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Essential research apps? Creating a library

As iPhones and iPads and other mobile devices enter our classrooms and our learners’ backpacks and pockets, I’ve been wondering what types of little libraries they might be building to support their learning.  And how we as  librarians might help them select and build those libraries.  This gathering of worthy apps may be especially timely with Apple’s news this week of a bulk purchasing option for education.

Back in the spring, I excitedly shared about Gale’s new database apps in AccessMyLibrary School Edition and Gale and Buffy (a little more on the AccessMyLibrary app).

Since those posts I’ve been considering what a personal app library might include.  We are able to broadcast our reference suggestions through our web-based pathfinders.  But, right now, we cannot easily broadcast to our learners’ mobile devices.  We will need to make some suggestions.

Oh, I know there are equity issues.  But, for the many of my kids who have devices now, and for those students who do have school-issued iPads, I am thinking that this fall we will create a little list for learners and their parents of research apps too good to miss.  Here are a few suggestions, none costing more than the price of one or two songs on iTunes.  Please add others in your comments!

(Full disclosure note:  I long for, but do not yet own an iPad. I need your help here. I am working largely on how these apps look and work on my iPhone.)

GALE- Access my Library (free) for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. I’ve probably said enough in those prior posts. We buy it for them.  Our students should have this quality material available to them.  We need to make sure these apps are loaded. I am hoping the other database vendors follow Gale’s lead.

World Factbook 2010 ($0.99) for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.  This regularly updated ready reference tool covers more than 250 countries and territories of the world, with a sweet country comparison feature.  Does not require a network connection for use. (free) for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android, BlackBerry. Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, this hugely popular tool offers both a dictionary and thesaurus, phonetic and audio pronunciation, example sentences, non-standard uses, word origin and history.  Shake your device to see a randomly-selected word. All but the audio pronunciations are available offline.

Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus ($0.99) for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Blackberry

Searches all 1.4 million English words, as well as biographical and geographical information. Great for writers struggling with ideas, the AED shows how words are linked to each other, offers lists of more general and more specific words, as well as synonyms, antonyms, meronyms, hypernyms.

Wikipedia (free) For iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

This basic app provides mobile access to Wikipedia articles, a starting point for research, and very handy for ready reference.  But consider . . .

Wikipanion (free) for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad and Wikipanion Plus ($4.99)

The updated versions are a bit faster and easier than the basic access version, offering the following features focusing on zooming, media, and multitasking:

Streamline your browsing with history grouped by visit date, and bookmarking that not only bookmarks individual entries, but individual sections within an entry. Featuring intelligent features such as:
– Table of contents browser that knows where you are in the page
– Multiple search methods including Smart completion with entry preview, Google searching and a full text Wikipedia search
– Dual language searching and language switching (hiding languages you don’t care about)
– Bookmark, including bookmarking individual sections of pages
– History, grouped by last visit date
– Full in-page searching
– Wiktionary dictionary term looking without leaving the current page
– Table based category browsing
– Interactive font resizing
– Image saving to the Photo library
– Ogg vorbis audio playback for dictionary pronunciations and other audio content available on Wikipedia
– Contextual knowledge for sending links to specific sections in a Wikipedia entry
– Easily turn on automatic focusing of the search field on launch

The slightly pricier Wikipanion Plus, at $4.99, adds Queue Mode, for keeping track of entries for accelerated future browsing and reading.

WorldBook This Day in History (free) for iPhone and iPad.

The interactive, multimedia calendar is a handy tool for history teachers and students.  It presents little know interesting facts and its media-rich offerings include photos, illustrations, music, and speeches.

U.S. Historical Documents ($0.99) for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad  This one is a must for those AP DBQers and other history buffs.

An in-the-works pro version will have more features, but this this little package allows you to walk around with more than 200 influential documents to search, annotate, bookmark, and highlight and scroll in either portrait and landscape views.

Locations are remembered and font size and colors are adjustable. Docs are stored directly for reading offline.  Among the included documents:

• Christopher Columbus Letter
• Virginia Charters
• Mayflower Compact
• First Thanksgiving Proclamation
• Stamp Act
• Declaration of Arms
• Declaration of Independence
• Fugitive Slave Law
• The Federalist Papers (all 85!)
• US Constitution
• CSA Constitution
• Gettysburg Address
• Emancipation Proclamation
• I Have A Dream
• All Inaugural Address of All Presidents
• State of the Union Addresses
• 9/11 Documents
• The USA Patriot Act
• President Obama’s Inauguration Speech
• Over 15 Landmark Supreme Court Cases
• Pres. Obama’s 2009 Speech to the Joint Session of Congress

Alternately, students may need separate apps for the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence (free) for iPhone and iPad, for easy access to those essential founding documents.

Famous Speeches ($0.99) for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

Includes many of history’s most influential speeches, among them the words of Susan B. Anthony, Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Queen Elizabeth I, Mahatma Gandhi, Lou Gehrig, Patrick Henry, Adolph Hitler, Victor Hugo,  John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Vince Lombardi, Nelson Mandela, George Marshall, Richard M. Nixon, George Patton, Pericles, Eleanor Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, William Shakespeare, Harry Truman, Woodrow Wilson, and Malcolm X.

History: Maps of World (free) for iPhone and iPad.

This lovely free app provides a rich collection of high-resolution historical maps, searchable by category, era, and keyword, with zoom and rotation options.  It does not require a network connection.

Included are:

  • History:Maps of U.S.
  • History:Maps of Europe
  • History:Maps of Americas
  • History:Maps of Africa
  • History:Maps of Asia
  • History:Maps of Middle East
  • History:Maps of Oceania
  • Thematic Maps of World
  • History:Today

National Geographic Atlas ($1.99) for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

National Geographic World Atlas–actually, an atlas, factbook, and flag reference–offers Nat Geo’s highest resolution, “press-ready” images, providing you the same rich detail, accuracy, and artistic beauty found in our award-winning wall maps and bound atlases. Included are pinch and zoomable, and push-pin markable executive, political, and satellite maps.  To learn more about a particular country, tap and hold for a pop-up fact box.  GPS compatibility makes the tool handy for travelers.

MyCongress (free) for iPhone and iPad.

This handy portal offers access to elected Congressional officials and the ability to easily track their profiles, contact information, news, video and Twitter feeds.

The Periodic Table of Elements (free) for iPhone and iPad.

This basic periodic table will be useful to science students and teachers. In addition to the usual background information, select any chemical attribute and have the entire chart color coded to plainly show how the different elements vary with regard to the selected trait.

Select among:
1. Atomic Number
2. Chemical Family
3. Electronegativity
4. Radioactivity
5. Melting Point
6. Boiling Point
7. State (Solid, Liquid or Gas)

Science Glossary (free) for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad

A glossary of scientific terms and short biographies that supports the VisionLearning site and its modules, but is nevertheless useful for all high school science students.

Evernote (free) for iPhone and iPad.
While not a reference app, this notetaking tool (for photos, text, and audio) is great for keeping track of notes and all sorts of sources across platforms.

Students might also consider a variety of ebook apps for downloading essential ebooks for their courses.  Many classic and older titles would be free.  Among the options are

  • Kindle (free) for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad)
  • Stanza (free) for iPhone and iPad
  • Audiobooks (free) for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad Listen to over 3,535 classic audiobooks, some mature
  • iBooks (free) for iPhone and iPad
  • eBook Reader for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad
  • B&N eReader (free) for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad
  • 200 Great Books ($0.99) for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. A collection of classics, some mature.
  • Google Books (free) for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad
  • Children’s Classics ($0.99) for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. 16 kid classics.

This post grew too long too fast.  Look for museum and walking tour apps in an upcoming post.  But, in your comments, please share any favorite reference apps I might have missed here.

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. Nancy Buchholz says:

    Thanks for this great list! I had some you mentioned but not all. For the astronomers out there I would add the NASA app which has information about NASA missions, videos, and lots of great pictures from NASAimages.

  2. Mary Clark says:

    Wonderful list! The heck with the kids, I just put them all on my iTouch! (But I will add a list, crediting your research, to our library webpage tomorrow.)

  3. Getting up to speed on mobile apps was one of my professional goals this year. Thanks for this fantastic and timely post!

  4. Betsy Kane says:

    Thank you for posting so many apps! I am currently working on my masters in Library Science and I can’t wait to share your blog with my class. This is a fun way to get the students excited to learn!

  5. Hello. Awesome Job once again. I enjoyed coming to your site because you often give us excellent posts. Sweet writeup.I am excited to add this website to my faves. I am planning to subscribe to the blog feed as well. Bought a new cell myself. Does anyone currently have a htc evo? It’s its off the chain!


  1. […] app and Kindle app are excellent choices for libraries, along with many other reference apps that Joyce Valenza mentioned in a recent SLJ post so I won’t rehash them […]

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