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Evolving the virtual school library: middle and elementary practice

In a recent post I took you on a short tour of high school library website practice.  Now let’s examine some of our colleagues’ efforts on the middle and elementary fronts.

On the middle school front:

Murray Hill Middle School (MD)

Gwyneth Jones began her tech career when she created an electronic portfolio with Netscape Composer in 1997.  The site since morphed into a beautiful iWeb site hosting pages for her academic, professional development links.

Eight years since that initial effort, inspired by a presentation about library blogs at the 2005 AASL Pittsburgh conference, Gwyneth slowly developed the lively and engaging Murray Hill Middle School (MD) Library Media Blog  which she describes as a great way to communicate with the kids and my community. She claims that her first wiki really changed her life. 

No more did I have to fetch or FTP my code to an outside server.  It meant immediate gratification and the ability to create and adjust web pages on the fly for kids, teachers, and the community.  I made a lot of mistakes early on and it took me a while to go transparent.

Gwyneth recently rebranded her professional blog, the Daring Librarian, noting, I really think it’s vital to have a web presence out there for my kids and for my career.  With her highly visual Web content and learner-friendly media, Gwyneth indeed has a brand!

On the elementary front:

Herricks Virtual Library Media Center (NY)

Karen Kliegman says that her district’s combined school library site was inspired by hearing David Loertscher speak about the virtual learning commons concept at at NECC last July.

The idea resonated with me and I decided to pull together our three elementary school librarians the following month with the goal of getting rid of our individual library sites and creating one common site. This site would be a virtual learning space in which we would begin to build a knowledge community that spanned across our district and reach all members of our community.

As a Google Certified Teacher, Karen felt confident that Google Sites would work as a platform that inspired collaboration and that it would allow for the easy embedding of files, schedules, surveys, videos, and announcements.

Karen organized the Virtual Library Information and Technology Center site into five sections: Student Space, Teacher Space, Parent Space, Librarian Space, and the Virtual Learning Commons. She describes the goal of this space as twofold:

  • to serve as a portal to information, reading promotion, and Web 2.0 resources and
  • to serve as a Virtual Knowledge Center, in which we showcase librarian/classroom/special area collaborative projects being worked on at our three elementary schools.

So far, the response to the site has been overwhelmingly positive.

Our students use it frequently, especially for research tools and resources. The homepage excites them, I use Wix and change it up every month. Each of the school librarians promotes the site in their own library to teachers and parents.

Karen is particularly proud that the Virtual Media Center promotes sharing,

modeling collaboration across the district. We have just started working on our project yearbook, where we are highlighting project-based learning across the three district elementary libraries.

D.L. "Dusty" Dickens Elementary School Library Media Center (NV)

Christina Bentheim maintains the D.L. "Dusty" Dickens Elementary School Library Media Center (Dickens LMC).  She describes the school’s previous site as 

a simple HTML page with pixelated graphics and outdated information, buried deep into the abyss of cyberspace with an extraordinarily long URL. My challenge–in addition to changing the overall image of the library–was to put together a comprehensive site that students, teachers, and other school library professionals would want to bookmark because of its simplicity and overall usefulness.

Christina’s hidden talents are evident in her site building.

Before I became a teacher and subsequently a school librarian, I worked in a boutique marketing and public relations firm for HP. As I set out to design the Dickens LMC website, I put my previous experience to use thinking about user interface, content, and most importantly–access. I knew from previewing other school library websites that I wanted to have more information than less, and that it had to be fresh, current, and inviting. Among my initial steps were creating a brand–the Dickens LMC–and mapping out what information I needed to get out to my audience. Because I am a self-proclaimed Web 2.0 junkie, my web tools were the first to be implemented. Once I had my Web 2 widgets in place, I plunked in the other elements such as the Reading Corner (full-length books can be read online), access to district- and school-purchased databases, FAQs, links for all members of our school community, and so on.

As a building platform, Christina opted to use the premium version of PBwiki, PBworks.

With the premium membership ($100/year), I have more customization options than I could ever ask for allowing me to easily change everything from the background image to removing the wiki interface completely so that it is just like a regular website.

The current home page flash introduction was created using the site. It’s more engaging and kid-friendly! She recently integrated a Meebo bar at the bottom of each page for easy sharing and to create "a stickier interface." Library computer stations display an installed Conduit bar, which provides quick and easy access to Christina’s blog, the Dickens LMC orientation (for new teachers), the catalog and materials request forms, as well as direct access to databases and other links.

Her 800 elementary students especially like it when Christina posts new photo slideshows. They look for themselves, of course!
Her biggest challenge has been getting staff to use this site as a home base resource for ed tech tools, as well as for access to articles and information of interest and relevance.

She works to integrate the site into her formal all-staff professional development Tech Tuesday and Web 2.0 Wednesday sessions.

My previous marketing experience comes in handy all of the time because I find I am constantly striving to create needs for various components of my program to various individuals …  

Christina is proudest of her teacher resources and general links sections, as well as the integration of Web 2.0 tools throughout the site. 

Access to information is one of the main tenets of my program at the Dickens LMC, and I feel that the website provides a sound foundation for access to information of use to all stakeholders of the Dickens community.

Plans for next year? 

I plan change up the design a bit and incorporate more of a flash interface throughout. I also want to open up the wiki side more so that students and teachers can create their own information portals for research and other projects.

USS McKillop Library (TX)

Doug Valentine is the lieutenant of the media-rich Starship McKillop website . Doug explains his platform choices and his whimsical, thematic design:

I decided to use Glogster as a platform for my web page last school year. Since I do a lot of video related projects, it seemed like an ideal place to showcase the work visually, and to pull together the videos I had on TeacherTube  and Schooltube. 

When Doug’s principal announced a Star Trek theme for the school year, he began assembling a web of Glogster pages along the lines of a Starship Database

I created and found graphics that I could use to frame my videos, sounds and animations, and began customizing the pages putting it together.  Although it is still far from complete, I think our website demonstrates the possibilities Glogster has as a visually learning and communication tool.

Doug uses one of the pages to display morning announcements. 

In keeping with our theme, they are shot from the bridge of our Starship McKillop.  Mounting them on this page facilitates communication with the parents and the speed and flexibility of Glogster allows me to change the videos daily so that they see the announcements the same day as the students.

The main page features an autoplay video from Lt. Valentine directing students on navigation strategies.

One of Doug’s most popular pages features animated book reviews.  His Hot Dog book reviews now have national audience.

Lately I have been averaging about 5-10 emails a week asking me for details on how to do the book reviews. Glogster works perfectly as a platform to collect these videos in one place.  The students do not appear live, but instead are represented by an animated drawing that delivers the review.  I use music, sound effects, and other animated objects and backgrounds to add to the overall effect.  The students love making them and seeing their creations online.

Doug describes response to the site as overwhelming and he is proud that the site has inspired his students as content 

I’m proud of the way the technology has been embraced by the teachers and the fact that our entire campus is becoming aware of how to act in front of a camera as more and more students participate. I’m also very proud to hear from others who have seen the work so far and have enough interest to track me down and ask me questions. I feel like I might be inspiring others to jump in and give it a try on their campus.

Monarch Academy Library (CA)

Teacher librarian Keisa Williams recalls the process of building her highly interactive Monarch Academy Library and its growth in popularity:

I began my website as the result of being locked out of our district website. I decided to use wikispaces because they offer educators an ad-free platform to build a website. When I first began, I used the page to advertise information about the library (ex. policies, procedures, updates, and other general information). Over my four years at Monarch, the website has grown into not only a resource for my school, but a resource for elementary educators and students around the world.

And Keisa describes the multiple components she uses for communicating her lively elementary program: 

  • Wikispaces – This is a godsend for me. I have created several wikis for different purposes:
    • Monarch Library Wiki (built using Wikispaces for Educators)
    • Monarch Centers– I created this page when I heard that teachers wanted to use their computers as a station in the classroom during centers time. I used this in conjunction with some of the pathfinder pages to have options for teachers to use during center time. Little did I know that this page would be widely used around the world. Since I created it in 2008, I’ve had +29k visitors (avg 166 visitors per day). I get messages (I have another embeded form on the centers site)  from teachers asking me to post specific resources on the pages…which I do. I love that others are benefiting from this site.
    • Monarch Videos – Our school blocks YouTube and other video hosting services. I host my own video channel on wikispaces to showcase student work. Before I discovered we could embed flash (flv) videos into wikispaces, I hosted most of our work on the Internet Archive (also a free way to host student work and use the embed code for your wiki or blog).
  • Google FormsBook Recommendations, Contact Forms(this one is especially useful at the elementary level as most of my students do not have email…this way they can send a message directly to me when they are at home)
  • VoiceThread– To publish poetry, practice fluency (I gather projects students created in class and create a voicethread to showcase their work).
  • Pathfinders– Because I am on a fixed schedule, this is the way I help support my teachers. I create a pathfinder that includes resources we have in our library, websites to find more info, as well as interactive games (our teachers use these during "center" or "choice" time, so students can continue learning in a more self-directed way).
  • Animoto– To make slideshows of library projects, family nights, special projects, etc.
  • A variety of collaborative projects discovered through my Twitter PLN:
    •  Monster Project, Students learn about adjectives, create their own monster, write a descriptive paragraph, & exchange with another class to recreate the monster from the description.
    • KinderKidsDraw, Any project kinder related can be showcased here. If it is a voicethread project, kids give feedback to each other.
    • Progressive Stories, Collaborative story writing. Each class creates a paragraph of the story.
    • The War of 1812 Collaborative Feedback, 8th grade class sent their project to my 5th graders for feedback.
  •  Spelling City– This is a great interactive way to practice vocabulary. We have a "Book of the Month" program at my school. For every book, I create a a spelling city list. I introduce the vocabulary and allow students to interact with the words before we read the book in the library. Teachers also create their own lists for other curricular topics.  (Here is my page on Spelling City and on my wiki) Students are so excited when they take the test and print a certificate of their achievement.
  • Scratch– This is a computer programming software developed by MIT students. I’m trying this out with my 2nd-5th graders. We are learning together. My goal is to use this in a variety of ways once they get the hang of it. Once students learn how to control the sprites, we can use this as a platform to show what we know: create our own digital stories, demonstrate a process they are learning in class, I saw someone had their students animate Aesop Fables (this is also a great way to talk about copyright, open source, creative commons, etc). In Scratch, they encourage you to download other peoples projects and take them apart/improve/use/etc. What a great way to learn!

Now, back to those doors . . .

Any modern school library program must be a hybrid experience. It must have two front doors.

It is my hope that this menu of ideas for second front doors will also inspire many folks to jump in and create. 

There is no excuse.  Every school library must have a solid web presence.  A presence that moves well beyond brochure to just-in-time/just-for-me instruction and resources. Every teacher librarian needs door-building skills. Our sites represent us as information and communication professionals, as teachers with serious technological chops.

Their absence creates a huge information and communications void for our buildings, for our learners.

So many of the new building tools are free.  The learning curve is tiny.

We get to redefine what library looks like both off- and online.  Learners deserve access to the information and communication tools of their time on a just-in-time, just-for-me basis.  It may look different depending on who you are, where you work, and who you serve.

But the bottom line is that you can build it.  The bottom line is that you must.

More resources on school library web presence:

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. Scope Notes says:

    Thanks for this series of posts on school library websites – I’m getting so many great ideas from the examples you highlight.

  2. Patty Louis says:

    Ditto for me too, Joyce. Have been using some of these ideas the past month, especially Animoto to highlight kids work in the library. They love it! So did my principal who wants to post it on the school website. Guess I know what I’ll be doing this summer.

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