Social Classification and the Secondary School Library

A Shelfari shelf sampleI love sharing books with friends and family, but as all book lenders alike have certainly experienced, sometimes my lovely books are not returned.  One way for me to share the literary treasures that I discover with friends, family, and other book lovers is to engage in a social classification system / social media website.  As a Library Media Specialist major, social media websites are of particular interest, especially how they could be utilized in a school setting.  A social classification scheme would be an engaging, innovative way to bring students and literature together, both in the school media center and at home.  After much research, Shelfari seems to be an informative, aesthetically pleasing, and easy-to-use website to facilitate a literary community.

Shelfari is a social classification system for literature that asks information about readers’ experiences each time they click on a book to add it to their Shelfari shelves.  Using these prompts, Shelfari gathers the opinions of thousands of readers on almost any book, including textbooks.  The key to this social classification system is the freedom for users to add information to a book’s record, from subjects to Dewey and Library of Congress classification numbers.  The personal benefits of social classification are numerous, but how would social classification be applicable in a secondary school library?  How would high school students use a classification scheme like Shelfari?

A social classification scheme would facilitate a more friendly, interactive library learning environment.  With the right advertisement, demonstration, and enthusiasm, a librarian could create an invaluable online literary community of student readers.  After creating an account, students may personalize their bookshelves, add friends, join groups, and begin discovering new books and resources, as well as add books previously read and record these learning experiences.  In the process of building up their shelves, students can write book reviews and recommend them to friends.  The personalized metadata through social tagging and reviews truly make a bookshelf one’s own; similarly, chat / discussion forums allow students and friends or like-minded people to discuss their favorite books, enabling networking and a more personalized encounter with literature.  Likewise, if the librarian and fellow teachers are friends with students on the social classification scheme, they can follow students’ progress with their personal collection development and literary discussions, enabling librarians and teachers to learn about students’ interests and which genres they enjoy.  Social classification websites encourage independent reading, and friends / teachers / librarians on the scheme can promote independent reading projects.  Moreover, social classification allows for literary interaction outside of the classroom, where students are generally unreachable; students can stay connected to the educational / literary community from anywhere in the world.

Shelfari’s capacity for individuality and its aesthetically pleasing website would be appealing for high school students who prefer a personal connection to learning and / or tend to become overwhelmed by too much text on a page.  The colorful widgets and folksonomy clouds are fun and user-friendly for almost any person’s level of comfort with technology, although using Shelfari would be easier if the librarian gave a demonstration or tour of the website and its benefits before implementing the system in a school.  There are clearly defined tabs and menus for distinct navigation around the website, as well as a search bar always visible and available at the top of each page.  Students who love to read can create a book club group on the website and easily share and discuss their findings with one another.

Depending on the popularity of the book in question, Shelfari’s records will include a thorough amount of metadata about the book, in addition to allowing members to add to the record.  For instance, I chose to peruse Shelfari’s record for Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones because of its overwhelming popularity in secondary schools, assuming that Shelfari would have plenty of information on the book.  The website holds a permanent search bar in the top center of every page for usability; after typing the title, a list of works by Alice Sebold presents itself.  There is a long list of images of various editions of The Lovely Bones, from which users choose a default.  I am redirected to a page beneath the tab “Details,” laden with information about Sebold’s book: a cover, ratings, information about my having read the book, a lengthy description, a short synopsis, a summary, a cast of characters (with links to character pages bearing memorable quotes by them), popular covers, memorable quotes, setting and important places, organizations, the first sentence of the book, the table of contents, a glossary, themes and symbolism, authors and contributors, bibliographic information about the first edition (including ISBN), awards, LOC and DDC call numbers, notes for parents (reading level, red flags), subjects, community lists, popular tags, links to supplemental material, movie connections, and book recommendations.  This does not include the additional tabs for users to click, such as “Readers & Reviews,” “Discussions,” and “Editions.”  This comprehensive list of information is almost everything a voracious reader could want, except for the book itself.

Shelfari would make a good fit as a social classification scheme in conjunction with a high school library’s OPAC.  A classification scheme would unite the student body in an online literary community focused on independent reading, sharing of metadata, and collective analyses.  The Shelfari website is attention-grabbing as well as intellectually advanced, a perfect combination for the high school student population.  Each book’s page on Shelfari includes essential information about the book itself and its contents: summaries, characters, classification numbers, social tags, booklists, etc.  Shelfari is just one example of social classification and how it can collide with school libraries; if librarians, teachers, and students alike were willing to investigate social media websites and how they could fit into the learning environment, the potential educational benefits would be innumerable.


Shelfari. (2010). Retrieved from

Shelfari. (2010). The Lovely Bones. Retrieved from


The Library: Improving Student Performance

Library at the De La Salle College of Saint Be...
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Library media centers are the social learning institutions of our schools.  Students are free to work together to discover and construct information, using a plethora of print and digital resources.  Research proves that there is a direct correlation between valuable school library media centers and student performance.  Higher student performance can be achieved through improvement in number of faculty and staff in the library, the amount of library-centered instruction, the collaboration between librarians and teachers in curriculum development, and more current, diverse library resources.

Faculty and staff are a huge factor in the success of school libraries.  The type and number of staff can seriously deplete the media center’s resource capabilities and individual attention to patrons.  The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction organized a study of Wisconsin school library media centers in an online survey from May and June of 2005.  The study’s findings were compiled from the data of 505 elementary library programs, 250 middle school programs, and 288 high school programs (Smith, 2006, p. 1).  According to results, 25% of elementary, 38% of middle, and 49% of high schools lacked certified library media specialists (Smith, 2006, p. 2).  This means that aides without Library Science degrees run more than half of school libraries in Wisconsin.  In the words of Todd and Gordon of Rutgers Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries,

“School librarians bring pedagogical order and harmony to a multi-media clutter of information by crafting challenging learning opportunities, in collaboration with classroom teachers and other learning specialists, to help learners use the virtual world, as well as traditional information sources, to prepare for living, working, and life-long learning in the 21st century” (Todd & Gordon, p. 1).

Lacking library media specialists gravely inhibits students’ learning potential in and out of the school library.  Aides and volunteers have limited knowledge of how to run a library and how to assist students in projects and research, let alone teachers in their curricula.

On the flipside, between 11% and 13% of Wisconsin school libraries operate without any kind of library aides (Smith, 2006, p. 2).  It is nearly impossible for a librarian to run a library and hold events and programs by herself, including teaching research classes.  Paid library aides can cover the circulation desk, freeing up the librarian to teach more classes and give one-on-one instruction.  Most libraries have volunteers, whether adults or students, but these volunteers have limited abilities in terms of projects and programs due to their lack of library science training and experience.  However, they are invaluable when it comes to the everyday running of the library.  Volunteers help shelve books, check in / out books, answer ever-present directional questions, and can aid in reader’s advisory.  The more faculty and staff a library has, the more programs and projects it can implement for its patrons.

Staff availability is another constant issue in school media centers.  Students usually do their homework after school.  If library media specialists are available for a few hours after school, students can gain more individualized attention on research questions and technology / resource instruction.  In addition, many parent volunteers have more availability after school.  A school librarian who stays late can facilitate after-school programs and events, utilizing those volunteers to improve what the library has to offer.

The school library learning environment is a give-and-take process.  This process is clearly broken down in the Model of the School Library as a Dynamic Agent of Learning by Ohio School Libraries.  This model shows the school librarian as information-learning specialist and curriculum partner-leader within the school library as information place and knowledge space, encircling the Formational / Informational / Transformational spaces of the library (“Impact Studies”, 2010).  The library media specialist and the media center function to provide information resources, technology infrastructure, reading resources, reading engagement, information literacy, and technological literacy directly to the Formational sphere, encompassing student expectations and achievement (“Impact Studies”, 2010).  In effect, these resources and instruction will lead to “knowledge creation, use, production, dissemination, values, and reading literacy” (“Impact Studies”, 2010).  Especially in the age of technology, school library media centers must be able to provide instruction on research, reading services, and technology programs, as well as how to use them to create and build on knowledge across the disciplines.  This process can be improved through teacher-librarian collaboration on curricula.

Librarians have been specially trained in research skills.  Though many teachers know this, they do not realize that a librarian is a precious tool in curriculum development.  Library media specialists in particular possess a toolbox of lesson planning websites and project resources for all disciplines.  Not only does a good school librarian have books and subscriptions to databases that aid in curriculum development / implementation, she has access to lesson materials through interlibrary loan and a variety of websites. “Well stocked libraries, managed by a qualified school librarian, who actively promotes literacy and coordinates resources, provide the essential infrastructure for developing literacy” (Todd & Gordon, p. 5).  Librarian-teacher curriculum collaboration is part of the library media specialist job description.  Teachers should take advantage of all resources available for the sake of their teaching units and for the sake of their students.  Sharing teaching materials is the key to effective instruction; students and administrators do not care where the lesson materials and / or ideas come from, only that they improve student performance.

Current, diverse resources and technology can be the difference between an effective library media center and a dismal one.  Resource and collection developments are riddled with budget issues, but there are ways around this.  Subscription databases frequently offer free trials.  An interlibrary loan program can offer many more resources and little to no cost.  Grants are always waiting for applicants.  Even on a small budget, a resourceful librarian will be able to provide her students with most of the resources necessary to prosper.  However, each population is different and librarians must remember to tailor their collections to the needs of the instructors and the student body.

For students to perform admirably, school library media centers must epitomize a successful learning environment.  Qualified library staffing and availability are necessary for students’ individualized attention.  An efficient library, and its staff, function as the central learning environment of the school in which students are guided through processing and manipulating information.  Teachers and librarians must collaborate for students to receive the best instruction.  Developing library resources around the school’s specific population is a must.  School library media centers are the foundation of student literacy, urging students’ reading, writing, and thinking skills to flourish through instruction, cooperation, and investigation.


Impact Studies. (2010). In Rutgers Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries. Retrieved from

Smith, E. G. (2006). Student learning through Wisconsin school library media centers. In 2006 School Library Media Study. Retrieved from

Todd, R. J., & Gordon, C. A. (2010). School libraries now more than ever: A position paper of The Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries. In Rutgers Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries. Retrieved from

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