be submitted online
  • A reading interest poll
  • A learning survey to capture what students learned during library instruction
  • PDFs of monthly newsletters and annual reports

The Information Power component of Information Access and Delivery is probably where librarians put most of their energy. These are some things that you might want to include on your site that addresses this area:

  • A link to the library OPAC (although you DON’T want to call it that!) ;-)
    As a side note Joyce asks wouldn’t it be great if we could have ONE search box for all of our library resources? Here Joyce advocated lobbying the database vendors to cooperate with each other so that this can happen – and for FREE!
  • Links to other library catalogs
  • Links to lots of different search tools
  • Links to some new search engines that use Web 2.0 technology to increase search result relevance
  • Links to some blog search tools
  • Links to subscription databases grouped by subject area
  • Links to free e-books and audio-books (e.g., The Encyclopedia of Life, Lookybook, International Children’s Digital Library)
  • Pathfinders for all research projects made on wikis - use to create lists of web resources for each project, create a customized library for a project using Google Book search, locate open content textbooks written by teachers on Wikijunior)
    Side note: Create a wiki pathfinder on educational research for faculty and campus administrators that includes links, images, documents, video, discussion, etc.
  • Links/RSS feeds to news resources
  • A way to connect to a librarian
  • Links to copyright friendly images and sound, such as Flickr’s Creative Commons Pool
  • Links to resources for royalty-free music and sound, such as Shambles and Podsafe Audio
  • Links to other people’s curriculum, e.g., OER Commons

The third component of a library program according to Information Power is Learning and Teaching. These are some things that you might include in a virtual library to address this area:

  • An online research guide that is interactive
  • The research process
  • Links to bibliographic helps, such as NoodleBib, BibMe, Citation Machine
  • Links to sample papers
  • Information on how to document sources
  • Links to information about each teacher’s different projects
  • Information for parents
  • Research organizers and other documents to be downloaded
  • Information about evaluating blogs and other online sources for research purposes
  • Notetaking guidelines
  • Powerpoint presentations developed for information skills lessons (You can also save these to Slideshare and link to them there)
  • Organizers for note-taking and outlining
  • Student work – create a gallery of student art work on Flickr, post leftover yearbook photos, post video projects
  • Library orientation
  • Book trailers
  • Videos made to address learning gaps, e.g. Its vs. It’s
  • Links to student blogs of their research process (allows for early intervention and can be used as an assessment tool; the teacher and librarian can make comments on student blog posts)
  • Celebrate student life with links to book reviews trailers made by students, lots of photos, timelines, favorite web 2.0 tools, reading lists, literature circles
  • Teach students to create their own information spaces with iGoogle or Pageflakes (require that they include a sticky note with a link to the Virtual Library)

Joyce ended the session by encouraging us to “lead from the center” and reminding us that “it’s ok to be beta.” She said that everything will not be perfect, but to try anyway.

She also encouraged us to take the work she has already done and link to it or use it in any way that we need. She has an amazing collection of resources on her Virtual Library site and on her Information Fluency wiki.