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Do You Tweet? Connectivism, Social Media, and School Libraries

Connectivism (Photo credit: ryan2point0)

Do You Tweet?  Connectivism, Social Media and School Libraries

In the words of author Dr. Ivan Misner, “Networking is not about hunting.  It is about farming.  It’s about cultivating relationships.  Don’t engage in ‘premature solicitation’.  You’ll be a better networker if you remember that” (Infinite, 2011).  Social media is about constructing one’s personal learning network, carefully weeding its garden and nurturing connections that, with care, will flourish into new knowledge opportunities.  Users can connect with friends across the world: share news, hobbies and interests; share photos and messages; comment on others’ “walls;” add apps, play games and take quizzes; and much more.  Every company is struggling to find a way to utilize the power of social media to market products and connect to new consumers.  Some HTC smartphones even have a Facebook button!  The world has become smaller—it is virtually impossible to stay off of the Internet grid.  How can librarians leverage enthusiasm for social media to promote literacy in the school library?  This paper will explore the various uses of social media in school libraries and the Connectivism theory behind using social media in library instruction.

Connectivism and the Human Brain

The surge in social media has changed the way people discover information.  Human brain plasticity allows us to change and evolve with new stimuli, as is evident throughout our history.  Technology is a stimulus and, as educators, we see its impact on the human brain everyday: students and adults alike cannot be parted from smartphones and other devices without feeling disconnected.  The more time a person devotes to a specific activity, the stronger those neural responses become (Interlandi, 2008).  In a study by neurologist Gary Small at UCLA, he confirms how people more adept at technology have greater short-term memory capacity and perceptual learning.  Small states that as the brain becomes more proficient at technological skills, it drifts further away from basic social skills (Interlandi, 2008).  Keeping this in mind, educators must account for the rewiring of the human brain during their instruction and curriculum design; older educational theories cannot hope to compete with the information analysis, synthesis, and evaluation that occur in the brain at lightning speed when interacting with technology.

Connectivism theory encompasses chaos, network, complexity, and self-organization theories while realizing that learning is not entirely in the individual’s control (Siemens, 2004).  The brain is expected to connect specialized information sets and distinguish between valid and false or misleading information (Siemens, 2004).  The slightest interpretation of objectivity skews the truth, and the definition of truth itself is changing because of connective knowledge.  Wikipedia attempts to capture the many interactions of private knowledge as public knowledge and is constantly ridiculed for it.  A little known fact is that Encyclopedia Brittanica models the same connective knowledge (Dowles, 2007).  Unlike the past, knowledge is connective and collective, interdependent upon the group; connective knowledge is shaking the very foundation of truth, as with the credibility of Wikipedia.  One person cannot possibly know everything and, consequently, the capacity to learn more is key (Siemens, 2004).  The brain understands perspectives and content faster than ever, though still within chaos, especially in the context of information from the Internet.

The process of Connectivism interacts seamlessly with social media and information literacy instruction, especially when sharing information to create new knowledge.  The cyclical practice of Connectivism begins with the individual, progresses to the network, flows into organizations and institutions, and feeds back into the network to provide learning to the individual (Siemens, 2004).  The individual makes inferences about discovered knowledge, engages in associationism (connecting to prior knowledge), and distribution to the group before making meaning and shared meaning (Dowles, 2007).  This is the very definition of social media.  The collective intelligence of the network dips into organizations and institutions, filters and synthesizes, and flows the information back into the collective and the individual.  Social media connections allow learners to stay current, as librarians know better than many.  The modern librarian takes advantage of social media to improve her practice.  She must be reflective of her personal Connectivism learning and harness it to teach information literacy skills through social media in the library.

Modeling Lifelong Learning

Librarians model Connectivism and lifelong learning everyday in their use of social media.  Librarians in New York City use the NYCLIST email listserv to share ideas and news, advertise professional development events, and receive peers’ answers to questions about the library field.  Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are leaders among social networking sites for personal and professional use.  Social media is a powerful tool in librarians’ repertoire for personal learning networks.  Siemens and Dowles would agree that students love social networking almost as much as librarians, offering a unique opportunity for librarians to alter how students use social media technologies, from social use to educational use.

Joyce Valenza (2011), school librarian of Springfield Township High School, conducted interviews with other prominent school librarians to expose their favorite social networking sites and how they are used.  Google Reader for news; Symbaloo for bookmarking; and Livebinders and LibGuides for organizing and teaching resources are popular, but Twitter is the most widely used by a considerable measure.  Twitter hashtags enable users to browse posts and conversations about that topic.  Popular hashtag conversations for librarians are #edchat, #YAlitchat, #tlchat, and #Engchat.  Librarians prefer to use Twitter to learn new resources and ideas for the library, in addition to improving their practice (Valenza, 2011).  Connectivism through personal learning networks is how professionals maintain connections and learn from each other; the opportunities for connective knowledge on any topic are endless with social media.  Librarians must teach their students to think and use social media as they do themselves: constructively and with interest-driven motivation.

Using Social Media in the Library

Social media is seeping into library education and management.  Though academic studies on using social media with students in a high school setting are in their infancy, some librarians are diving in and reflecting on its impact upon patrons and library instruction.  Christopher Harris (2012) of School Library Journal suggests using Twitter as a marketing tool for the library, using Seth Godin’s “permission marketing” strategy.  To promote reading, Harris suggests that school librarians create five different twitter accounts, each for a popular genre.  The librarian would update each feed once a week with a book review or recommendation for that genre.  The key is only to deliver content that patrons (whether students, faculty, or community members) have agreed to.  An RSS feed of a library blog is a similar way to keep readers checking up on the library’s resources, events, and availability (Harris, 2012).  Harris’s suggestions are methods that Joyce Valenza and the librarians she interviewed could easily implement, especially since Harris suggests using Twitter, a clear favorite.  Such ideas are quick and simple patron-library information connections on social media sites that can truly enrich a library program.  The librarian is also afforded a glimpse into the interests of her patrons while promoting literacy.

Book lovers use social networking sites geared toward readers to keep track of books they love, want to read, and wish to share.  These social media sites practically scream for librarians to employ their services in reader’s advisory.  Well-loved social networks for readers are LibraryThing, Goodreads, and Shelfari.  Each interface has its own appeal to users; the librarian should investigate which are used most by patrons and create accounts.  LibraryThing is geared more toward librarians because of the “LibraryThing for Libraries” function, enabling libraries to enhance their book catalogs by retrieving readers’ customized metadata such as tags and editions (Stover, 2009).  LibraryThing also has a feature called “Authors Who LibraryThing,” a way for librarians to connect to authors and arrange author visits.  Goodreads is similar to LibraryThing in look and function, except that Goodreads is free.  Both of these sites have simple interfaces and encourage users to add friends, write reviews, join in on forum discussions, and add tags.  Shelfari is essentially the same, though the interface’s bright colors and custom bookshelf is more aesthetically pleasing (Stover, 2009).  These social media sites function as book clubs, making social and intellectual connections with specific consumers.  Siemens and Dowles would appreciate the discussion forums most of all because of their promise of collective knowledge.  All three of these sites are enjoyable for librarians to use and helpful in reader’s advisory.  Librarians also find it useful to “friend” library patrons, or vice versa, and browse their bookshelves to learn more about patrons’ reading interests and attain collection development suggestions.

Connectivism, Social Media, and Library Instruction

Library lessons using social media are creative ways for librarians to teach Connectivist thinking processes to encourage lifelong learning.  Joyce Valenza (2011) mentions Buffy Hamilton’s experimentation with Scoop.it, a free social media site for publishing magazine pages.  She uses Scoop.it with students for research projects, but she emphasizes that the site could be used for students’ hobbies and interests, too.  Hamilton is also exploring the uses of Pinterest in education (Valenza, 2011).  Users label their digital pinboards according to categories.  The “repin,” “comment,” and “follow” features of Pinterest are most in accordance with Siemen’s and Dowle’s Connectivism approach, though a more concrete way to make connective knowledge is lacking.  Most social networking sites have educational potential; they simply require someone with vision to realize it.

Buffy Hamilton of Creekview High School is one of the most innovative social media-using teacher-librarians in the country.  She facilitated a collaborative program between herself and English teacher Susan Lester called Media 21, an initiative that earned Buffy’s library the AL21C’s Cutting-Edge Library Award in 2011.  Hamilton’s (2011) program objectives included teaching students about participatory culture using Connectivism theory and inquiry.  Students explored various resources and used social media to create personal learning networks.  Librarian and English teacher collaborated in every aspect of the program, from planning and teaching lessons to evaluating student learning artifacts.  Projects within the Media 21 program included research pathfinders using LibGuides.  Hamilton’s LibGuides were models for students’ independent research pathfinders using Netvibes, a free tool for creating an information dashboard (Hamilton, 2011).  Netvibes permits users to create a sort of homepage with links to RSS feeds, blogs, videos, photos, databases, etc.  Students were required to exercise metacognition by writing reflective research narratives, included on their individualized Netvibes portals.  Web 2.0 tools supported their efforts at inquiry-based learning, fostering connective and critical thinking skills in participating students (Hamilton, 2011).  The Media 21 project combining elements of collaboration, inquiry, Connectivism, and content creation is a model example of how to alter social media as a tool for education, deepening students’ understanding of a topic and becoming active participants in their education.  However, what are the effects of such a project—are students more likely to engage in independent, interest-driven learning pursuits after experiencing Connectivist instruction through social media in school?  Buffy’s project was one of the first to attempt such a large-scale integration of Connectivism and social media; more initiatives like this, along with action research, are needed to assess its effects on student learning.

Red Flags

The looming red flags of incorporating social media into curriculum are cyberbullying, cyber security, and FERPA, all of which discourage teachers from venturing into social media for instructional purposes.  FERPA, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, prevents teachers from publicizing students’ grades, whether on the Internet, on a bulletin board outside the classroom, etc.  Though frequently misinterpreted, FERPA does not inhibit instructors from using social media in the classroom (Orlando, 2011).  Instead, educators should follow general Internet safety measures when using social media with their students, such as informing students that their work, posted on a social networking site for class, will be visible to others outside of the school environment.  If necessary and available, students can enable privacy features on the site, though this would hamper community involvement goals in social networking.  Furthermore, teachers should not require students to post personal information to any social networking sites for class.  To be safe, teachers should get parental consent for posting student work on the Internet and fully inform parents of the project (Orlando, 2011).  As Connectivism thrives on the freedom of the collective, restraints dampen its impact on learning.  As minors, high school students must be introduced to Connectivism on a smaller, safer scale according to law and school policy.

Some schools are banning social networking because of the cyber bullying and security threats.  While understandable that the school wishes to prevent Internet safety issues, anti-social media hinders librarians and educators from teaching students how to think in the 21st Century using Web 2.0 tools.  Many schools simply block social networking sites using Internet safety features.  This is frustrating to teachers trying to use multimedia for presentations or experiment with social media projects.  Teachers can assign social media projects for homework and sometimes acquire Internet override codes for presentations, but in accordance with Dowles’ and Siemens’ views, these are obstacles rather than solutions in teaching Connectivism learning strategies through social media.  Have teachers or librarians who facilitated social media instruction projects witnessed cyber bullying or Internet safety issues in the classroom?  There is not enough research to suggest either case.  Perhaps students would learn more about ethical digital citizenship if it were practiced in a safe learning environment instead of having to learn it on their own.

The 21st Century human brain requires Connectivism to learn and social media is a valuable vehicle for connective knowledge.  Presently, librarians are finding creative methods of using social networking to improve library management and connections with readers, but there is a great deal of potential in library instruction.  Librarians have the opportunity to alter how social media technologies are used by teens; many teens are unaware of the power of their Twitter accounts, blogs, and more.  The literature on social media in school libraries is mostly suggestive cheerleading with a few real-world examples of implementation, as with Buffy Hamilton.  Roadblocks of the Connectivism approach further complicate the progression of education, though as more bold librarians obtain funding to experiment with social media, others will follow.  Because social media integration is in its early states in education, more action research is necessary on how Connectivism impacts students’ critical thinking abilities, problem solving skills, and—through long-term assessment—lifelong learning.


Dowles, S. (2007). An introduction to connectivism. Retrieved from http://downes.ca/post/33034.

Hamilton, B. J. (2011). The school librarian as teacher: What kind of teacher are you? Knowledge Quest, 39(5), 34-40.

Harris, C. (2012). Messages that stick: A hip marketing concept can work for libraries. School Library Journal, 58(2), 14.

Infinite, A. (2011). Best Business and Marketing Quotes. Retrieved from http://saucysocialmedia.com/2011/08/business-marketing-quotes/.

Interlandi, J. (2008). Reading this will change your brain. Newsweek Magazine: The Daily Beast. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/10/13/reading-this-will-change-your-brain.html.

Orlando, J. (2011). FERPA and social media. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.sharethiscontent.net/Actions/social_share_version.cfm?message_id=1221820&user_id=MAGNA_FF&recipient_id=638310814&isRecip=1.

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Elearnspace. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm.

Stover, K. (2009). Stalking the wild appeal factor: Reader’s advisory and social networking. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 48(3), 243-269.

Valenza, J. (2011). In my network confession… Teacher Librarian, 39(2), 27-33.


Poetry’s Place: Integrating Poetry into the School Library

Cover of "A Poke in the I"
Cover of A Poke in the I

In the telling words of Carl Sandburg, “I’ve written some poetry I don’t understand myself.”   Poetry is an outlet for whatever the poet was feeling at that moment—happy, silly, sad, lost or despairing.  Poetry is a savior.  A good poem can comfort or cure the worst ailment of the soul and revive it, regardless of whether the poem is self-written or read.  Children can find the same solace or delight in poetry as adults.  The trick is to inspire kids to love poetry by finding the exact words at the exact moment and presenting them in exactly the right way.  This is where the librarian comes in.

The first step is to learn what types of poetry collections are available and which types appeal to children.  Sylvia Vardell’s instructive book Poetry Aloud Here! Sharing Poetry with Children in the Library is a helpful introduction to the many types of poetry, children’s preferences, and how to get kids excited about poetry.  Vardell covers the major collections and their differences: general anthologies, topical collections, compilations of works by individual poets, and picture books.  Whereas general anthologies are popular among adults choosing poems for children, children are less likely to pick these compilations up themselves.  Teachers and librarians teaching to a curriculum or a topic especially admire topical collections, or themed collections; these works are also heavily used by children.  Compilations of individual poets’ works, such as Shel Silverstein’s poetry, are popular with everyone.  An excellent initiation into the poetry world for children is to pick up a poem picture book or a poetic picture storybook.  The illustrations coupled with text lend meaning to the poems and offer kids the chance to form their own interpretations (Vardell, 2006, p. 54-59).  Knowing the different types of poetry books and children’s general reactions to each type is the first step to successfully assimilating poetry into the library.

A few studies have been done on children’s reactions to poetry.  Vardell presents the findings concisely.  Children find narrative poems most engaging and free verse and haikus least interesting.  Studies find that children prefer “strong sound patterns, rhyme, and rhythm” (Vardell, 2006, p. 75).  Humorous poetry, poetry about familiar experiences, and poetry about and starring animals are all very popular with kids (Vardell, 2006, p. 75).  This valuable knowledge provides librarians with the necessary “hook” to spark children’s interest in poetry and introduce them to new titles.

Children’s literature holds many treasures in the realm of poetry.  Librarians have access to many sources that aid in the development of their poetry collections and inform them about new or upcoming books and anthologies.  Poetryfoundation.org is one such website.  It offers poetry samples through articles, such as “Poetry Goes Back to School,” in which poetry with similar themes are featured.  This particular article is a link to lists of annotated bibliographies of poems with themes such as “Ten Poems to Read When You Get Stuffed in Your Locker” by Caitlin Kimball, “Ten Poems to Get You Through Science Class This Year” by Karen Glenn, and “Ten Poems to Send the Person You’re Crushing On” by Becca Klaver.  These annotated bibliographies have direct links to each of the poems briefly reviewed and discussed.  Themed, online annotated bibliographies with built-in links are most useful when the librarian wishes to recommend poetry to kids going through phases, kids who need a pick-me-up, or kids who need literature to relate to.

Similarly, http://www.gigglepoetry.com is a kid-friendly resource for children’s poetry.  Kids can read and rate poems by children’s authors or other kids, as well as play fun poetry games and perform poetry plays with their friends using the online scripts. The website also caters to the educator, providing information about how to set up an author’s visit and other differentiated resources to use poetry in the classroom or library. For kids, there is an “Ask the Poet” feature to contact the authors.  New poems are posted frequently.  The website provides plenty of poems about children’s experiences, ready for exploration and interaction.

Concrete poetry is a fun form for children to explore and create their own.  The sensory, tactile style of learning is directly engaged through the process of reading these poems.  Kids need to twist and turn the book every which way to read the words.  The entertaining shapes and sizes of the illustrations, in addition to the fonts, are appealing to children, especially visual learners.  John Grandits’ 2004 compilation of his own concrete poems, titled Technically, It’s Not My Fault, is humorous poetry told in clever formats that work brilliantly with the protagonist’s many adventures and mishaps.  Readers are sure to enjoy the ridiculous thoughts of Robert and love the simple sketches and shapes that draw attention to and supplement the silly, insightful poems.  This gender-neutral, non-fiction collection’s strange poetic shapes and realistic yet amusing content is sure to have kids of grades four through eight laughing, although Paul B. Janeczko’s and Chris Raschka’s A Poke in the I is more masterfully compiled.

Raschka’s illustrations and Janeczko’s selected poems interact seamlessly on each page of A Poke in the I.  This is done to such a degree that the poems would lose meaning without the illustrations and vise versa.  The illustrator combines watercolor and oil paints with collage to create simple, yet eloquent illustrations that do not overpower the poetry’s words.  The content is about everyday thoughts and experiences like love, food, skipping rope, nature, etc.  The language is not difficult and is appropriate for very young children or older children, all of which will surely appreciate the witty illustrations and how they relate to each verse.  This poetic picture book was clearly compiled and illustrated to delight the reader; the poems are not heavy with the burden of morals or messages, though they do offer insight into the simple, straightforward perspective of a child.

Integrating poetry into a children’s library is easy and enjoyable with concrete poetry.  Its flexibility and visual appeal make kids eager (if kids are eager about poetry) to try it.  A useful website for creating concrete poetry is http://www.wildaboutwoods.org.uk/elearning/concretepoetry.  The Woodland Trust provides this easy-to-use concrete poetry generator.  Kids choose a shape to inspire and / or outline their poem or they can draw their own.  The website offers sample words and themes for kids to choose in addition to its bright, clear, colorful graphics.  Kids write their own poetry and move the words around the page and, when printing, choose to either leave the outline of their chosen shape or remove it.  After it is printed, kids color and add their own illustrations to their poems.  This generator is a good aid to writing concrete poetry, though kids may also choose to simply draw and write their own.

A fun poetry project is for kids to work independently and together to craft a poetry quilt.  If the librarian is able, she could make cloth squares for students to copy their poetry onto.   She could then sew these squares together, stuff each section, and display the quilt in the library for kids and their parents to admire.  Another option for the less crafty librarian would be to connect sheets of paper that students have written their poems on and laminate these together.  Each child would create a border around his / her poem to make it look like a quilt square.  This project would be especially remarkable if each poem was a concrete poem of the child’s own creation.  The various shapes, sizes, fonts, colors, and images would make for an eclectic quilt indeed.

Poetry compilations that get kids to be directly involved in the verses are sure to encourage children to love poetry.  Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat, edited by Nikki Giovanni, is one.  This topical collection of rhythmic, powerful poems by famous authors, such as Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks, includes an audio CD in which most of the authors read their featured poems aloud.  Children can follow along and hear how these poems were meant to be read: the pauses, the metrical feet of the poem, the poem’s mood and tone, etc.  In the book, each poem has a different design, including font and illustrations, with a designation for locating the tracks on the CD where that poem can be found.  The illustrations are vibrant and detailed, each one interacting with the text to enhance its meaning without overshadowing.  This juvenile poetry compilation has five different illustrators, which one would assume is disjointed, but the various styles compliment each other and, more importantly, each poem and its relation to its former and following poems.  Because this compilation is centered on Hip Hop-like poetry, teachers and librarians with some dance experience can choreograph one or more of these poems with a class of students.  Step dance moves would be most appropriate.  This way, children will truly feel the beat of the poem and dance around inside it!  These performances would be a valuable asset to a class-wide or school-wide poetry reading.

Another way to spark kids’ interest is to use a transitional text as a bridge to the new genre of poetry.  This transitional text should be something that kids would love and find familiar.  One such option is Roald Dahl’s Vile Verses, a collection of Dahl’s lyrical verses found in his other works.  Roald Dahl’s publishers scoured his writing for the best, and sometimes obscure or omitted, verses Dahl ever created.  They compiled these poems into themed sections and included a Table of Contents and an Index for easy navigation.  Almost every child knows Roald Dahl, or at least some of his works; therefore, there is something in this masterful collection for everyone.  Each poem tells its own story, classifying this anthology as a collection of narrative poems, which kids are already partial to.  According to Quentin Blake’s foreword, the illustrations are from veteran and up-and-coming illustrators across the globe.  The illustrations range from full-page spreads in the likeness of typical Roald Dahl characters, to watercolor-and-ink representational art, to charcoal-and-watercolor cartoon art and many other styles.  Children and adults alike are sure to be spellbound by this masterpiece poetry collection.

A popular, exciting activity to involve the entire school in learning and appreciating poetry is to hold a few poetry readings each semester.  Librarians and teachers can team up to prepare students for the poetry reading, encouraging them to write their own poems or choose a poem by their favorite author to read aloud.  Kid-written poems read aloud should receive extra praise and even be published in the school newsletter or newspaper!  Educators should also participate in the poetry reading to set an example for the children, reading with expression and projection and charisma.  A wide array of hats is a fun way to shake up a poetry reading; kids can choose whichever hat they wish and use it as a prop while reading!  The theatre department would be an excellent source for borrowing poetry-reading hats.  Snapping is the classic way to applause at a poetry reading—teach kids how to snap!  Poetry performances by groups are another way to spice up a reading, as suggested earlier with Hip Hop poetry and Step Dance.  This level of creativity will help kids feel more comfortable with and more involved in the poetry genre.

Librarians can profoundly influence the way children view poetry.  A love of poetry should be instilled at a young age so that children have the chance to appreciate its simple, fun forms and topics before progressing to analyzing more advanced forms as teens and college students.  Projects and activities for poetry will make learning the genre a memorable and enjoyable experience, both for the librarian and for the children.  Librarians who have familiarized themselves with the types of poetry and children’s general preferences will have more ammunition in the poetry fight, for poetry is always the most neglected and rejected literary genre.  If the librarian shows passion for poetry, the children will catch the poetry bug too!


“Concrete Poetry.” (2011). Woodland Trust. Retrieved at http://www.wild-about-woods.org.uk/elearning/concretepoetry/.

Dahl, R. (2005). Vile verses. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Janeczko, P. (2001). A poke in the I. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

“Giggle Poetry.” (2011). Meadowbrook Press. Retrieved at http://www.gigglepoetry.com.

Giovanni, N. (Ed.). (2008). Hip hop speaks to children: A celebration of poetry with a beat. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.

Grandits, J. (2004). Technically, it’s not my fault: Concrete poems. New York, NY: Clarion Books.

“Poetry Goes Back to School.” (2011). Poetry Foundation. Retrieved at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/178601.

Sandburg, C. (2011). “Quotes About Poetry.” The Quote Garden. Retrieved at http://www.quotegarden.com/poetry.html.

Vardell, S. (2006). Poetry aloud here! Sharing poetry with children in the library. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

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 http://www.shelfari.com.

Shelfari. (2010). The Lovely Bones. Retrieved from http://www.shelfari.com/books/11215/The-Lovely-Bones.

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 fromhttp://cissl.rutgers.edu/impact_studies.html.

Smith, E. G. (2006). Student learning through Wisconsin school library media centers. In 2006 School Library Media Study. Retrieved from http://dpi.state.wi.us/imt/lmsstudy.html.

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 http://cissl.rutgers.edu/.

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