School Library Web Sites
Clyde, Anne, Teacher Librarian
"Welcome to our web site, our school library without walls, accessible all day, every day, anywhere."
Five years ago, only a minority of school libraries had Web sites; now it is almost a common occurrence. While the total number today is not known, it is clear that this is a growing phenomenon. Conference papers, articles in professional journals, and professional development courses provide advice and information for teacher librarians who are considering a web site for their school library. However, even a casual trawl through the two web-based directories of school library Web sites (Linda Bertland's "School libraries on the Web" and Peter Milbury's "School librarian web pages") suggests that today's school library web sites are a "mixed bag", and there seems to be little commonality in the approaches taken to this work in different school libraries.
Since 1996, I have been carrying out an international longitudinal research study that is investigating the content, purposes, and users of school library web sites, with the aim of not only describing the "state of the art" and changes over time, but also of developing quality indicators for school library web sites (Clyde, 1996a; 1996b; 2000). The research has involved an international survey of school library web sites and the use of content analysis techniques, among other strategies. Both primary and secondary school library web sites are included, and countries represented are the United States of America, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Singapore, Iceland, Kuwait, New Zealand and Norway, among others.
Among the findings of this research to date, two stand out: different school libraries may have very different aims and purposes in mind when they create their web sites; and reflecting this, they may be intended for very different groups of users. It is true that some school library web sites seem to have been created without much consideration of the purposes they could serve or the needs of potential user groups -- indeed, "some seem to have been compiled from miscellaneous collections of information that just happened to be available in digital form, with little thought given to who would use them" (Clyde, 2000). However, even in those where the aims and/or purposes, and the user groups, were stated or implied, there was a great deal of diversity. This suggests, among other things, that it may be difficult to develop quality indicators or evaluation criteria for school library web sites; at least, criteria or indicators that will be relevant for all school library web sites.
Who are the intended users of school library web sites? Leaving aside the issue (see above) of the sites that did not seem to be aimed at any identifiable user group, the following categories of intended users emerged from the research:
* students of the school;
* teachers of the school;
* parents and/or the local school community;
* the school library staff;
* prospective parents of students in the school;
* people outside the school in general (users of the Internet.
Some of the school library Web sites were intended to meet the needs of more than one group of users.
For what purposes do teacher-librarians (and others) create school library web sites? As was the case with the users for whom the sites were intended, it was sometimes difficult to identify the goals or purposes that a web site was intended to serve, and many seemed to have no readily-discernable overall purpose or aim. However, the range of purposes that did emerge from the research was wide, and included the following:
* to provide access to Internet resources for students in the school;
* to provide access to Internet resources for teachers;
* to provide information for parents;
* to create a "library without walls";
* public relations, to serve as an "electronic brochure" describing the school library;
* to provide access for the school community to online information sources and services including commercial databases and other library catalogs;
* to provide access to the school library catalog (and possibly other online resources) from outside the school or the library;
* to support the school curriculum;
* to "showcase" the work of students in the school. …