The Expert

I wrote this article in 1990 and was reminded of it recently when I read Kelly Jensen's post, Five Great Questions I Was Asked as a Reference Librarian. 26 years later I can still see that 12 year old girl's face as she asked me the hardest question of my career.

There is one occupational hazard in being a teacher librarian that I have never heard discussed in all the in-services I’ve attended since taking on this role six years ago. It’s this. Everybody expects you to know everything.

Here are some questions I’ve been asked in my job as a junior high school librarian. I am NOT making these up.

“Do you have a book on spontaneous human combustion?”

“What’s the title of that book about the girl who goes back in time and meets her mom when she was a kid? I think it has a pink cover.”

“Somebody told me that Tchaikovsky was gay. Is that true?”

“What bus do you take to get to Southgate?”

And, of course, my personal favorite, “I’m doing research for Human Sexuality. What does ‘interruptus’ mean?”

Teachers can come up with some doozies too, like, “The film I ordered didn’t come in. Can you do a book talk next period on Victorian era literature?”

I used to take this question business for granted until one day I sat down next to a girl who was working in the library and she asked, “Mrs. Peterson, if you kill yourself, do you still go to heaven?”

See what I mean about occupational hazard?

I think I answered that question correctly, thanks to the help I got from the school psychologist. But the next time you ask your friendly neighborhood librarian a question, and she stops to think, be patient with her. Being the expert can be terrifying.

I believe in teacher librarians.

To listen to my recording of this post, click on the link below.

I believe in teacher librarians

I believe in teacher librarians. I am at the end of my career, having completed my degree in school librarianship post-retirement, so I have known plenty of tls. I am lucky to have had great role models in my time, but as a grandmother with two young boys soon to enter the school system, I find myself looking forward. What will Lucca and Cole find in their school libraries? Will there be someone there to feed their obsession for reading? Will someone help them navigate the new literacies so they learn, grow, and create online? Most important, will someone in their school libraries welcome, accept, and support them as they grow? Thinking about the tls I’ve met in this program, if their schools have professional teacher librarians, the answer to all these questions is yes. How do I know this? Because I know what teacher librarians do.

Teacher librarians provide high quality print and online curricular resources. I believe in Rhonda, who provides her high school students not only with the latest and greatest digital resources, but also with a vibrant print collection including hard-to-find novels by Canadian First Nations writers.

Teacher librarians build a collection and a space that encourages students to read and to learn. I believe in Lissa, who in one-half day of library time per week has transformed the dismal, discouraging library she inherited. Now she leads literacy in a warm and vibrant hub where her students and teachers love to read and work.

Teacher librarians develop events and programs that promote reading. I believe in Joanie, who decided her students needed graphic novels as part of their reading experiences. She planned with her principal, sought expert advice, bought judiciously, solicited input from students, promoted creatively, and invited a knowledgeable guest speaker to her school. She also thoughtfully introduced her teachers to graphic novels. The results? More excitement about reading, and a wider variety of choices for student learning.

Teacher librarians collaborate with teachers to integrate information literacy, inquiry, literature and technology into the curriculum. I believe in Amanda, who eagerly shares her knowledge of teaching reading and writing with her colleagues, and is continually improving her teaching.

I believe in Renae, who as the information literacy leader in her school collaborates with her teachers to implement inquiry-based, information processing projects with all students. Her grade 7 class researched the impact of a proposed mine on a local salmon spawning stream, and used Web 2.0 tools to create an interactive presentation so they could share their concerns at a public forum.

Teacher librarians serve on leadership teams to implement initiatives that improve student learning. I believe in Kelly, part of the literacy committee at her school, who gave copies of The Book Whisperer to all her language arts teachers, Now they are planning to implement free voluntary reading and book challenges in her school. I believe in Terri, who serves other teacher librarians as webmaster for the Alberta School Library Council.

Teacher librarians use instructional technology to teach, to support reading, to facilitate learning and content creation, and to build a virtual library. I believe in Shelly, who reads fan fiction with her students and encourages them in writing their own. She helps them see themselves as both writers and readers. She envisions doing action research on using new technologies with students, both as a way to build their learning, and as a way to advocate for technology funding.

I believe in Brenda, who welcomes a group of grade five boys to the library every day after school so they can chat with her about the books they are reading for her 40-book challenge or tell her a joke or debate which fast food fries are the best. With her colleague, Leslie, Brenda has 400 students recording what they read on their free voluntary reading web sites and discussing online what they read and recommend to others. One result is more student book requests in one year than in the previous eight combined.

Teacher librarians promote reading for pleasure and free voluntary reading in school. I believe in Heather, who fought to eliminate scheduled book exchanges in favor of flexibility. Circulation dramatically increased, formerly reluctant teachers see the value of student choice, and students can get books when they need them.

I believe in Jess, who builds relationships with her students by helping each of them find just the right book. She sees her reader’s advisory as time to get to know her students as they share their questions, their concerns, and their thoughts about the world in which they live.

I believe in Anne, who loves the power of story and the insight her students’ stories give her into their lives. Her goal is to ensure that her students trust themselves as readers capable of making their own reading choices.

Teacher librarians model lifelong learning and reading for pleasure. I believe in Deborah, the enabling adult and model expert reader. She shares with her students her love of literature and the idea that reading is fun. One of her great ideas is the book swap project that reinforces her effort to develop a school culture that celebrates reading and honours choice.

I believe in Melissa, who takes such joy in getting to know every student in her school and passing on her passion for reading. For her reading is a social activity, nurtured by a community of readers.

Teacher librarians involve parents in their children’s learning. I believe in Natasha, who sees parent education, involvement and collaboration in information literacy as a way to teach a whole community, not just its children.

I believe that professional teacher librarians are indispensable to our 21st century learners. I fervently hope that as my two grandsons grow, they are lucky enough to have a teacher librarian in their school. To all the wonderful teacher librarians I have met in the TL-DL program, I want you to know that I believe in you.

Building a High School Library Program That Meets the Needs of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Questioning Students – Part 3

PLEASE NOTE: For a much expanded and updated version of this information, please go to Becoming and Being: Reflections on Teacher-Librarianship, pages 192-205.

On September 22, 2010, eighteen-year-old Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge.  His private encounter with a man in his dorm room had been secretly recorded and broadcast over the Internet by Clementi’s roommate, who boasted about this on his Facebook page.

Tyler’s death inspired an outpouring of shock and grief around the world, and led to the adoption of anti-bullying and safe environment legislation in two American states (Associated Press, 2010).  For many people saddened by this tragedy the spotlight shone on the homophobic bullying and harassment that cause so many youths to live in fear. Most high school teachers know that homophobia is rampant among teenagers.  We teacher-librarians pride ourselves on the fact that our libraries are safe havens that meet the needs of all our students, but would our GLBTQ students agree? If you aren’t sure, the professional and research literature provides many resources to help teacher-librarians make changes. We can better understand the challenges GLBTQ youth face every day at school, and learn about ways to improve our collections, our services, and our support for GLBTQ youth.  These resources can help us answer this question: How can a high school teacher-librarian ensure that the library is a student-centred safe haven that meets the needs of GLBTQ students?
Understand the Challenges GLBTQ Youth Face at School and in the Library

First we need to see the reality of GLBTQ teen life. Fear is a constant for many GLBTQ high school students.  A recent Canadian study (Taylor et al., 2010) commissioned by Egale Canada Human Rights Trust surveyed 1700 high school students and reported that 75% of GLBTQ students (87% of transgender students) felt unsafe in various areas at school (p. 3), even, for some, the school library (p. 24).  Over 25% of GLBTQ students had skipped school because they felt unsafe (p. 5).  Over 75% heard derogatory (homophobic) comments every day, and 60% (90% of transgender students) said they had been verbally harassed about their sexual orientation (p. 3). Many students (40 % of transgender; 25% of GLBTQ) had been physically harassed (p. 4). Where were the adults while all this was happening?  Sadly, 50% of transgender students (34.1% of GLBQ) reported that staff never intervened when homophobic comments were made (p. 4), and 40% did not feel that they could talk to a teacher (Taylor et al., 2010, p. 5). One participant said, “The teachers know it’s going on, but they rarely pipe up and protect me or others. i guess they figure it’s a lost cause. it takes a lot of energy to defend yourself all the time” (Taylor et al., 2010, p. 34). Other research suggests that these numbers may be conservative. A British Columbia survey of 18 high schools found that GLBTQ students were harassed 80% more than their heterosexual peers (Darwich, 2008, as cited in Haskell and Burtch, 2010). The 2009 Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network survey of 7200 students across the United States reported higher percentages of GLBTQ students suffering various types of harassment: 85% were verbally harassed, 40% were physically harassed, and 52% were victims of cyber-bullying. It is shocking to note that 62% of students who were harassed did not report it to authorities, assuming that nothing would be done, or that the harassment would worsen, and 33% of students who did report harassment said that no action had been taken by their school (Kosciw, Greytak, Diaz, &  Bartkiewicz, 2010, p. 3). To what does all this fear lead? According to a study by the organization Advocates for Youth, one-third of gay/lesbian youth say they have attempted suicide at least once, about 30% have dropped out of school, and as many as 40% of homeless youth are gay (Advocates for Youth, 2002, as cited in Curry, 2005, p. 68). Surely school libraries, at least, are safe and welcoming? In addition to looking at overall school experiences, the professional and research literature abounds with accounts of GLBTQ youths’ experiences in the library. A fifteen year-old blogger recalls,

When I set out to find more LGBT titles, I turned to my school’s library. Honestly? It was pathetic. There was not one single LGBT novel. But oh, of course the librarian went out of her way to buy books about gangs, drugs, and teen pregnancy. When I asked her about that, she replied, “This is a school library. If you’re looking to read inappropriate titles, go to a bookstore.” Uhm, how in the hell is LGBT YA lit “inappropriate”? (Limited Shelf Life, 2010)

Students struggling to find GLBTQ resources in libraries report a number of common issues. These include not being able to find resources, not feeling safe to approach library staff for help, and feeling negatively judged by others (including staff) in libraries (Bridge, 2010; Curry, 2005; Hoheb, 1999; Linville, 2004). In addition, school Internet filters often block GLBTQ sites appropriate for teen use, including them with pornography and obscenity as banned sites (Greenblatt, 2003; Hobeb, 1999; Martin & Murdock, 2007; Schrader & Wells, 2007; Whelan, 2006). Given these findings, it is perhaps not surprising that when asked what school staff members they would approach for help with GLBTQ issues, students ranked only the principal and vice-principal less approachable than the school librarian (Kosciw, Greytak, Diaz, &  Bartkiewicz, 2010, p. 60).  Learn What Information LGBTQ Teens Need     A second strategy to help teacher-librarians improve programming is to examine what GLBTQ students need to know. Rauch (2010) states, “An important part of adolescence is the self-searching and identity-forming transition, when teens need to figure out who they are among their friends, family, and society as a whole” (p. 216). Unfortunately GLBTQ youth are often at a disadvantage during this crucial time as they generally do not have GLBTQ role models in their circle of family and friends, and may even be rejected by them (Behara & Maquet, 2006, p. 13). Alexander and Miselis (2007) point out that “Most GLBTQ teens have limited access to information, few positive role models, and tenuous social support systems, making identity formation extremely difficult” (p. 45). So what information is most useful to GLBTQ youth at this critical time in their lives? Behra and Maquet (2006) interviewed 21 GLBTQ individuals in depth to determine their information needs during the coming out process.  Using the participants’ experiences, as well as the findings of related research literature, Behra and Maquet first defined the coming out process as a series of phases. They identified the concerns experienced in each phase, the information youth needed, and then developed useful, practical interventions that librarians can use to support GLBTQ youth at each phase.

These teens needed information about issues such as how to behave around other GLBTQ people, information about where to find GLBTQ individuals and social groups, examples of positive GLBTQ role models, and reliable information sources about GLBTQ issues to share with family and friends (Behara & Maquet, 2006, p. 9).

Linville (2004), a young adult librarian, also surveyed GLBTQ teens to find out what they wanted from the library. The most popular choice was stories about real people, but teens also wanted coming out stories, information on community resources, equal rights for GLBTQ youth, and safe sex; novels, and books about what it means to be gay (p. 184). Linville says, “They [also] want to know that we know that gay people live in every neighborhood, not just in that gay neighborhood over there. And they want to know that we welcome queer people to the library” (p.186). Build a GLBTQ Collection Once teacher-librarians are familiar with students’ information needs, they can use this knowledge to develop their collections. Building a GLBTQ collection is of course very similar to building any collection.  Schrader and Wells offer this advice.  “Above all, build slowly, seek resources, find kindred spirits, form networks, strategize thoughtfully and know that you are not alone” ( 2007, p. 25).  Of course, there are issues specific to the collection. Locating resources Alexander & Miselis (2007) point out that the number of GLBTQ young adult resources available far exceeds actual library holdings (p. 43).  Unfortunately resources can be difficult to find as GLBTQ books represent only 1% of the market (Clyde and Lobban, 2001 as cited in Cook, 2004, p. 43).  Many books are not available from the usual wholesalers or jobbers as they are printed by small presses (Bridge, 2010; Cook, 2004; Gardner, 2006). Happily the professional and research literature (see Gardner, 2006; Martin & Murdock, 2007; Rauch, 2010; Rockefeller, 2009; Schrader & Wells, 2007; and Whelan, 2006) provides many suggestions for finding new titles.  Teacher-librarians can use the Young Adult Library Services Association and American Library Association web sites, the Lambda Awards and Stonewall Awards (GLBTQ themes), online bookstores, and online databases such as NoveList to find titles.  In addition, teacher-librarians can survey students, talk to their peers, and consult staff of local specialty book stores. They can also network with Gay Straight Alliance facilitators, as well as with PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and other GLBTQ groups Working with local and community groups has added benefits.  As Rauch points out, “If librarians invite GLBTQ groups into the library and encourage the involvement of the entire community, fear and hatred that exists for non-heterosexuals can be overcome” (2010, p. 218). In addition to resources already suggested, professional readers’ advisory and selection guides for GLBTQ literature are available to assist teacher-librarians in selecting resources appropriate to their libraries.  The Schrader and Wells (2007) guide already mentioned includes an extensive annotated bibliography, as does Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, And Questioning Teens: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians (Martin and Murdock, 2007).  In addition, The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004 (Cart and Jenkins, 2006) provides a historical overview of the literature as well as extensive annotated lists.  Bosman and Bradford’s Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered literature: A genre guide (2008) provides a broader look at the literature by investigating its various genres, providing annotations (and readers’ advisories) for 1100 titles.  Understanding issues with reviews. Traditionally most teacher-librarians have relied on reviews in professional journals to guide their selection choices, but locating reviews of GLBTQ resources can be problematic.  Boon and Howard (2004) reported that titles with GLBTQ content received 41% fewer reviews than a control group of non-GLBTQ young adult fiction titles (p. 135).  Rockefeller (2009) points out that the major reviewing journals may not review books from small, independent presses (p. 289). Rothbauer and McKechnie (2000) discovered what might be considered biased reviews of GLBTQ literature.  In the reviews they read, “If a book was judged to provide some good life lessons it was always evaluated favourably despite any other perceived failings” (p. 13). Clarifying Cataloguing. Another issue in building a GLBTQ collection is cataloguing.  Because subject headings do not keep up with current culture, teacher-librarians are advised to catalogue and cross-reference these resources in user-friendly terms so as to be easily found by students.  While GLBTQ terms are constantly evolving, teens are more likely to use “gay” or “queer” than they are “homosexual” when searching the catalogue, so cataloguers should use current terminology (Bosman & Bradford, 2008; Cook, 2004; Johnson, 2010; McClary & Howard, 2007; Moss, 2008; Rothbauer, 2004; Rockefeller, 2009). Dealing with challenges. While dealing with challenges to collections is never pleasant, the best way to face one is to be prepared for it. Schrader and Wells (2007) and Martin and Murdock (2007) suggest that teacher-librarians start by developing clear guidelines for selecting library materials, including input from teachers, parents, students, administrators, and other staff.  Martin and Murdock  provide ideas for a red light, green light, yellow light, school zone strategy that allows librarians to ease their libraries gently and appropriately into using and promoting GLBTQ literature (2007, p. 125-135). A number of researchers suggest that teacher-librarians should prepare a collection development policy that defines their practice, as well as a challenge procedure that details each step in the process, and ensure all staff (including senior administration) are familiar with these (Rockefeller, 2009; Martin & Murdock, 2007; Schrader & Wells, 2007; Whelan, 2006). In their survey of librarians in 29 states, Alexander and Miselis found that “challenges to GLBTQ materials are unsuccessful when the library is prepared with a strong policy, good reviews to support the materials, and the support of knowledgeable administrators” (2007, p. 47). There is no question that developing a GLBTQ collection requires a great deal from a teacher-librarian. Brian Kenny, School Library Journal Editor-in-Chief, says, “It takes guts to create libraries that support the needs of all our students. It takes even more guts to support collections that may attract fierce opposition. But that just happens to be our job” (2006, p.11). Provide Library Services Appropriate for LGBTQ Teens Just what kind of library services do GLBTQ teens need? David Levithan, author of young adult gay fiction, editor, and a gay man himself, writes an impassioned article about the importance of supporting GLBTQ literature in libraries. In this excerpt he describes how librarians make a daily difference in teens’ lives.

I have met so many amazing librarians in the past few years, staunch and strong defenders of expression and representation. I can say without a single doubt that many young readers’ lives have been helped and saved by their librarians’ open-mindedness and courage. (I have the e-mails to prove it.) Many people consider librarians to be gatekeepers, usually in terms of keeping things out. I also think of librarians as gatekeepers in terms of the people they help through the gates. . . the amazing number of librarians who support and encourage their openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students as they strive to live their lives the way they want to live them (2004, p. 45).

What services and support are most helpful? Two resources that provide exceptionally detailed descriptions of programs and services are Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians (Martin & Murdock, 2007), and the Canadian resource, Challenging Silence, Challenging Censorship: Inclusive Resources, Strategies and Policy Directives for Addressing Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Trans-Identified and Two-Spirited Realities in School and Public Libraries (Schrader & Wells, 2007). Strategies suggested here and by other professional and research articles (see Gardes, 2008; Mehra & Braquet, 2006; and Whelan, 2006) include

  • Celebrating Gay Pride Week, Gay History Month, and GLSEN’s Day of Silence, an annual vow of silence to bring attention to harassment in schools;
  • Providing high-quality fiction materials that let GLBTQ students see themselves positively;
  • Putting bibliographies of GLBTQ literature on the library web site, and adding some of these titles to summer reading lists;
  • Helping create and support Gay-Straight Alliances and other student clubs that address GLBTQ issues; host them in the library;
  • Making GLBTQ materials accessible and visible; including them in booktalks, displays, and pathfinders;
  • Encouraging access to appropriate GLBTQ web sites and where possible eliminating Internet filters;
  • Posting Safe Place or similar notices to let everyone know the school library is a GLBTQ-friendly place and that all students will be treated respectfully;
  • Actively discouraging homophobic talk and providing services in a non-judgmental manner to youth seeking “queer” information;
  • Protecting the privacy and dignity of GLBTQ patrons;
  • Treating GLBTQ students as you would any other student;
  • Including GLBTQ materials in regular programming, remembering that straight students can enjoy this quality literature too;
  • Asking GLBTQ students what they like to read.

Committing to the Safe Haven Alvin Schrader (2007, p. 5) asks librarians, “ Do we as a public service profession – and as a society – believe that all young people should be safe and deserve dignity and respect at the library and at school?” Of course all educators will answer yes. But do we all ensure this respect for our GLBTQ students? Bridge observes,

The literature has proved that some librarians are very aware of the inequality of service provided to this user group and have been writing about the issue for more than thirty years. That the same issues are still being raised despite radical changes to equality laws in society confirms that LGBT teenagers remain an invisible minority (2010, p. 20).

For many people the death of Tyler Clementi made homophobia visible. When we understand the needs and experiences of our students, when we build diverse, rich, inclusive and accessible collections, when we provide services that reflect and support our students’ dignity and value, when we reclaim the safety of our spaces, then we truly do offer our GLBTQ students the safe havens they students need. We show them they are no longer invisible.

References

Alexander, L. B., & Miselis, S. D. (2007). Barriers to GLBTQ collection development and strategies for overcoming them. Young Adult Library Services, 5(3), 43-49. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/yalsapubs/yals/youngadultlibrary.cfm Associated Press. (2010, December 6). Bergen Youth Orchestra to honor former member Tyler Clementi. NJ.com. Retrieved from http://www.nj.com/‌news/‌index.ssf/‌2010/‌12/‌bergen_youth_orchestra_to_hono.html Boon, M, H., & Howard V. (2004). Recent lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender fiction for teens: Are Canadian public libraries providing adequate collections? Collection Building (23)3: 133-8. . Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/products/journals/journals.htm?id=cb Bosman, E., Bradford, J. P. (2008). Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered literature: A genre guide (R. B. Ridinger, Ed.). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited. Bridge, S. (2010). No place on the shelves? Are Northern Ireland’s school libraries addressing the information needs of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students? (Master’s thesis, Aberystwyth University, Ceredigion, United Kingdom). Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/‌2160/‌5714 Cook, J. C. (2004). GLBTQ teen literature: Is it out there in Indiana? Indiana Libraries, 23(2), 25-28. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.iupui.edu/handle/1805/112 Cart, M., & Jenkins, C. (2006). The heart has its reasons: Young adult literature with gay/lesbian/queer content, 1969-2004. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. Curry, A. (2005). If I ask, will they answer? Reference & User Services Quarterly, 45(1), 65-75. Retrieved from http://www.rusq.org/ Gardes, T. (2008). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning teens in your library media center. CSLA Journal, 32(1), 23-24. Retrieved from http://www.csla.net/pub/journal.htm Gardner, C. A. (2006). Welcoming our GLBT patrons. Virginia Libraries, 52(2), 45-50. Retrieved from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/VALib/ Greenblatt, E. (2003). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender library users: Overcoming the myths. Colorado Libraries, 29, 21-25. Haskell, R., & Burtch, B. E. (2010). Get that freak: Homophobia and transphobia in high schools. Winnipeg, Canada: Fernwood. Hoheb, M. L. (1999). Missing mirrors: Literacy experiences of adolescent lesbians. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (AAT 9952918) Johnson, M. (2010). Transgender subject access: History and current practice. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 48(8), 661-683. doi:10.1080/01639370903534398 Kenney, B. (2006). Do the right thing. School Library Journal, 52(1), 11. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Diaz, E. M., & Bartkiewicz, M. J. (2010). The 2009 national school climate survey. Retrieved from Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network website: http://www.glsen.org/‌binary-data/‌GLSEN_ATTACHMENTS/‌file/‌000/‌001/‌1675-5.PDF Levithan, D. (2004). Supporting gay teen literature. School Library Journal, 50(10), 44-45. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com Limited shelf life. (2010). School Library Journal, 56(7), 15-15. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com Linville, D. (2004). Beyond picket fences: What gay/queer/LGBTQ teens want from the library. Voice of Youth Advocates, 27(3), 183-186. Retrieved from http://www.voya.com/ Martin, H. J., & Murdock, J. R. (2007). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning teens: A how-to-do-it manual for librarians. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman. McClary, C., & Howard, V. (2007). From “homosexuality” to “transvestites”: An analysis of subject headings assigned to works of GLBT fiction in Canadian public libraries. Canadian Journal of Information & Library Sciences, 31(2), 149-162. Retrieved from http://www.utpjournals.com/cjils/cjils.html Mehra, B., & Braquet, D. (2006). A “queer” manifesto of interventions for libraries to “come out” of the closet! A study of “queer” youth experiences during the coming out process. LIBRES: Library & Information Science Research Electronic Journal, 16(1), 1-29. Retrieved from http://libres.curtin.edu.au/ Moss, E. (2008). An inductive evaluation of a public library GLBT collection. Collection Building, 27(4), 149-156. doi:10.1108/01604950810913715 Rauch, E. W. (2010). GLBTQ collections are for every library serving teens! Voice of Youth Advocates, 33(3), 216-218. Retrieved from http://www.voya.com Rockefeller, E. I. (2009). Selection, inclusion, evaluation and defense of transgender-inclusive fiction for young adults: A resource guide. Journal of LGBT Youth, 6(2), 288-309. doi:10.1080/19361650902962641 Rothbauer, P. (2004). The internet in the reading accounts of lesbian and queer young women: Failed searches and unsanctioned reading. Canadian Journal of Information & Library Sciences, 28(4), 89-110. Retrieved from http://www.utpjournals.com/cjils/cjils.html    Rothbauer, P. M., & Lynne E.F. McKechnie. (2000). The treatment of gay and lesbian fiction for young adults in selected prominent reviewing media. Collection Building, 19(1), 5-16. Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/products/journals/journals.htm?id=cb   Schrader, A. M. (2007). “I thought I’d find myself at the library”: LGBTQ services & collections in public and school libraries. PNLA Quarterly, 72(1), 4-9. Retrieved from http://www.pnla.org/ Schrader, A. M., & Wells, K. (2007). Challenging silence, challenging censorship: Inclusive resources, strategies and policy directives for addressing bisexual, gay, lesbian, trans-identified and two-spirited realities in s_wpnonce=bf8f1a15de

Virtual Libraries — The Human Touch

The Quandary

This first problem I had this week when I began researching this topic was determining the difference between a “virtual” library and a “digital” library. Wikipedia offers a definition of digital library as “a library in which collections are stored in digital formats (as opposed to print, microform, or other media) and accessible by computers.” It does not include a definition for virtual library (other than calling it an “older term”) The professional literature and popluar culture seem to be equally divided as I found references to both terms in the literature, as well as lots of results for both terms in Google searches.

After exchanging emails with Joanne, and doing some reflecting on the various sites I was seeing, I decided to go with this approach. I would ignore sites that are basically repositories of stored information, such as digitized material, (for example, the Lois Hole Campus Alberta Digital Library or Voice of the Shuttle), and concentrate on sites that offer a variety of resources and library services to their patrons.

The Traditional View

One of the first articles I read was virtual SCHOOL LIBRARIES–THE TIME IS NOW!, by Audrey Church. Written in 2005, the article identifies why school library web sites first became so important.Church says, “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. . . . 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.”

As I read this, I thought, “This is exactly why I built my first library web page 15 years ago. The problem is that I don’t know that my current site has progressed much beyond that view!”

What Am I Looking For?

At this point it was obvious to me that I need some specific characteristics to be looking for as I searched for high-quality sites, so I turned next to Joyce Valenza’s page, A WebQuest About  School Library Websites. Her Introduction, to me, is the perfect description of what a virtual school library web page should be. Of course Valenza’s own site at Springfield Township High School Virtual Library exemplifies her description.

“Your library Web page is your second front door. It meets your students where they live, play, and work! It creates signage for students and staff. The effective library Web page pulls together, in one unified interface, all of a library’s resources–print and electronic. It offers guidance while it fosters independent learning. It models careful selection. It offers valuable public service and can redefine “community.” It can even lead users back to print. A good library Web page, whether in traditional HTML, or blog, or wiki format, offers implicit instruction and projects an important image of the librarian as an information professional.”

Whew! Sounds easy, right?

Valenza acknowledges that creating such sites is not easy, and the librarians should look around the web, find what is there, and build on the work of others. The characteristics she suggests we should judge sites on include

  • content,
  • usability/design, and
  • special features, which are features that other sites don’t have. I decided to look for sites using Web 2.0 features for this last category.

Becoming Virtual

 In their 2008 article in Teacher Librarian, the virtual teacher-librarian: establishing and maintaining an effective web presence, Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson further refine the difference between a traditional library web site and a virtual one. “Much more than a static library web page, a web presence provides an ongoing, virtual connection with students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members.” They point out that a good web site will help the teacher librarian provide high quality resources both in and outside of school hours.

 Lamb and Johnson provide a list of steps to follow to achieve this “web presence.” These steps provide another list of criteria for identifying quality sites. These include

  • digital versions of various activities such as library orientations, tutorials, and FAQ pages;
  • 24/7 access to the library’s catalogue and online databases;
  • differentiated materials for students at different ability/grade levels;
  • activities to encourage student involvement in the site, such as blogs;
  • tools that help collaboration, such as wikis;
  • modeling innovative techniques, such as including your own videos; and
  • promoting the physical library by advertising its services or polling students.

 Building Community

In her article, The Real and the Virtual: Intersecting Communities at the Library , Kelly Czarnecki emphasizes the importance of the library in building community. “Building community: What a powerful phrase and a tremendous responsibility for a library. It is an even more powerful feeling to step back and see the community grow as a result of what you’re doing with library services to create new groups of people and new ways to share and discover information.”

Since today’s teens love to create content online, we should be encouraging them to create content online in our libraries too. “The kinds of interaction that result from teens being able to participate (through allowing access) in virtual communities and create content while at the library is a rich topic for research.” Czarnecki suggests strategies such as

  • setting up a Flickr account for your library (showing photos of teens involved in library programs),
  • sponsoring after-hours gaming programs,
  • using blogs and wikis, and
  • appealing to music-loving teens by having iTunes available after hours.

 Now I was ready to look at web sites. I decided to focus on these areas:

  1. Content – catalogue, databases, tutorials, pathfinders, currency, Ask-a-librarian
  2. Usability/design – navigation, clarity, links work, clean interface
  3. Web 2.0 features – blogs, wikis, other
  4. Student or patron involvement in the site

Looking at Sites

Site 1: Harry Ainlay High School Library

I started close to home, with an Edmonton high school page, created by stellar t-l, Rob Poole. There is wide range of content, including links to all databases, an online catalogue, FAQ’s, and much more. The site is attractive and professional looking, with dropdown menus providing easy navigation. A password-protected blog for the student book club is available. Other than some student photos, no student content is evident.

Site 2: Learning Resources – J. Percy Page

Although there is no online catalogue, Janet Jorgensen’s site has excellent content, offering extensive links to databases, E-books, some assignments, and web sites for every subject area taught at the school. The site is almost all text-based, with a clear, clean interface with no broken links. There is no Web 2.0 content. Book reviews have been posted by the Book Review Club.

Site 3: Walker Middleton School Library

This site uses a number of Web 2.0 applications used (blogs, Animoto videos, polls, collaboration wiki). The catalogue is online, but there are no other links to library resources such as databases, E-books, etc. It showcases media but almost all of the content has been created by staff, although the videos show students involved in special projects in the library. Navigation is confusing, as the left hand links don’t seem to be in any logical order. Students are encouraged to contribute book suggestions as blog comments, and there are several polls.

Site 4: Birch Lane Virtual Library

This elementary school site is a bare bones school library web site that looks rather unappealing. It has an online catalogue, and links to various web sites. A number of the links do not work. There is no student content, and no web 2.0 content.

Site 5: St. Andrew’s Episcopal Upper School Library

With an online catalogue, databases, research tools, links to many research projects, and the Ask- A-Librarian feature, this site is a superb resource for its students. Students can use instant messaging to chat with the librarian. Some research projects are posted as wikis, and students are encouraged to create wikis and blogs, although I see no student content on the site itself other than some photos of students.

Site 6: Smith Elementary Library  

This page is a strong contrast to the other elementary library site I reviewed. Content includes the online catalogue, and databases. The navigation is clear but the Books and Reading page is not working at this time. Research Projects are arranged on a page called a wiki, but actually consists of links to various other pages arranged in a wide variety of formats, none of them wikis. The strongest feature of this site is the student content on the home page, which includes podcasts, wikis, and blogs created by the students. I label this one a MUST SEE for that reason.

Site 7: Creekview High School Media Center Home Page 2007-08

My response to this site is WOW! There is lots of content here, including superb pathfinders and all kinds of research help, library FAQ, and the online catalogue. I found navigating the page a bit confusing, as there is so much on one page. This would benefit from a set of clear links at the bottom of thepage (what’s there is incomplete). This is still my vote for #1, however, because there is all kinds of student content as well as nifty web 2.0 applications, such as a PageFlakes page, various blogs, videos, and more.

Site 8: Edmonton Public Library

I love my public library site! In addition to the catalogue, we have access to many quality databases. The site offers services to various groups, including children, teens, teachers, and people new to Canada. The library has the Ask-A-Librarian service, which you can access from 9:00-3:30 weekdays, or via email. Staff have created pathfinders on commonly-researched topics, and teachers can request that one be created for their classes. RSS feeds are available for various topics, one of which is book reviews by library patrons. Navigation of the site has recently been improved, and the interface is clean and logical. I see no web 2.0 features except for a slide show of upcoming events.

The Biggest Challenge – Being Human

What have I learned from doing this research? The best school library sites are those with the strongest human component. The wonderful web 2.0 features work because caring adults make them work, and involve students in their creation. But there is another factor that I think we need to examine.

In her article, they might be gurus, Joyce Valenza identifies what for me will be the next big challenge in developing a true virtual school library. She says, “How can we be there for learners’ just-in-time, just-for-me learning experiences? I know that my own online presence scales my guidance and instruction and makes both available to students on weekends and evenings and even when they are sitting 5 feet away. Can we offer independence while we offer as-needed intervention? Can we be available to students beyond our walls and beyond our hours? Our students live online; they need their libraries online. They need their teacher-librarians online.”

While I believe Joyce is right, given limited resources, staff, and time, I wonder how we can make that work.