Evolving the Virtual School Library, Part 1: Deconstructing my own interface by Joyce Kasman Valenza

Evolving the Virtual School Library, Part 1: Deconstructing my own interface by Joyce Kasman Valenza

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:

When 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.

Over 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 direction.

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 to AASL's long-standing mission statement. To use is not enough, but that is a story for another article.)

New site:

Old site:

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
3. to 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 hit me
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 of tools.Logistically, it embraces two critical 2.0 concepts:

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 called a mashup. Learning needs and local relevance should drive the choices.

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 Flickr and video portals like TeacherTube and YouTube, and we grab code like crazy.

Though 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:

In creating our own Virtual Library, I chose to aggregate the following pieces:

Touring effective practice
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 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. (Also take a look at New Tools Workshop and Assorted 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, Apr. 2010