Evolving the Virtual School Library, Part 1: Deconstructing my own interface by Joyce Kasman Valenza
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October 21, 2011 By: Tech Learning Blog Staff
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 the 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.
My own virtual library story:
the Web began, it quickly occurred to me that my service, as well as my
instruction, could be more effective and better scaled if our library
had two front doors. So, with the help of a few student
volunteers, I launched our first primitive virtual library back in 1996.
Creating that site was a pivotal point in my practice. It changed the
way our library did business, the way I presented and shared instruction, the way
students, teachers and parents used and viewed library.
Our virtual library became our second front door. And our statistics told us that door was opening
all the time--before, during, and after school, weekdays and weekends
and summer vacation. Learners were using the tools we shared at all hours of the day and night.
That original html site underwent major revisions over the years,
But although it was heavily used, for me it began to seem a little creaky.
Our second front door wasn't opening wide
enough. It didn't allow for a truly open flow of traffic.
the past couple of years, I grew tired of the limits an html site
represented to me. I grew tired of ftping.
The site I maintained
did not offer the flexibility or the interactivity that defines the
Read/Write Web, Web 2.0, 3.0. (Whatever!)
Our site was so 90s.
It needed to be liberated! The door needed to open in more than one
Opening the door:
So, back in September, I launched a
completely new site, a site that now allows me to combine all the cool
apps I continue to discover into a far more creative, effective whole,
helping me to achieve my goal of ensuring that our learners are
effective users [and producers or creators] of ideas and information. (Note that I
feel strongly about adding the word producers
long-standing mission statement
. To use
is not enough, but that
is a story for another article.)
The goals for my own virtual shift were:
1. to create a more
interactive, collaborative presence--to let learners and teachers in
2. to be able to easily create instruction with colleagues and learners
create an interface I could easily edit and update without having to
ftp--to be able to move the furniture around whenever the spirit on need
4. to model the use of new information and communication tools
for learners and teachers
5. to be able to easily
archive and celebrate student work, student art, student life
6. to create a school information hub
Our Virtual Library
is now a mashup of a variety
Logistically, it embraces two critical 2.0
1. Most of the growing number of available apps play super-well
together. It's all a kind of jigsaw puzzle. And, in this particular
puzzle, all the pieces want to want to fit themselves into each
other. And so, as I will later illustrate by a little tour, the completed
puzzle can morph in a myriad of beautiful ways. There is no one
right configuration. You can create anything with your pieces. This is
mashup. Learning needs and local relevance should drive the
2. A number of handy-dandy parking lots
not only allow you to park your media, they also give you the lovely
gift of embed code, so that you can park your media anywhere else
for free. These parking lots are called the cloud.
We tend to park our media in spaces like SlideShare
and video portals like TeacherTube and YouTube, and we grab code like crazy.
I generally resist sharing our site as a model--it is still very
much a messy work in progress--I do think it may be valuable to
deconstruct the building elements behind our second front door.
Deconstructing the evolving site:
creating our own Virtual
, I chose to aggregate the
- Wikispaces for
Teachers is my current basic building platform. For me and many of
my colleagues, wikis are as ubiquitous and elemental as pencils. I
chose to use a wiki over a blog for my main canvas because I wanted a
stable front page for my interface, one that wasn't continually
superseded by newer content. Wikispaces for
Teachers is free and ad-free for K12 purposes. We use wikis as a
platform for access to our pathfinders and databases. Our students
create research wikis to store their work
(Here's an example of Suzannah's current project ), media, reflections,
sources and document their research journeys.
- I used Glogster for our dynamic image
map and for our new search posters. (See our Google Search Options
It has replaced the trifold for student research poster projects and is used by
students to create interactive indexes for multipage wikis.
hosts our genre polls. You may want to choose any of a number other equally
effective polling tools. In fact, I am using Google
Forms for our Current
Awareness service, and for our Materials
Suggestion form, as well as our Academic Integrity survey.
use a Google Docs
template for newsletters and other communications.
- I use Google
Sites for my resume and some of my student use it as an option for building research projects
used Picnik to
create that little snapshot logo in the left corner of the wiki. But we continuously play with other image editors, Image Generators, Avatar Makers,
and Concept Mapping tools
student volunteer, Caroline, created our genre
posters using Wordle.
create our database widgets, I used these pages:
- Our heavily used
come in a variety of flavors. Some are wikis. Among the
most popular is our Copyright Friendly
pathfinder, used predominantly for
student media production. I've chosen to create individual wikis to
acommodate multiple pages and to avoid confusing hierarchies as our
pathfinders grow. (Some of the links on the nav bars are pages; others
are links to other related wikis within our site.) The more newsy of
our pathfinders are PageFlakes.
More dynamic in platform, they aggregate and broadcast the many
newsfeeds our students don't even know they need. The Anything Flake
allows me to paste code from third-party sources and the Bookmark
Flake allows me to include links to databases, textbooks, and
anything else not yet widgetized. Currently, I am a little disappointed
increasing number of ads. Many librarians effectively use the alternate
NetVibes for creating dynamic
pathfinders. LibGuides is a popular subscription option and I
plan to migrant my more dynamic pathfinders to this growing library
community this coming fall. (See Buffy Hamilton's post on LibGuides.) All this information portal activity is designed to model for learners how they might create portals to organize their own information lives. (Explore a few more personal
information portal options.)
- I am beginning to incorporate
Google Custom Search engines in
our pathfinders. See the one we embedded in our Primary Source Pathfinder. It saves time and eliminates
noise by searching only the major portals for primary sources.
love that I can easily include widgets
for new books. Using Google Books' very
easy link button (look at the top right of the page after you open a
book), we host the new Classic of the Week, as well as the
current One Book One Springfield read, as well as any of a
variety of assorted bookshelf widgets.
Washington Post TimeSpace Widgets for its dynamic, visual news feed.
other news feed options are available. I also chose a local feed.
played with both the Twitter Profile
Widget and Twidget
to make local library announcements.
- I am using both FlickrSlider
and Flickr's own very easy RSS
functions to embed image sets and groups from our highly popular Springfield
Life and Art
- If you dig really deep down on our pages,
you'll see that I've used Slideshare
to embed presentations into our lessons.
- I've used a
variety of Nings to park video and grab
embed code for our News
Broadcasts and online
lessons and book
trailers. We also use Nings to host class discussions and lit
circles and our OneBookOneSpringfield events. (Sorry, many of these are
protected.) With Ning becoming a pay service, we are investigating some
alternatives and planning to fund some of our
more critical existing Nings, including our new Virtual Springfield project, which will engage students in collecting images, primary sources, and oral histories relating to their community's rich heritage.
- Many of our archived student projects were
created using digital
storytelling tools like Voicethread
and Animoto and a variety of
video creation tools, as well as cartoon making tools. Nearly all
of these new tools offer lovely embed code. For examples, check out our
wiki museums of World History artifacts and German art, Civil Rights VoiceThreads,
and Hamlet soliloquoies. And
the WallWisher feedback for our sitcom analysis project.
calendar allows us to easily edit
and share our library schedule.
I am not alone in my excitement over applying new
mash-up and publishing opportunities, as well as new learning apps, to library practice.
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
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. (Also take a look at New Tools Workshop
Widgets for some of the many building block options.)
In the next two posts we'll share exemplars of effective school library websites first at the high school level and then at the middle and elementary levels.
More resources on school library web presence:
This series of posts is based on an article originally published as: Tag
Team Tech: Evolving the Virtual School Library,
Deconstructing the Essentials, eVOYA,