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Databases: Can we get teachers to love ’em?

In the spirit of a dear Abby who doesn’t have all the answers (but gets the power of social networking):

I wanted to share an email I received from a couple of high school librarians somewhere in Georgia (with a remarkable website!).  They asked to remain anonymous. 

It is a challenge enough to sell our databases to our students, but how do you deal with that mindset with teachers who also do not buy into the value of databases as information sources?  We have access to about 15 great databases (many of the same ones that you do) in addition to many more through GALILEO here; we create pathfinder pages to direct the kids to the “good stuff”; we also use non-database research sources to complement the databases.  Yet we have many teachers here who will not even come to the library (they just turn their kids loose on Google even after we have done pathfinder pages with them), or who say it is too hard for the kids to find information there (even though, as far as we can tell, they HAVE successfully found what they needed).

We are at our wits end here as to strategies for getting our teachers on board . . .

I don’t think our friends from Georgia are alone.  In fact, after you read this post, go back and listen to the EdTechTalk from August on the topic of teachers and databases.

Here are some of my ideas and strategies. They’re not 100% and they may not work in every school culture.  Please comment with your own!

  • I am surprised that so many young teachers I meet get through their own pre-service research without ever discovering a database.  Some I meet reveal that they Googled through their undergrad research.  That’s okay, I suppose if they used it to discover quality content.  At the beginning of each school year I am lucky to be granted a full day with new teachers to discuss our research culture, our resources, our expectations.  I suspect our administrators are happy that I can fill a day with this stuff.
  • We have an eighth grade unit on evaluation that we’ve placed in the social studies curriculum.  I present this PowerPoint on evaluating sources (I know, it needs a makeover), and I show a bit of the film I worked on for Schlessinger Video.
  • I volunteer to assess students’ preliminary works cited pages for major papers and projects.  This takes some of the work and onus off the classroom teacher and promotes my efforts as an instructional partner.  Students know my expectations are high, that they include use of databases, and they are a little afraid of my scrutiny. 
  • We have to work with teachers to ensure their project rubrics include use of quality sources in general. When it makes sense, the rubrics should include use of relevant databases.
  • We need to do better database marketing.  My students did a film for me last year and I did a Voicethread I’d love folks to contribute to.  But having seen many new streaming video strategies I want to make a better one this year.  Imagine if we could create some in the far more clever style of CommonCraft.  I still want to create a LibraryTube for us to share our best video efforts. 
  • We need widgets/gadgets so that teachers and students can pull the databases they most need into their iGoogle pages.  Vendors, are you listening.
  • We need an affordable federated search (to search across all our online resources–search tools, OPAC, databases).  This federated search should not cost as much as a database itself.  It should not force us to make further budget sacrifices.  It should understand the idiosyncratic nature of the many databases we own.  It should make it easier for teachers and students to discover the beauty of databases.
  • We need to de-crimilalize use of Google in libraries. Sometimes we act like the research Gestapo in our scrutiny of search behavior.  Google works.  Google rocks. And yes, we can all use it better.
  • We need to do a better job describing our resources.  No teacher (or kid) knows what EBSCO is or what individual databases live it its large suite.  Our pathfinders must bust these tools out of their traps and describe them in teacher- and kid-friendly language.

My friends in Georgia already use some of these strategies.  Let’s help each other with some comments, new ideas, new resources for promotion!  Friends, please share.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. I absolutely agree with decrimilalizing Google. Elitism will not help. We should be helping students and staff use the Advanced Search features instead of scolding them like little children.

  2. HEATHER LOY says:

    Thanks Joyce, wonderful article and resources for me to explore. It’s so frustrating to spend time going over evaluating sources & database access/searching, linking everything from the library website, only to see students go straight to Google instead of actually use the databases we just talked about! I wish students would start with the databases and then go to Google. Especially considering how much our state, district and/or school’s are paying for these resources. They don’t understand that if students don’t use it we’ll loose it as the district/state/school will stop paying for it.

  3. I feel “the pain” on this one. Maybe using web 2.0 tools – still new to many kids, thus “cooler” than a website pathfinder, can help. I find putting “teacher-selected websites (including databases)” on a wiki page with other project requirements, works. The kids think their teacher picked the sites to be used for the project (thus they feel they should use them). The teacher feels good about basking in the glow of collaboration and being viewed by students as “cool” enough to “pick and wiki” sites for them. Also, if we can encourage teachers to build enough lead time into projects, where we can get students to “build and wiki” a project-specific annotated pathfinder, for which “points” will be awarded (assessment)with database entries weighted more heavily, maybe that would work. At our school the “volume and pace” (not to be confused with “scope and sequence”) is daunting. Kids (and teachers) feel the crush of content over process. For kids, if it’s not assessed, “fuggedaboutit”. For teachers, if not one of the many district initiatives, no time. I feel “the pain”….

  4. Liz Philippi says:

    Joyce this is a great post, and you really hit the “nail on the head” with many of your suggestions. I firmly believe that it is up to US as librarians to draw our students and teachers into the “wonders” of databases, and I also think that many of us are doing the things you suggest with limited results. I feel there are two things that will really help us change the way teachers and students look at databases; the first is addressing the use of databases in the Academic world, in other words our new teachers need to learn in undergrad schools about the benefits of databases, I am really not sure how to accomplish this, but I think it is a good starting point; the second is the use of federated search tools, and like you state the cost HAS to come down! Our district priced 2 different overlays that are wonderful and would give us a “one stop shop” for searching BUT the were both WAY out of our price range! I am just waiting for this to happen, until then we will have to keep trying the other suggestions and hang in there. Again thanks for the post and the ideas on how to work on a problem we all face!

  5. Just one thing to add to this important discussion, I have started calling our databases “virtual libraries” and describing them as containing so many books and articles that we couldn’t possibly afford or have the place to store in our library, things that are not available on the internet. It’s certainly not the answer to all the questions raised here, but my students (and some teachers!) seem to get this. I hope this discussion continues.

  6. Joyce Valenza says:

    Great ideas, gang. It looks like we’re all struggling. Common themes: federated search options have to be priced for our market. Wiki pathfinders are good things. We wish teachers learned more about the world of research before they begin to teach. We can’t make this our one-note battle. It’s a good banner, we have to wave it more gently, and we have a few others to wave as well.

  7. We struggle at our Middle and Upper schools with the same issues. I just keep bringing up databases every time a teacher brings a class in. I demonstrate how to search the databases and talk about the benefits of using them. The Middle School faculty are completely on board, and the students are getting better about using databases now that they are required too! The Upper School faculty (most of them) have finally accepted that database resources are just as valid as the ones you can hold in your hands. We are in the process of migrating to Follett’s Destiny Library Manager, and we’ve subscribed to OneSearch, which is supposed to allow us to search our databases and catalog at the same time. We’ll see how it goes! Regarding Google, we don’t criminalize it at all, but I have started showing the students other search engines like my new favorites, Clusty and Surfwax. Some search engines are better than others for different research needs.

  8. Joanne T. says:

    Has anyone come up with an easy & clever description of either EBSCO, GALE, SIRS,or FACTS on FILE REFERENCE Suite? I want something that will help them remember at least part of what I demo for them.

  9. I am very fortunate that at the high and upper schools where I’ve been the LMS I convinced teachers and administration (that is key) to require subscription database use on assignments, much as they are required to use NoodleBib. My Electronic Resources pages have both subscription and selected free sites for subject areas, and most students use both. It is up to the individual teacher to grade/assign or withdraw points for their use. I volunteer to comment on bibliographies in progress and as the assignment is handed in. Some teachers take me up on it. I agree that we need to teach Advanced Search techniques whether using Google or Questia or an EBSCO resource. I tend to stress less time wasted, instead of “effective and efficient” when talking with kids.

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