virtual libraries

I’ve been too busy lately working on a university course to blog much these past few weeks but a post by Floyd Pentlin: School Libraries: The Steak & the Sizzle spurred me to get back in the saddle.  Pentlin, who’s currently teaching a course about information technology in libraries, talks about the importance of virtual libraries and why librarians are not purchasing more eBooks and audio books for their collections which gives students 24/7 access to books. 

Pentlin’s post was a timely one for me as I find myself currently contemplating how best to spend a generous lump sum of money recently given to all the school libraries in my division. Our board recognizes the need to update library collections but as I look at the latest catalogue offerings, it’s becoming apparent to me that I shouldn’t just be considering hard copy books but eBooks and audio books, as well.

Being able to access our collections 24/7 is an amazing concept. During school, the idea that everyone can be using the same eBook to conduct research (rather than sharing 1 hard copy amongst them) makes total sense to me. But I’m not sure where to begin. Who has the best products? Who has the best interface? What’s a good price? All questions I have in my mind as I move forward selecting books for my library collection.

I’d love to hear others views on eBooks.  Are they are great as they appear?




What makes an exemplary virtual school library?

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What makes an exemplary virtual school library?

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What makes an exemplary virtual school library?

Vodpod videos no longer available.


What makes an exemplary virtual school library?

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Library media specialists must embrace technology to be effective. They must ensure that school networks extend the availability of information resources beyond the walls of the library media center, throughout the building, and, in the best cases, into students’ homes.

            – Keith Currie Lance. (Sept. 2001). “Proof of the Power: Quality Library Media Programs Affect Academic Achievement. ” MultiMedia Schools.         


Do you remember the days when you were given a research project by your teacher and the first thing you did was either visit your school or community library to sign out as many books on the topic that you could find and often times being disappointed that someone had gotten there before you so there were no books left for you?  In university, do you remember having to search endlessly through periodical indexes for the journal articles you wanted, write out the information by hand and then take it to the circulation desk only be told that someone already had that publication signed out or it couldn’t be found on the shelves where it was supposed to be?  And when you did get the journals you wanted, you had to carry loads of heavy books home to begin your research?


I don’t know if my students appreciate my “when I was your age” stories but when I’m discussing online resources with my students, I invariably find myself telling them that they don’t know how good they have it when it comes to finding the information they need.  Not that I’m arguing that the most efficient and effective ways to find quality information is not found in books because most often it is.  However, when the library is unavailable or closed, if students have access to a “virtual library” created by their teacher-librarian, then they will have 24/7 access to much of the information that they will ever need. As Joyce Valenza says on her spectacular virtual library site, “The virtual library is always open!” 


What is a Virtual Library?


The Digital Library Federation defines digital libraries as “organizations that provide the resources, including the specialized staff, to select, structure, offer intellectual access to, interpret, distribute, preserve the integrity of, and ensure the persistence over time of collections of digital works so that they are readily and economically available for use by a defined community or set of communities.”  In more simplistic terms, virtual libraries are “organized collections of digital information” selected on the basis of the needs of the community it serves (Gunn, p. 1).


Often referred to as digital libraries, electronic libraries or e-libraries, virtual libraries exist in cyberspace – there are no buildings or shelves and they can be accessed any time, day or night.  I was surprised to find this week that virtual libraries exist on almost every topic imaginable.  I had thought that they were just extensions of physical school, university or public libraries but I found that far from the truth.  It looks like if an individual’s got the time and desire, anyone could begin and maintain a virtual library on any topic. 



Libraries and Learning


Since 1993, Keith Currie Lance has been studying the link between libraries and achievement.  Study after study has shown that there is a positive correlation between quality libraries and increased student achievement (for a complete list of Lance’s studies see:   In his most recent studies in Pennsylvania and Colorado, Lance has demonstrated that achievement levels increase even more substantially with the availability of networked computers in the library and within the school, library catalogues, licensed databases and the Internet.  To have the greatest impact on learning, if these same information resources are available in students’ homes as well as in schools and a qualified information specialist like a teacher-librarian has taught students how to use these resources effectively then virtual school libraries become indispensable educational tools.


Advantages of Virtual Libraries for Learning


Based on Lance’s numerous studies, we can conclude that both physical and virtual libraries are necessary to support and enhance student learning.  But what, you might ask, do virtual libraries do for students that physical libraries cannot?  According to Gunn (p. 2-3), there are many advantages to virtual libraries.  The most obvious advantages are that users have access to many materials in various mediums that are only available in digital format and they can access these resources whenever they like as long as they have an Internet connection. 


This type of access allows for “just-in-time learning” which is an important component of learning in the 21st century.  Teacher-librarians can enhance this “just-in-time learning” even further by customizing their virtual libraries to suit the immediate needs of the learners in specific classes.  An example of this is the use of pathfinders for specific classes or types of information.  Once the students have used these resources to demonstrate their learning, final products can be linked or attached to virtual library sites to celebrate student learning.  In this way, virtual library sites can function as collaborative Web 2.0 social sharing sites since learning can be shared within the same school or anywhere in the world.


By their very nature, the information in virtual libraries is often more up-to-date than physical libraries since information can be updated easily.  Since the information is digital, it is easy to organize and can be placed in one place for easy access which is far more efficient for learners.  Virtual libraries give students a broader range of resources to choose from when completing assignments and projects.  For students who are more visual or auditory learners or perhaps visually or hearing impaired, videos and podcasts can be linked to virtual library sites.  Kautzman (In Gunn, 1998) believes that virtual libraries make information much more accessible to disabled learners.  From information that can be accessed anywhere, to “refreshable Braille displays, screen readers with synthesized voice output, closed captioning and large buttons,” virtual libraries have the potential to dismantle learning barriers for the disabled (Gunn, p. 3).


Virtual school libraries also recognize that students of today “want everything online” and the more you can make search engines like Google, the better (Safford, p. 1).  In “The digital disconnect: The widening gap between internet-savvy students and their schools,” authors Lenhart and Rainie write how dependent students are on the Internet to help them complete their school work.  They write, “Virtually all use the Internet to do research to help them write papers or complete class work or homework assignments…as virtual textbook and reference library…for the most part, students’ educational use of the Internet occurs outside of the school day, outside of the school building, outside the direction of their teachers.”  If you teach junior high students like I do, you know how accurate that statement is – it’s like pulling teeth to get them to open a book but mention that we’re going to use the computers to conduct research, they’re as happy as can be.


Virtual Library Construction


Is it difficult to construct a virtual library? Does it cost anything? Before the era of blogs and wikis, I think the answer to this question would be “yes.” Although I think that some of the more stylish virtual libraries that exist in cyberspace were probably created by people who know something about webpage creation and computer language, I was able to construct a virtual library using a PB wiki (which is free) knowing no computer language at all (although as you’ll hear later in my examination of virtual libraries, my virtual library wiki has a ways to go before I’d consider it exemplary). 


As we’ve learned in the first part of this course, free blog-hosting sites could also be used to host virtual libraries. Since no html language needs to be learned to construct a blog and it’s relatively easy to add text, pictures, videos, podcasts and a whole lot of great apps blogs would be an ideal format for a virtual library.  Blogs have the added advantage of adding RSS feeds which can be done on virtual library sites when teachers are working on a particular topic, when the librarian wants everyone to know the latest books or if the library wants to add news feeds to keep everyone up-to-date.  The feeds that could be attached are endless and they are fully searchable.


Where the difficult part comes in is having the time to build and maintain a site and of course, deciding what should be included in the first place and how it should be presented.  A word of advice to virtual library “wanabees,” spend a lot of time examining other sites before embarking on your own.  Although I did that to some degree before I started my own virtual library, I found that as I examined and compared sites for this week’s assignment, I learned a whole lot more about what it takes to create an exemplary virtual school library.


Exemplary Virtual School Libraries


I think that determining a virtual library’s purpose and audience need to be the first steps in creating an exemplary virtual library – everything else that is included in the virtual library should be a reflection of the needs and interests of those who use it.  In the past, many virtual libraries existed primarily to provide online resource links for students.  However, Borgman, Gilliland-Swetland, Leazer, Mayer, Gwynn, Gaze, et al. (2000, In Gunn, p. 3) remind those that are constructing virtual libraries that they  “are not just storehouses of information; they should be aids in question-asking, information-gathering, information-organizing, information-analyzing, and question-answering processes of uses (2000 in Gunn, p. 3).  In other words, virtual libraries must include aids to develop sound information literacy skills in the students who use the site.  With the advent of so many Web 2.0 tools, virtual libraries are now becoming places to share the learning experiences made possible with these tools.  There should also be consideration given to including information for students and teachers about various Web 2.0 tools and even better, how to use them in the classroom for enhance learning.


Exemplary virtual school libraries are those that are easy to navigate, are up-to-date and searchable.  They may (and should) include information about the physical library and the programs that exist there, but their real power lies in their links to the online world and their sharing potential providing students, parents and teachers a “one-stop shopping” center of information.  There should be links to online school and public library catalogues, subscription databases, news sources, ebooks, citation machines, dictionaries, translators, copyright-free images and sounds websites, research models, reading lists and information about authors.   Including links or pathfinders that reflect the curriculum in a variety of subjects and media are also indicators of an exemplary virtual school library.  


After examining many virtual libraries this week, I have come to believe that exemplary 21st century virtual libraries, should celebrate student learning and model the use of Web 2.0 tools in education.   Not only can student work be used as references for those who come after them, by including student work in the virtual library, the library is seen as a place that enhances learning and is at the forefront of educational innovation.  If a teacher-librarian includes his or her own blogs, wikis, pictures and podcasts and/or includes those created by classrooms and students, the message will be loud and clear how these tools can support and enhance learning. And who knows, maybe knowing that your work may be featured on the library’s home page might be an incentive for students to put forth their best work. 


An important consideration when designing a virtual library is how students and staff will access it.  Short cuts to the virtual library site can be placed on all school computers and links can be made on the school’s web page with the link clearly visible. They should also be linked back to the home page of the school (where there should be a link back to the library site) to maintain a connection to the wider school learning community. Attaching links for the professional staff will keep the library forefront in the minds of teachers as they prepare and hopefully collaborate with the teacher-librarian when preparing lessons for their students.



Comparing Virtual Libraries


I decided that the best way for me to determine the quality of a virtual library was to create a “virtual library rubric.”  I used this rubric to examine seven virtual school libraries, including my own, at a variety of levels from Canada and the U.S. These virtual libraries included:




Grandview Library.  (Rockland County, New York)


Bairdmore Elementary School (Winnipeg, MB)



Middle School/Jr. High


Acadia Junior High School. (Winnipeg, MB)


Harry Miller Middle School. (Rothesay, NB)



High School


Belmont High School. (Sooke, BC)


Springfield Township Virtual Library. (Pennsylvania)


Thomas Dale High School Virtual Library. (Chester, VA)










-visually appealing

-audience clearly defined






-navigate site easily

-active links







Library Information

-mission statement

-policies and programs

-virtual tour






Online Resources

-links to catalogue(s), subscription

databases, news sources, ebooks, citation machines,

dictionaries, thesauruses,  translators, copyright

free images/sounds, various

Web 2.0 tools






Information Literacy Lessons

-research model articulated

-search engines

-how to search, evaluate sites

-how to cite sources

-internet safety

-copyright information






Learning Links/Pathfinders

-for specific subjects/classes

-in a variety of media e.g. blogs,

podcasts, videos, RSS feeds





Reading Links

-reading strategies

-reading lists and reviews

-author information

-in a variety of media





Celebration of Learning

-collaborative projects in all grades

and subjects

-emphasis on Web 2.0 learning





Wider School Community

 -information for parents

-links to school’s home page

-school events, newsletter links






Professional Learning Community

-links for staff

-training manuals for teachers with an

emphasis on Web 2.0 learning





Instead of writing about my findings on my blog, I thought I would put one of my new-found Web 2.0 tools to use and create a series of screencasts about the sites I examined.  Instead of writing out my concluding remarks about virtual libraries here, I have included them on the end of my final screencast.  I hope you will enjoy hearing and seeing what I have to say about the virtual libraries and if you are a teacher-librarian, hopefully at some point my remarks will help you improve your existing site or help you develop an exemplary virtual library in the future.


References (Other than direct links)


Church, A.P. (Mar./Apr., 2005). Virtual school libraries – The time is now! MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 12(2), 3-4.  Retrieved Oct. 13, 2008, from the Proquest Database.


Gunn, H. (July, 2002). Virtual libraries supporting student learning.”  Retrieved Oct. 13, 2008, from


Safford, B.R. (May, 2004). Pondering the virtual school library media center. School Librry Media Activities Monthly, 20(9), 32.  Retrieved Oct. 13, 2008, from the Proquest Database.


Other Virtual Libraries I Examined This Week Included:


Bessie Chin Library.  Retrieved Oct. 13, 2008, from


Bethlehem-Center Middle School


Courtney Middle School


Erin District High School


Henry G. Izatt Middle School.


Horton Middle School


Martin Luther King Middle School


Maywood Middle School


McLurg Elementary School.  Retrieved Oct. 13, 2008, from


Mill Valley Middle School


Murray High School Virtual Library. Retrieved Oct. 13, 2008, from


Walter Reed Middle School Virtual Library.


Wayland Middle School


Pictures from Flick Creative Commons: Stacks – Lochaven; Computer – The Nixer; Students at Computer – Extra Ketchup


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