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on gifts and givebacks and access

Each year around this time, our halls are filled with college freshmen returning to their old high school to share their stories and visit with old friends (and old teachers).  Each year around this time, some very nice students stop by the library to say "hello" to their old librarian.  Many share their freshman research experience with me.  Over the years I’ve gotten a number of thank yous for insisting on a serious research attitude, thoughtful inquiry, evaluation of sources, effective communication, etc.

Occasionally, I get a formal written thank you.  Those are always great gifts. 

Ted wrote to specifically share his gratitude for an early introduction to academic resources:

Mrs. Valenza–

Ted Edwards here.  I just wrapped up my first semester at Penn State, and thought I’d drop you a line.  I took for granted the library and the resources I had in high school.  It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized all I was provided in high school.  I saw fellow students struggle with their research and writing research papers, whereas for me, it was a breeze.  No doubt due to the hours I spent in your library on ProQuest, Galenet, JSTOR, etc.

More than once, I found myself utilizing some of the resources from the library web page to find some primary resources, etc.  Also, in my history lecture, my professor brought up JSTOR, and asked if anyone had any experience it.  I was the ONLY one in my 100-student lecture.  Needless to say, my professor was impressed.

Well, thanks a lot Mrs. Valenza, I’m sure you’ll see me floating around the building sometime in the next few months.

Keep up the good work!  Be well, and happy holidays.

     Teddy Edwards (Class of 09)

This has not been an ordinary year anywhere. (See my belt tightening post.)

And Teddy’s email came right on the heels of another email from Commonwealth Libraries regarding the impending cuts in our state database program:

December 22, 2009
Dear Library Community:
I am writing to update you on the status of the POWER Library. 
The contracts for the POWER Library databases will expire December 31, 2009.  The Pennsylvania Department of Education issued an RFP for POWER Library Databases, and the proposals are currently being evaluated by agency staff.  Our goal is to complete the selection process in time for the POWER Library continues into 2010 without interruption. 
Because of the reduction to the Library Access line item in the 2009-2010 budget, the scope of the RFP was limited to the following categories:
•    General full-text periodical database
•     Newspaper index
•     Business Reference
•     Combination of the above databases

Within the current the economic conditions, we are hoping to continue to provide high quality databases of general interest to the public at large and to our K-12 students in particular.  However, it is reasonable to expect most subject specific databases will no longer be available after December 31, 2009.   
We have heard from all types of libraries about the importance and value of the scope of POWER Library offerings.  We will seek to make additional databases available as options and opportunities present themselves. 
Thank you for your input and your support of the POWER Library.

Susan Pannebaker | Director
Bureau of Library Development
Office of Commonwealth Libraries
Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market St. | Harrisburg, PA 17126-1745

Teddy is just one of hundreds of students each year who benefit from our rich online collection of resources.  Our kids are very fortunate.

Our school library will continue to provide a basic collection of subject-specific resources to students even when they are eliminated from our state database suite.  The selection will be smaller, of course, but we have a budget.  

For many students in Pennsylvania, the database suite provided by POWER Library is their only access to carefully selected and aggregated online academic content. 

I worry about those students whose access to academic content will be even more limited. Yes, more journals are going open source. (And some very few teachers will suggest a trip to DOAJ.) Yes, more books are being googlized

And yes, many of my very favorite edtech friends do not get the value of the content provided by major licensed-content aggregators Galenet and ProQuest and ABC-CLIO and EBSCO and JSTOR and so many others.

Clearly, the fulltext databases and journals many of our teachers respect, continue to be respected and expected at the university.

While I was celebrating the lovely note Teddy sent,  I found part of his email kind of disturbing:

I was the ONLY one in my 100-student lecture.  

Why did Ted find himself alone in this category? 

Why aren’t more students accustomed to academic databases before they hit the university? 

Is this a function of budget alone?

I wonder how many high school cultures do not value this academic content?  How many library budgets have been sliced to the point of free content only?  How many of those freshman students at our largest state university came through high schools without library programs or a without a web presence that provided easy access to the free content offered by our POWER Library? 

How many legislators and administrators get that these online tools they cannot see and touch, tools that look like an easy cut in a state budget, are as essential as textbooks to high school students with academic aspirations?

Even in a time of belt tightening, we need to ensure that all students, students like Teddy, leave our high schools with an introduction to academic resources. 


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. Jane Lofton says:

    Sadly, in California, Teddy would find himself surrounded by even more students entering university without being educated in information literacy or having exposure to quality web sources. The California School Library Association has promoted legislation to fund state-supported databases, but such legislation has never passed, so it is only in districts or schools that pay for their own subscriptions that students get access and education in the use of databases for research. And, as budgets for both library staff and resources is cut to the bone, the situation is becoming worse and worse. What we do have in our favor is a small but incredibly dedicated group of school library people who are doing all they can to promote school libraries and make sure the situation is reversed when the economy turns around. In the meantime, it is so painful knowing what we owe our students in terms of information literacy education, and how little of that so many of them are getting.

  2. Andromeda Jazmon says:

    I am sad at all we are losing in the POWER library cutbacks too. It’s always worth the effort to seek & find the best resources for our students & faculty.

    Congrats on the Edublogger award! We are always learning from you.

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