Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Neverending Search
Inside Neverending Search

School library websites Part 1: a tour of high school practice

Here’s what I believe:

A teacher librarian should be his or her school’s instructional CIO. 

Especially as more of our schools move to one-to-one, a virtual library is an essential component of school library practice, and of a school’s learning culture.

Through their library websites, librarians can apply and translate their traditional skills for instruction, professional development, reference, collection development, and administration in powerful new ways, in engaging new landscapes.  They can offer 24/7 accessibility and just-in-time, just-for-me learning opportunities. As scalable strategies, school library websites allow librarians to guide unlimited numbers of learners in they journeys to become effective users and creators of ideas and information.

In a post last September, I deconstructed my own new interface.

But I am not alone in my excitement over new mash-up and publishing opportunities, as well as new apps for learning. 

Launched last November, SchoolLibraryWebsites is a collection of self-nominated exemplars of effective practice.  The goal is to celebrate effective examples of web-based practice in all their variety.

As you examine the lists of sites, you’ll discover that, though there may be fifty ways to leave your lover, there are likely a zillion different new ways to mashup a school library website. (Take a look at New Tools Workshop and Assorted Widgets for some of the many building block options.)

Let’s take a two-post tour and begin on the high school level.


For Barb Jansen, librarian at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Upper School Library in Austin, the major purpose of her online presence is to support student learning.  The site provides learners with multiple points of access to information sources and collaborations with their peers. The St. Andrew’s Library site offers guidelines for oral presentations, a web site evaluation guide, a directory of free reference and content-area websites, tools that can aid students in each step of the information search process, the school’s acceptable use and materials selection policy, and assignment organizers.  Barb is especially concerned that her students have ready access to the school’s subscription databases on one web or wiki page "to help promote the use of the accurate and authoritative premium content available through those services."

To further facilitate access, Barb advises librarians to, "contact the technical support departments of each publisher to IP authenticate access from school and create a common login from home. Removing the barriers of logging in at school and the long list of login/password combinations from home goes a long way to promote use."  Additionally, she advises librarians to categorize the databases under appropriate subjects (and to offer a list of information types for each).

Like me, Barb, is a big fan of building with wikis.  She uses them to collaborate with teachers and students and provide one-stop shopping for assignments.  Barb advises:

Building a wiki together allows for teachers to add content and the teacher-librarian to add the strategies and resources that students will use to satisfy requirements and show and evaluate their results. After collaborating with the teacher, build the wiki and ask the teacher to add the task and any other section he or she is creating (or offer to do it for her!). The resource pages serve as the outline for your instruction and a reference for students when they work independently. Essential pages for each wiki include an introduction to the topic; the task; resources (online—websites and subscription databases—and on-shelf resources from your library’s collection); strategies for accessing and citing sources; showing the results; and evaluation—both self evaluation and the rubric you and the teacher will use for assessing the students’ efforts."

See a variety of Barb’s examples here.

Buffy J. Hamilton, aka the Unquiet Librarian, maintains the Unquiet Library for Creekview High School (GA), where, she says:

we use a variety of mediums to connect with our learning community and to stream information for research to our students.  From our primary website–constructed using Google Sites–students can access our diverse menu of places where our library lives on the web.  Our social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Slideshare, and our blog, allow us to provide many free and/or inexpensive entry points of access to library information and services to students, teachers, administrators, and parents

Buffy is a big fan of LibGuides, a subscription-based service, for creating web based information portals or research pathfinders for collaboratively created research projects with students. 

With LibGuides, we can easily embed a wide range of content, including database widgets, videos, RSS feeds from our favorite information sources, instructional handouts, and other content-based widgets.

Buffy’s practice and her program are examples of transparency at its best. Any stakeholder can visit anytime and observe the energy and the learning that identify the Unquiet Library.  The site is filled with Browse Inside widgets promoting new titles. Buffy shares her media-rich monthly reports, as well as her program goals, and library news.  The Unquiet YouTube channel and Flickr sets are an inspiration for those who aspire to vital, modern practice.

Speaking of transparency, Judith Comfort, teacher-librarian at the Dr. Charles Best Secondary School Library (Coquitlam, BC), says that her library’s blog-based site is not so much a virtual place, as an evolving expression of everything that takes place within my daily professional practice

She explains her choice of platform,

Choosing to start with easy-peasy blogging software (because I knew nothing about HTML) turned out to be the luckiest decision I ever made, for two reasons. Not having a learning curve allowed me to jump right in and also the spirit of a constantly changing front page, stuck. Every technological improvement has enhanced what I can do: embedding books & videos, feeding the latest news, linking database articles to assignments. My rule of thumb is that my site must cater to the very specific needs of my students and teachers. No boring lists of links, no matter how tempting the source. Specific to general, is the rule.

Judith publishes nearly everything on her elegant library site: collaborative lessons, workshops, pamphlets, etc. 

And the answer to the question How do you have the time? is – The time it takes is easily compensated by time saved not moving paper around.

She is rightly and especially proud of the site’s online instructional offerings.  As just one example, Judith points to a collaborative teaching unit on Chrysalids in the Twenty-first Century, in which students examined 14 themes in the book by analyzing fear-based societies in 14 different embedded videos.

Media literacy expertise is an increasingly critical strand of Judith’s practice and her professional development offerings.  The workshop she designed for social studies teachers quickly became a resource for participants, and one that she frequently reuses.

Consider also this media literacy lesson which takes kids right into the world of the advertisers who place products. 

Judith points to her News for the Classsroom page, which gathers wide variety of feeds for content area learning, as a strategy toward furthering her major goal of  increased accessibility.

At Newton North High School, library teacher Kevin McGrath hosts the truly interactive Newton North Library Learning Commons

He explains,

What we’re most proud of are the student voices. We are fast becoming the go-to place for students to post information about their projects, clubs, and interests.  Last week a student on the Close-Up trip to Washington, DC posted his Twitter feed on the library website. Another student who started a non-profit foundation to end the child sex trade is using the library website to promote her cause.  Projects resulting from the ‘Earth, Labs and Literature’ class have their work on display both in the learning commons and on the website. We are always looking for ways for students to ‘own’ the website.  Over 600 students have personal accounts on our site, which allows them to access passwords and submit content.

Kevin calls librarian Donna Johns the guru for booktalking and readers advisory.  Her Twitter feed and booktalk blog are continually updated and referred to by students and staff. 

The Newton North online library schedule allows staff to share details of visits to the learning commons amongst staff and serves as a starting point for lesson planning and collaboration. 

Kevin is also a major proponent of pathfinders, especially those that can be

edited on the fly and instantly published on the front page as needed by classes. It is through the context of the library’s pathfinders that students learn the value of subscription materials.  We call the website the textbook for our program!

Built on a wiki, Marie Slim’s Troy Library I Love Libraries site, features a Wordle title linking to the mission statement from Information Power; the library’s Google Calendar;  Flickr widget, LibraryThing widget; Polldaddy polls, a Twitter feed; a Clustrmaps widget, and a widget that counts down the days till the end of school.  My Teacher’s Project shows how connected the Troy library is to instruction in the building.

Marie is especially proud of the content on the site’s navigation bar which includes access to her: Book Trailers; her Library Experience class page; her media-rich Cybersafety page, and her MLA Works Cited materials with its fun and instructive GoAnimate movie.

Carolyn Foote’s Westlake High School Library site is blog-based. She fully explains her platform choice in the SLJ article, "Looking to ramp up your library Web site? Try a blog. 

Carolyn recently made the conversion to a blog

to create a more user friendly, interactive space for students.  I have links to research projects, new books, etc., but then I can always have some dynamic information on the front page, including polls, book review buttons, etc.

For her pathfinders, she prefers wikis, but Carolyn says,

I heard David Loerschner speak and I am now trying out the idea of making the wiki more of a Learning Commons.  I invited students to use the discussion tab of the wiki to contribute their own links for the pathfinder.

And she maintains a Flickr feed, as well as a Facebook and Twitter presence for WHS Library.

Says Carolyn,

I think it’s really important to create a web presence where students can easily find information.  First off, it extends your services beyond the school day–to times when students are doing homework and research.  Secondly, it publicizes what you do so that parents and administrators are aware of the services you are offering.   It needs to have a brand or identity that students recognize as yours.

Coming soon, a post touring exemplars of effective online middle and elementary library practice!

More resources on school library web presence:

(This post is updated from my April Tech Tag Team eVOYA column.)

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. Patty Louis says:

    Another great posting Joyce! Is Part 2 going to be a tour of the elementary websites? I am still struggling to transform my old site.

  2. joycevalenza says:

    Yes, Patty. I am going to be posting on elementary sites in a couple of days.

  3. I really appreciate the depth of the article. It’s very informative.

    And I’m thinking out loud here more than anything because I want to re-do my website this summer. (It’s very static right now.)

    With all of the types of sites you describe, I’m curious why you didn’t go into the platforms of the different sites. One school built its site with Joomla, one with Google, one with blog applications, etc. Ultimately, the content is what drives the site which is what you focused on.

    I am considering whether I want to use a CMS like Joomla or a website generator like Google. There are different choices to make depending on the platform. Thankfully, it’s easy enough to insert Web 2.0 technology into most platforms so the differences aren’t that stark.

    Again, thank you for the article.

  4. joycevalenza says:

    Good question, Erik. I suppose I speak about the content on my own site in this blog all the time. One goal here was to demonstrate and easy and inexpensive it is to create a locally relevant site. And how you might use a variety of platforms with which you already are comfortable. Another goal was to create a kind of *grand tour* pointing to content. I believe the librarians I interviewed did point to content. If you are looking for a greater focus on content, take a look at this webquest based on my research (though it is a bit old).

Speak Your Mind