Virtual SCHOOL LIBRARIES-THE TIME IS NOW!

Article excerpt

SCENARIO 1: Brandon realizes that his biology research project on genetics is due tomorrow. It is Sunday evening, 6 p.m. No problem! He logs on to the Internet, opens his Web browser, does a quick Google search on genetics, prints out information from a few dot-corn sites, and he is good to go.

Scenario 2: Brandon realizes that his biology research project on genetics is due tomorrow. It is Sunday evening, 6 p.m. No problem! He logs on to the Internet, opens his Web browser, goes to his school library Web site, and clicks on the pathfinder created collaboratively by his library media specialist and classroom teacher. Using their suggestions, he finds basic information in an encyclopedia through Grolier Online, and journal articles and newsletters from the SIRS Knowledge Source and Infotrac Student Edition. Through the library's online catalog, he reads portions of a few Follett e-books on genetics. To finish off his research, he visits a couple of the Web sites suggested in the pathfinder. Works cited? Referring to the works cited section of the school library Web site, he soon has his references listed in complete MLA format.

Don't we all wish that the Brandons of the world functioned under Scenario 2? Yet, much of the research out there shows that this is not the case. The 2002 PEW Internet & American Life Project report, "The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap Between Internet-Savvy Students and their Schools" [http://www.pewm ternet.org/report_display.asp?r=67], confirms that today's middle and high school students use the Internet heavily. "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."

"Outside the direction of their teachers" frightens me. There is so much good information out there, and it is our job as library media specialists to point our students to it! There is so much bad information out there, and it is our job to teach students how to evaluate what they find. "Outside the school building" has implications as well: If we are to help students become information-literate-critical assessors, evaluators, and users of information-we have to meet them on the Web and provide library service and instruction online, at the point of need.

The free Internet, subscription databases, and e-books make information available outside of physical library walls, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With the proliferation of data and information in electronic format, virtual school libraries must be entities of the present, not the future. We must provide access to quality resources and instruction in how to use these resources virtually. What does this mean for today's library media center? We must offer school library Web pages that provide reference and curricular information for students, and we must provide information literacy guidance and instruction online.

Best Practices: Virtual School Libraries

At Thomas Dale High School, Chesterfield County, Va., library media specialist Kathy Lehman introduced the concept of a virtual library to her faculty and staff during the 2000-2001 school year when their school library facility was undergoing renovation, the print collection was in boxes in a gym, and she wanted to maintain visibility and services. The Thomas Dale High School Library Media Center Virtual Library Web page [http://chesterfield.k12.va.us/Schools/Dale_HS/ library/Virtlib/media.htm] offers links to online public access catalogs, subscription databases, Internet search engines and Web evaluation guides, the Big6 research model, a virtual reference desk, and-a key component-Classroom Links, class lists of hotlinks and research assignments developed through the collaborative efforts of classroom teachers and library staff. …