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On Database 2.0: reflecting on our panel and developing the PSAs

It’s been over a week since the very wonderful SLJ Summit and I’ve had a little time to reflect on the panel I was charged to facilitate.  The video above (performed by my daughter Emily) asked some of my questions of this illustrious panel:

  • Andrew Schlessinger, CEO & Co-Founder, SAFARI Montage
  • Roger Rosen, President and CEO of Rosen Publishing Group 
  • Michael Campbell, Director of Marketing, Follett Software 
  • Alison Zepp, Follett Library Resources
  • Gail Lewis, Capstone Digital Solutions 
  • Jay Flynn, Vice-President and Publisher, K-12, Gale
  • Jennifer Slackman, Scholastic, Director of Marketing, Scholastic Digital Learning,

First a personal reflection on logistics. This panel experience absolutely affirmed for me that the room is very smart and good things happen when you let the room talk!  Our panelists and participants experienced three very different, very valuable conversations as a result of their interactions with three different rooms. 

Nevertheless, some ideas recurred across the three sessions:

  • Younger students need databases too.  We so often talk about high school products.  Elementary and middle school needs are critical. We need to make databases attractive to emergent readers and their teachers. We are training younger children to look at quality, to look for quality, to value selective content.  We need to start early. I am certain that Gail Lewis of Capstone felt reassured that the new PebbleGo animal database, aimed at primary learners, was a welcome addition to the K12 market.
  • It would be nice to have a federated search that allowed users to efficiently search across our various products, with an understanding of their individual structures and idiocyncracies.
  • It would be nice if databases shared some of Google’s best new features and if learners found familiar finding tools–like Google’s WonderWheel–across their favorite databases.  I believe it was Deb Levitov who suggested we invent something called Schgoogle.
  • In schools that value timely content, local relevance, problem solving databases can function as the new textbook. Our vendors are conscious of the need for interactive, collaborative tools to support learning and embedding such tools in their products.
  • We want our databases to play nice with third party applications like NoodleBib (or other citation generators), social bookmarking tools like Diigo, Delicious, and through their widgets wikis, blogs, Facebook, Nings, Moodle, etc. (This is personally very important to me. I see teachers who rely on social bookmarking, avoid databases as sources because it makes the process too messy.)
  • We need to let others beyond the library world in on the value of databases–ed tech people, administrators, school boards, parents, legislators. Our favorite vendors each do a fine job marketing their own products, but outside of the industry, most folks who use databases take them for granted and don’t likely give a hoot about the brand names of database companies. Those who don’t use them don’t understand what they are missing by not using them–the quality content, the selection, the lack of noise, the developmental appropriateness.  Can we get the industry to work together to promote databases as a value?  (Yes, we can.  More on this in a minute.)

I asked our vendors to share their thoughts on the panel experience:

From Roger Rosen:

Thanks for organizing such a worthwhile panel discussion. I was pleased to participate and pleased to get such positive validation for so many of our 2.0 database strategies: ever more interactivity; utilization of widgets for ease of entry; social networking capability; user-created content; the need for ever more content in the K-6 space to support younger learners; the urgency to structure content for ease of interaction with Blackboard, Moodle, Noodletools, etc.; and the potential and enthusiasm for databases to serve as textbooks.
 I found all of these mandates affirming and exciting. Perhaps the message that created the greatest sense of urgency for me, however, was the need to work in partnership with our librarian colleagues to create PSAs for the public: parents, students, and the business community, as well as school administrators and information technology directors who don’t fully understand the importance of authoritative sources of information and the distinction between such databases and free online data. We at Rosen are ready to step up to help our community with this: while to understand the need shouldn’t  be "brain surgery," the need for all learners to approach content with intellectual rigor is in fact as serious as brain surgery.

From Gail Lewis:

One of the main takeaways for me from my time as a panelist was that vendors and library media specialists are already working together to create database 2.0. In my opinion, database 2.0 isn’t about features – it’s about being where the kids are in a format that they can use. Buzzwords like differentiated learning, scaffolding and multi-modal are really pointing to accessibility in different learning styles. Many of the panelists offer databases that speak to this need, and it was great to hear librarians speak passionately about this. The questions of budget priorities aren’t going to go away, but I think our role as library media specialists forces us to make tough budget decisions already – our challenge ahead is to spend our budget on resources that help kids learn not only content but also 21st century skills to prepare them for their future studies and work life. What a great topic – such passion, and ideas for the future.

From Michael Campbell:

It was such a great experience to sit in front of such an informed audience.  The questions and comments really added value, as well as a "to do" list for myself and my colleagues at Follett Software Company.  Relevancy, user-sensitive, and ease-of-use were key takeaways for me.  Database providers need to make sure that a search produce relevant results in the education environment.  We need more user-sensitive databases, ie recognition of age appropriate, grade appropriate, reading level search results.  Finally, databases need to be user friendly, providers need to have APIs that work with competitive databases, so that a student or educator can search all databases owned/leased. 

From Andrew Schlessinger:

The experience was fun. I will support your efforts wherever possible. Let me know if you are serious about a PSA. My personal feeling is that the message will resonate more with the public, school boards and superintendants if it shows what happens when students don’t have access to an authoritative database, school library or librarian…because the three are intertwined. Also, it is more dramatic to show the damage that can befall a student that doesn’t have this access.

And for more reflection, visit the blogs of others who took part:










My own very big takeaway (especially at the moment in time when my own POWER Library Pennsylvania databases have been dramatically slashed by our own state legislators):

Our database publisher partners get it.  They will work with us to create tools to help us save quality content for the learners we teach and serve. We have the offer of professional resources to create cross-industry PSAs. Tools to help us explain the need for quality subscription content to underinformed administrators.  Tools to use in front of PTA and school board meetings. Tools we can use to convince legislators these are not educational extras. Tools to ensure an equity of resources for all of our students.

And so, my big question for you, dear readers:

What should this series of PSAs look like?  Will you help me help our publishers develop them?

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. Emily sang it all very well, kudos on the database song. A great way to “hear” what you have been saying oh so well.

  2. This is very interesting? Is the children utilized such resources? or are they just using Google instead? I know my eldest just uses search engines and so my younger ones for their paper. I haven’t step foot in a library yet.

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