Friday, August 8, 2014

School Librarians as Curators and Developers of E-content

One key role of a school librarian has always been curator; organizing and making the knowledge in the library accessible.  In the last quarter century that role has expanded to selecting, organizing, and making accessible the knowledge available electronically and over the internet.  Librarians will continue to organize information using shelf order systems such as Melville Dewey’s well known decimal classification system, but now their expertise is expected to range far beyond their own shelves.

Curating beyond our own shelves is a requirement of the job!  In the sample job description for the position of school librarian provided by the American Association of School Librarians, the importance of electronic and web based information is clear.  The school librarian’s job includes evaluating software, modeling teaching of “multiple literacies,” as well as 
evaluating, promoting, and using existing and emerging technologies to support teaching and learning, supplement school resources, connect the school with the global learning community, communicate with students and teachers, and provide 24/7 access to library services .  (AASL 2010)
So how can we even begin?  There is no one perfect, universally accepted template for organizing the plethora of information and tools available electronically and over the internet!  Approaches range from using and understanding search engines and their algorithms to exploring the deep web (information that while housed on the internet is not usually available to search engines), locating curated lists provided by libraries and professional organizations,  to using tools that leverage the crowd and connections  such as professional learning networks (PLNs), listserves, and crowd sourced tools such as tags.

Search engines cast the widest net.  They attempt to provide an index to at least part of the web by using algorithms to search, recording links, descriptions, and addresses.  Some popular search engines attempt to give the user access to everything that fits your search terms, while others search within limits or focus on particular aspects of the web.  While searching the web even good researchers can drown in overwhelming numbers of “relevant hits.”   This is a sign to limit a search, perhaps narrowing search terms, or limiting by date or even reading level. 

Another level is the deep web.  This includes exploring inside public sites, digging into sites that require specific searches, such as the Library of Congress (LOC), museums, or other libraries, or into databases that require subscriptions.  Often the information or document that you really need resides in this deep web.  Services such as Graphite attempt to guide searchers to relevant, timely, and appropriate sites that the user can then search, while content aggregators such as One Search from Follett Destiny apply your search terms to a preselected group of sites or databases.  Graphite  features many excellent sites from the deep web as well as sites with lists and indices that will help researchers locate content specific wells of information on the deep web. 

As researchers dig deeply into a topic they will benefit from exploring lists and bibliographies and research guides created by other researchers.  This will often lead to content specific wells of information on the deep web.  A classic example of this type of research is when I searched for a guide to colonial America by first going to LOC  Virtual Reference Shelf,   selecting the Best of History websites from EdTech Teacher and clicking on the colonial period.     

When the researcher or the teacher or librarian finds useful sources, it is imperative to record what they find so they can continue to refer to this site.  Every researcher needs a bookmarking tool to record and organize the sites they find during their research.  Graphite features a few of this diverse basket of tools useful  to create files of websites and electronic resources.  Diigo, Delicious (formerly, and Evernote are some bookmarking tools available on Graphite.  Portaportal, an old-school favorite isn’t represented here, and others are constantly emerging. Here is a list from the Search Engine Journal.

It isn’t the tools you use to build your collections that matter, it is the quality and usefulness of your ever changing collection.  Let’s join together, share “boards” on Graphite, and on Pinterest and openly share our lists and the tools we use to build those lists.  So choose your tools, search web, and dig deeply into e-encyclopedias, library and museum sites, tag, create, organize, and make sure that clear citations are available whenever possible. 

Wait a minute!  That sounds like a job!  Teachers don’t have time to add this to their very full plates! Your school librarian may not have time either, but at least it is in the job description.  Your school librarian will help you find what you need, often by reaching out to other school librarians and using tools and supports such as those represented on Graphite.  Organizing and curating information is in their job description – even on the wild, wild web.

Elizabeth Dejean

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