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HI, All--I appreciate very much the comments from school librarians that I gathered 
for use at the Reference Books Bulletin
panel discussion at the ALA conference in Chicago. It was a very
interesting discussion with a college librarian, a public librarian and
a school librarian (me).  It was very helpful to be able to represent
our perspective with comments from school librarians at all levels from
all parts of the country. 

One of the most interesting questions we answered was how do we add
value to our reference collections. My answer (in short) was promotion
and marketing with students and teachers as well as connecting to our
collaborative work with teachers. Some ways to do both are
subject-related "Best of" lists on our web pages and the development of 
pathfinders. Yours?

Thanks, Sara

I promised to post a hit of the responses. Below are the comments I received:

I am a middle school media specialist and I also teach a reference
course for Rutgers for graduate students who are working on their
school library certification.  I still use print encyclopedias in my
library-- both general encyclopedias and subject-specific.  I also
subscribe to World Book Online, Britannica Online, Facts on File, and
Gale's Junior Reference Collection.  There are links to these resources
on my website, and I also include them in pathfinders.  I hope to be
able to keep replacing my general print encyclopedias as needed.  As
for subject sets, the decision to purchase and update is based on
whether the set supports a topic in the curriculum-- one for which a
teacher brings kids to the library to do research.  I am also going to
start experimenting with ebooks and see if our students will use them. 
I do recognize the drawbacks of print sets-- that only one student can
use a volume at a time, and they generally don't leave the library (and
that they are expensive and go out of date...).

I remember going through a period about 15 years ago or so when
teachers were telling students "no encyclopedias" for research
projects.  I have gone back to recommending that students start with
the encyclopedia to get the "big picture" of their topic so they can
understand it better and decide how they would like to narrow it down. 
I have 5th through 8th graders.  It seems to me that they stay more
focused when they are working with print encyclopedias.  Put them on a
computer and they are constantly clicking-- very little reading.  They
are very good at giving the appearance of working while on the
computer, but that's not always the case-- it's easier to tell when
they are goofing off using the print collection (no book in front of
them?  Book on table but not open?)  :-)  This past year, all the 8th
graders were working on research on a president.  They went to the
computer lab, but many came back because they found a set of print
encyclopedias I have on presidents to be more helpful to them.

In the reference course I teach, I still require students to work with
classic reference sources-- things like almanacs, atlases, Famous First
Facts, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations-- things that used to be staples
in the reference section.  I find that many of these graduate students
approach research the same as middle school students-- they go straight
to Google and truly don't have any idea what other sources are
available.  (In addition, they do not know any advanced search
strategies to improve their Google searches.)  They are usually pretty
amazed at what can be found in the reference section of the public
library.  I still believe that, for some questions, we can find the
answer faster in a book!  (This is also an issue for school librarian
training and certification-- if we are hiring people who do not have
any library training who, indeed, will teach students research skills??)

I would really like to see elementary school librarians continue to use
print reference sources with students because I think it's important
for students to see these resources to better understand how
information is structured and organized.  Even if they later end up
using mostly online sources, I think it's important for kids to see and
understand how an index works, how a table of contents can help them,
and more importantly-- to understand the difference between an
encyclopedia, a dictionary, an almanac, a magazine, etc. and what type
of information they might expect to find in each one.  Online, they all
look the same and a student usually won't distinguish between say, a
magazine article and an encyclopedia article and a personal website.  I
think having the experience with print sources can help them make
better choices online when they are doing research.

To make a long story short... I think they still need to be paper-trained!


I think it is time to question the existence of the print reference
collection just as we did the research periodical collection. Why did
we get rid of print periodicals and keep only a few?

What good are expensive reference books that cannot be circulated 24/7/365 

What good is anything that is chained to the shelf?

I think the printed reference book is dead except for the popular fare - the same 
as in the magazine world.

I believe that every kid should have a credit card from the library
that gets them into such information as they need it and when they need
it, wherever they need it, on whatever device they need it.




In our district, we continue to use both print and electronic reference sources.


At the elementary grades, we are still helping children to understand
how print is organized, including headings and page layout.  Because of
the logistics of gaining access to computer labs for instruction, many
of us still find it useful to have one volume for every child for
hands-on practice.  A  couple of years ago I found widely varying
practices with regard to keeping the encyclopedia sets up to date in
each building, so  I put the whole district on a replacement cycle.  I
anticipate that we will spread encyclopedia purchases out even more to
reduce the amount we spend on print reference resources, as the demand
for electronic resources increases.  The librarians may choose between
major sets (World Book, Comptons, New Book of Knowledge, and
Britannica).  We also include primary encyclopedias in the replacement
cycle at the elementary level.


Several of the high school librarians have reported that their students
never use the print volumes, and that they no longer want to purchase
print encyclopedias.  We will adjust our practices accordingly.


We also subscribe to and provide access to several online
encyclopedias, which are accessed through links on the library home
pages and through the federated search feature of our integrated
library system.  Our subscriptions include World Book, World Book Kids,
the Grolier suite of products, and several database products. 
Librarians may choose to provide access to free encyclopedias on their
web pages.


I am moving most of reference materials to the online version because
(1) they can't be stolen and (2) an entire class can use the same title
at the same time and (3) our kids gravitate to the computer instead of
print and at least they are using vetted resources.  I do post a link
to all these electronic resources on the library web site.


We interfiled our Reference with circulating, but the books are still
"For Library Use Only".  Having said that, only about 2% of our books
qualify for that designation!

In our Lower School, they still have more of a traditional reference
collection, including a print encyclopedia.  For Middle and Upper,
we've moved to electronic versions (either eBook or database) for most,
and will probably move more in that direction as better resources


I maintain both electronic and print encyclopedias in my library though 99%

of my high school students have Internet access at school.  The print

encyclopedias are still used; just not to the extent they were before the


Selection of reference sources depends on the curriculum.  If a department

uses the library a lot for research I make sure they have current reference

sources for their students.

My web site contains links to subscription and free reference sources.  The

pathfinders I create include print and links to electronic sources.  My

pathfinders are online.

Students think they already know how to research so they go to Google
unless the assignment expects them to use the library resources.

Teachers have a mixed view.  Some teachers expect students to use print

materials.  Other teachers provide links to the web sites they want students

to use.  The whys are varied from the uninformed to what information is

available to using specific information found online.

Gosh, I've just been validated and here I was thinking I was the only
person who's done this! This summer I put everything that was in
reference in the circulating collection. I also weeded it heavily and I
am down to about two shelves of reference. I do have one set of
encyclopedias in print but we also have the online ones that we have
through the Kentucky Virtual Library. With state budget cuts coming
down the pike, I am sure hoping that we get to keep those great
databases that they have provided. 



Following this thread, I still think to teach and demonstrate the use
of encyclopedias, etc. it would be better to have them in a reference
area as special information.  As a K-4 school, I do teach the students
how to use the print references, but will rethink making them available
for checkout.  I have always allowed students to checkout reference
books for use in the classroom during the day.

Our high school is only 6 years old. I began our library that has one
and one-half shelves of reference books. The rest of our reference
collection is composed of databases such as Gale, World Book Online and
EBSCO and e-books that are available to the students 24/7. We belong to
a library consortium in Ohio for k-12 schools known as INFOhio. It is
much cheaper and keeps our information current. I am known as the
resource coordinator who provides teachers and students with
bibliographic instruction. I work mostly with the teachers. We have a
set of 30 laptops for almost every classroom and an interactive
whiteboard fin every classroom. Teachers and students can work on
projects at will.

I hope this helps.


In addition to Sandy’s comments, what happens to database collections
when budgets are slashed and network connectivity moves at a 20th
century pace?  School media centers must provide information to patrons
at the point of need.  The best and most efficient way to deliver
reference is through multiple formats. 


In our efforts to rush through the 21st century, we often fail to
realize (or acknowledge) that all learners (K – 12) are not wired to
view information over a computer screen.  Therefore, patrons print (and
print) reams of on-line reference in order to capture one or two bits
of information in a more usable format: print.

When we will stop allowing vendors (and others) to tell us (educators)
what is most appropriate for our students?  Finally, are reference
database vendors sponsoring the panel discussion? [From Sara: No, it
was sponsored by Reference Books Bulletin, but they were there
listening to the presentation]


In Massachusetts we are fortunate to have basic database access through
our regional library systems but the flip side of this is that many of
us cannot afford to purchase the "print" versions but have free
e-access. I would assume that is why a vendor like Grolier will no
longer be publishing NBK, no more money in it.


I also think it depends upon what is available from your state,
community, cooperative, etc.  In Indiana, we are fortunate to have
database access to EBSCO, several Gale products, and more statewide. 
In addition to this, a generous donor's funds made several additional
databases, including NoveList, Newsbank, History Resource, SIRS,
NetLibrary and more available within our county.  Consequently, the
only thing our district purchases is World Book online.  If we did not
have all the electronic resources for free, we would have to
drastically rethink our budget.


I have slowly started circulating our reference books but have also
started buying E-books which allow students to have 24/7 access to
reliable reference materials.  I am hoping I will be able to increase
our databases next year; so far I only use the NY State-provided NOVEL
collection.  In the context of their various projects I teach students
how to use the databases correctly and they enjoy the whole process
treating it almost like a puzzle or game.  

It is safe to say here that sometimes the students find the books to be
easier to use as they are compact, portable and attractive - often
illustrated with beautiful pictures and maps.  Encyclopedias continue
to be a great starting off point even for high school students.  My
problem with what's online is that kids still don't want to read it as
much as they want to cut and paste the material and stockpile it on
their flash drives.

Sara Kelly Johns
Associate Editor for AASL Community, Knowledge Quest
Library Media Specialist, Lake Placid Middle/Senior HS LMC
34 School Street
Lake Placid, NY 12946
W: 518-523-2474, ext. 4132
Fax: 518-523-4861

"Information is the currency of democracy." -- Thomas Jefferson

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sara Kelly Johns

Associate Editor for AASL Community, Knowledge Quest

Lake Placid Middle/High School LMC

34 School Street

Lake Placid, NY 12946

518-523-2474, ext. 4132

FAX: 518-523-4861

"Information is the currency of democracy." -- Thomas Jefferson

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