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For educators, online libraries offer a haven of respectability in the search for accurate and appropriate Internet resources. Virtual libraries present their own challenges, however. Locating and choosing the best library sites for students can be a daunting task! Where does a teacher begin? Included: A dozen online library sites that are reliable, predictable, and eminently usable!

English politician Herbert Samuel called the library "thought in cold storage." If his words are true, online libraries are thought in the refrigerator, allowing users instant access to information from a single source without the hassle of searching miles of separate stacks! More and more, brick and mortar libraries are taking their offerings online, expanding their reach beyond their own schools, neighborhoods, or cities to the global community.

For educators, online libraries offer a haven of respectability in the search for accurate and appropriate Internet resources for classroom use. Unlimited by physical space, however, virtual libraries present their own challenges. Locating and choosing the best library sites for students can be a daunting task -- so many resources, so little time! Where does a teacher begin?


"Start with the end in mind," recommends educator Debbie Abilock. "What do you hope to find? If you could pick the very best example of what you want, what would it look like?"

Abilock, the director of the technology, library, curriculum department and the curriculum coordinator at the Nueva School in Hillsborough, California, also is the editor of Knowledge Quest, the journal of the American Association of School Librarians. Her Web page, Choose the Best Search for Your Information Needs, breaks down information needs and matches them to the online resources that will provide the best results.

When selecting resources, Abilock suggests, teachers should think of the Web site as a virtual librarian. "Ask yourself 'If I was going to collaborate with a librarian to find the very best resource for my teaching and for my students' learning, what kind of help would I want?'"

Noodling Around

Debbie Abilock also is involved in a unique online venture with her son Damon. Noodle Tools, a free suite of interactive tools, helps students -- and others -- with online research.

"In thinking about plagiarism and why kids seemed reluctant to cite the sources they used, I realized that what irritated me most was the bibliography's required picky!" recalls Abilock. "I talked to my son, a software engineer, who wrote a very simple version of a MLA Bibliographic Format Bibliography-Maker. The tool, which provides interactive practice in citing a variety of resources, can be used by even very young students."

Noodle Tools, the next generation of that idea, contains four parts: NoodleQuest, a wizard that guides users to the best search strategies for their research purposes; NoodleLinks, a searchable database of bibliographies on hundreds of topics; NoodleBib, an interactive bibliography composer; and NoodleBoard, a moderated discussion board for Noodle Tools users.


"The more you use the Web, the more you learn that certain sites are predictably reliable, thorough, and thoughtfully organized," Abilock tells Education World. "Many of them are databases, part of what we call the invisible Web."

To aid beginners in their search for libraries of online information, Abilock created Developing Depth of Research: Invisible Web Databases. From books, magazines, and newspapers to photographs, works of art, primary documents, and statistics, Abilock's site directs users to specialized resources in every subject area.

Abilock advocates a "good enough" approach to searching -- one that targets specific informational needs and locates resources that will supply those needs without inundating the user with more than is desired. "Deciding how to use library Web sites depends on what you want to accomplish," she explains. "Are you asking kids to quickly find accurate factual information? Are you asking them to investigate a controversial topic? Do you want to teach history with complexity and richness, using primary source documents?" The purpose of the instruction determines the resources kids should use.

For primary source documents, Abilock recommends American Memory from the Library of Congress. The site contains 7 million digital items from more than 100 historical collections. In addition, the site's Learning Page helps teachers use those primary sources by providing tips and tricks, lessons, and activities.

The Librarians' Index to the Internet is another of Abilock's favorite resources. The clearly organized and searchable subject directory of more than 9,000 Internet resources chosen by librarians "is my first stop when I need to find background information or stimulate my thinking," says Abilock. The site's motto is "Information You Can Trust."

"Blue Web'n, from Pacific Bell's Knowledge Explorer Network, is an outstanding resource for K-12 projects," Abilock adds. "It allows users to see what others have designed to get kids thinking and acting in an investigative, inquiry-oriented way." Blue Web'n, a searchable database, contains about 1,000 outstanding Internet learning sites, grouped by subject area, audience, and type.


Other online libraries also serve as terrific sources of information, historical records, reading material, and more! Visit one of the following virtual libraries today. No library card is required!

  • America's Library
    This Library of Congress site gives children the opportunity to interact with history. Through scavenger hunts and colorful stories and pictures, visitors learn about famous Americans, historical periods, the states, American pastimes, and music.
  • National Archives Online Exhibit Hall
    If you're looking for historical documents online, this site from the National Archives and Records Administration is one you don't want to overlook. Here you'll find the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
  • The Internet Public Library
    This University of Michigan site has organized lists of links grouped by subject, an index to online literary texts, and specific pages designed for young children and teens.
  • National Library of Canada
    Views treasures from Canadian libraries, images of Canada, and stories of Canada's heroes. The site's Kids Page contains games and historical facts about Canada, organized by grade level.
  • StoryPlace
    The interactive stories in English and Spanish at the Web site of The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are perfect for preschool and elementary students. They include activities and reading lists.


The following resources demonstrate how local individuals, schools, and communities can provide useful information through online libraries.

  • Virtual Middle School Library
    Linda Bertland, a middle school librarian, directs students to excellent research sources, reading material, class assignments, Internet basics, and more.
  • Lawrence High School Library
    This Lawrence (Kansas) High School site offers guides to research about topics such as African American authors and other countries. Need a good read? Try one of the site's teacher or student picks!
  • Morton Grove Public Library Webrary
    The Morton Grove (Illinois) online library features informational links and a page for kids that includes an Unofficial Guide to Harry Potter Fun, Facts, and Trivia.


Article by Cara Bafile
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