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Thoughts from the CSS Library - Databases

Donna Alden, Teacher-Librarian

A library that has been professionally managed, whether in a school, academic or public library has resources that have been evaluated and selected for a specific user population. Searching for information in that library should garner reliable results. Once the search expands to an Internet search, the evaluation and selection procedure becomes the responsibility of the researcher, and that’s not a bad thing.

It does, however, necessitate making clear that the Internet is not a huge online “library”, where resources have been evaluated, selected, and organized for access in the same way as a library. There is a basis of trust we assume when searching for information in a library, a basic understanding of what the function of a library is, that really shouldn’t be transferred to the Internet. Do we make this clear when working with students researching online?

On the other hand, online databases, to my mind, are true “libraries”, collections of evaluated and selected online resources by library professionals for specific purposes. And in so many ways, the value of online databases far surpasses that of a print collection. Factors such as cost, space, scope and depth of information, format, currency and ease of access weigh heavily on the online resources side of the decision.

I notice students who may struggle with spelling still can’t always locate their topic, but certainly alphabetical order is no longer an issue! The hot linked cross-references, see also’s, related and suggested topics greatly enhance the results in an inquiry, and far surpass print indexes.

Another huge bonus with online databases- many offer a variety of resource formats- encyclopedia articles, newspapers and magazines, multimedia, and website links, many more and to greater scope than many public and academic, but certainly, school libraries could hope to hold.


Bob Cotter said...

What are the Internet Databases being used in the CSS Library? The schools in our area have yet to find a reason to accept the importance of offering students research databases. I hope that will change some day. I know prior to leaving my position as technology manager, I was unable to convince them to move to that, despite the quality computer hardware that our schools have. Here in British Columbia there are very good options available at a reasonable price level, but the arguments presented by a number of the librarians is that they have such little staff time, for themselves and aides, that they would like to see money go there for improvement. Secondly, they believe they do not have enough funds to purchase many new books in a year... they believe funds need to go there. So, we'll see what transpires as our students move through this system without learning database research skills.

Donna DesRoches said...

I so agree with your comments about the value of databases. I am currently in the process of collection mapping the school libraries in a rural Saskatchewan school division with a focus on the new middle years curriculum. It is quickly becoming apparent that it will be impossible to upgrade and build print collections to meet the new demands. Databases supplied by the ministry and supplemented by the school division and schools will be the only way to ensure reliable, current and equitable access to information.

DAlden said...

All school libraries in Alberta have free access in school to the databases subscribed to and available through , in the Online Reference Centre (ORC) area of the site. At home, or out of province, you need a user name and password to fully explore this site. Visiting it, however, will give you a good idea of the list of databases available and the content descriptions are there too. The list changes from year to year, but I am continually impressed with what databases are being selected for our use, and continue to promote them whenever I have the chance during collaborative work with teachers, or working with students. Think encyclopedia and nonfiction book articles, dozens of periodicals and newspapers, web links, and multimedia. Access to information is definitely facilitated via this site and the databases available.

I believe most of these databases can be subscribed to on a yearly basis, which would be the way to go for individual schools. In the past, our school subscribed to a specific science one available through EBSCO. (You could check out their offerings on their website.) With the addition of the Science Resource Centre database in the ORC, we decided to not renew that subscription.

As for the second part of your reply- reluctance of library staff to embrace this advanced approach to developing a library collection, I think this may be a combination of reluctance to change, and lack of understanding about information databases. The Databases in this discussion are professionally selected and developed (and maintained) general and specialized library collections that embrace all formats of information…. What’s not to like about that? As for the expense: you get more bang for your buck using this approach. One encyclopedia set- say The World Book- can be accessed by more than one classroom of students at a time. Compare that in your mind to a class or even a small group clustering around the reference section of a print encyclopedia! Web access to all this information- and remember, it’s been evaluated and selected professionally- is the way to go! As well, currency is not as much an issue with online resources, as it is with print resources. And finally, I’d like to make this point: there are sections of the library you no longer need funds to develop and maintain: they’ve been superseded by web sources that far exceed what we can offer students in print format with limited budgets.

I believe professional librarians and library support staff need to focus their efforts on providing access to information, and instruction on strategies to access all information … not on guarding status quo library collections and services.

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