Virtual Libraries Supporting Student Learning

Article excerpt

School libraries can exist in two spaces, a physical space or a virtual space. The author argues that students need a virtual library as well as a physical library because of the different learning opportunities that can be supported by virtual libraries. If a virtual library is carefully planned and designed, it can provide a rich learning environment. Although some authors may distinguish between various terms used to describe virtual libraries: digital libraries, electronic libraries, e-libraries, and the broader term virtual library, in this article, the term virtual library is used to describe any managed collection of information sources in an electronic format. Therefore, virtual libraries could include digital collections of pictures, maps, Web sites, or library records.

Introduction

Virtual libraries are organized collections of digital information. They are constructed collections organized for a particular community of users, and they are designed to support the information needs of that community (Saracevic, 2000). Virtual libraries can offer resources from many sources and in many formats, including audio and video. The items in these virtual collections do not have to reside on one server, but they share a common interface to assist the user in accessing the collection. The emphasis in virtual libraries is on organization and access, not on physical collections (Baldwin & Mitchell, 1996).

School libraries can exist in two different spaces, a physical space and a virtual space. Each space enables different learning activities and serves different purposes for learning (Bruce & Leander, 1997). Many libraries exist only in one space, whereas others maintain a hybrid space, both a physical and virtual space, in recognition of the distinct information uses and learning activities that can occur in each environment. all libraries, whether virtual or physical, create an environment for learning (Abram, 1999).

This article explores the advantages of virtual libraries for student learning, the types of learning that can be supported in virtual library environments, the importance of design to enable different types of learning, and the concerns posed by virtual libraries.

Learning in Physical and Virtual Libraries

Marchionini and Maurer (1995b) saw libraries as serving three roles in learning:

* They are places to share expensive information resources;

* They preserve artifacts and ideas; and

* They serve social and intellectual roles of bringing people and ideas together.

Both virtual and physical libraries can fulfill these roles. Libraries, both physical and virtual, support various types of learning:

* Formal learning, the systematic learning that is guided by instruction;

* Informal learning, which is opportunistic, self-paced, and self-directed; and

* Professional learning, the lifelong learning in which library workers engage in order to improve their work-related knowledge (Marchionini & Maurer, 1995b).

The primary purpose of school libraries is to support, facilitate, and enhance the formal learning of the institutions that created them. The resources in these libraries, whether physical or digital, have been selected to support the curriculum that is taught in the schools. These information sources are utilized by students, teachers, and teacher-librarians in resource-based learning activities.

Resource-based learning activity involves students, teachers, and teacher-librarians in the effective use of a wide range of print, non-print and human resources. Resource-based learning fosters the development of individual students by accommodating their varied interests, learning styles, needs and ability levels. (Foundation for the Atlantic Canada English Language Arts Curriculum, n.d.)

Much student learning, however, is not formal learning; it is informal and opportunistic (Marchionini & Maurer, 1995b). …