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Volume 27, Number 3
May/June 2011

Eight Tech Trends for Librarians (and Teachers too!)


Screenshot from web resource Copia.

If the Dewey decimal system is the first thing that comes to mind when the subject of school libraries comes up, it’s time to reboot.

The school library—and the job of the librarian—have both morphed into something that most adults these days would hardly recognize. Helping kids find books to read is only part of the job, say those on the profession’s leading edge. Today, a major mission of the librarian, aka media specialist, is to teach students digital literacy by showing them how to use the Internet to efficiently find, organize, and share information with peers. Here are some of the tools librarians are using to make their jobs easier and more relevant to students as they address this expansion of their role.

  • Digital Catalogues: Books are going digital and so are librarians. Software like Follett's Destiny is making it easier for students to find and check out books within their school’s collection. And, these software products can include social bookmarking technology—in which notes about a book are shared and responded to online as part of learning activities. All the Mankato (Minn.) Area public schools use such software, says Doug Johnson, the district’s media and technology director. “Combining reading and learning using social media is the most exciting thing that is happening in [school] libraries,” he says.
  • Virtual Libraries: Librarians are creating their own virtual libraries—web pages with lots of links to student-friendly online resources. The resWikiources include subject-specific links, suggestions for useful research and organization tools, as well as information about copyright-related issues. Joyce Valenza, award-winning librarian at Springfield Township High School, near Philadelphia, uses free (right) to maintain the Springfield Township High School Virtual Library.
  • Online Research Guides: Valenza also uses a paid software called LibGuides to provide links to databases and subject-specific “pathfinders,” or groups of hyperlinks pertaining to the same subject, like the visual arts, for student research.
  • E-Books: Some schools have arrangements with e-book distributors, like Overdrive, for books that are not yet widely available. Librarians are also pointing students to Project Gutenberg or Google Books for 315free access to older texts that are now in the public domain, such as A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Online Alternatives to Books: For readers and non-readers alike, librarians are pointing students toward non-traditional outlets to encourage both reading and the pursuit of further learning. “Kids really are more visual today,” observes Wendy Stephens, noting the popularity of the Dorling-Kindersley books with their rich, 3-D graphics. Stephens, the librarian at Buckhorn High School in New Market, Ala., encourages her students to explore graphic novel databases, including those for Japanese Manga. She’s also directing her students to mobile storytelling applications like 3:15 Stories (right), where students can read and listen to the initial 10 minutes of a mystery novel to whet their appetite, which then “unlocks” a two-minute video revealing the ending. Librarians are also showing kids how to use online timeline tools like Google news timeline,, Dipity, and applets in archives, for example ProQuest's Historical Newspapers.
  • Note-taking Tools: A big challenge for kids is keeping long, digitally-sourced projects organized and librarians are helping with this, too. Subscription-based Noodle Tools remains a popular note-taking tool. On her library website, Valenza includes pathfinders leading to organizational tools, such as Evernote, and mind-mapping applications, like Glinkr (below), to sort project thoughts.
  • Dashboards: What if your whole academic life could be organized on a single page? Librarians are raving about “dashboards”—a personal gateway to all of a student’s digitized academics, including their digital bookmarks for useful articles and applications. One is NetVibes, used in an award winning library-English department project at Creekview High School in Canton, Ga., in which 10th grade students customized their own gateways using such a dashboard.
  • Oral Reports: Imagine you are a student studying colonialism in Africa by, among other things, readings Things Fall Apart online. How will you present all your information, including photos and video, while still being able to explain everything verbally? One tool librarians are recommending is VoiceThread (right below), which allows students to add their own voice-over to their digital presentation, such as a video or slide show. Christopher Harris, librVoiceary systems director for a group of four rural New York districts, likes the application because students can share their presentations electronically and respond to one another’s work. VideoAnt, a free application created by the University of Minnesota, offers another way to audibly annotate presentations. Other websites are going further to enable social reading online, such as Copia. Or students can just record their literary reflections. Yodio and Audacity are two tools that can be used for sound when creating book podcasts to upload. And, then? “You then tweet it, or push it to your social network,” explains Stephens.
Reboot complete.

Dave Saltman is a writer and teacher in the Los Angeles area, and a contributor to Spotlight on Technology in Education (Harvard Education Press, 2011).