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THE NEW MEDIA CENTER: Subscription Databases in the Age of the Internet--A Problem With Easy Solutions

By Mary Alice Anderson - Posted Sep 1, 2011
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One semester I taught an English class along with my media job. Returning to the media center one day I spotted a video I could have used to teach concepts in the novel the students had read. My oversight is a reminder of how easy it is for busy educators to forget what’s there for us. Now with far more choices, it’s easier to ignore what is there. Subscription databases are a leading example.

On this subject, a veteran teacher told me: “Even though I had training, I had forgotten that these databses were available and therefore did not plan to teach the students about them until the last quarter. Had I been reminded, I would have incorporated them all year.” A new media specialist concurred: “As a classroom teacher for many years before, I was never exposed to the subscription databases until now … gasp! NONE of the teachers I talked to even knew they existed.” Another responded: “I’ve been lucky to have two teachers embrace the use of online databases.”

Limited subscription database use by students and too few teachers requiring their use are common concerns among media specialists; this parallels the teacher concern that students just want to “Google it.”

It is disconcerting when a school or state purchases valuable resources and usage is low. You know what isn’t being used. Do you have data to support your concerns? Take time to generate the data available on the database site and use it to help develop a plan for marketing your databases. The start of a school year is a good time to revitalize your advocacy and marketing campaign to begin overcoming nonuse.


Make sure you know what’s there. It’s especially easy to forget over the summer. Revisit the databases you’ve purchased or those provided by your district, state, or consortium. What’s available this fall may be different than in the spring. Districts purchase new resources and eliminate others; states and consortiums negotiate new contracts; database titles and interfaces change; and products or companies merge as illustrated by the recent acquisition of the H.W. Wilson Co. by EBSCO. As I was finishing this column I received an email about major changes with a new look and feel to Minnesota’s database portal. Be a step ahead of the first teacher wanting his classes to do research so you are not caught off guard and can recommend the perfect resource.

Building media specialists don’t always receive the information that districts receive. An elementary media specialist posted an online request for assistance so she could make sure her school was taking advantage everything offered by her state. Colleagues and I attended the “what’s new” session to learn about changes in the state-provided database collection. We left armed with wonderful tips and ideas to share with staff.

Invite company sales representatives to help you learn. They want the products they represent to be well-used. Several light bulb moments made the training about encyclopedia updates a vendor sales rep provided to our district media specialists well worth our time.

Promotional and instructional materials on the database website are another good starting point. Locating these resources can be tricky; look for links to educator and librarian resources or product support. An Iowa media specialist who took the time to closely examine these materials told me she learned that most of these databases provide advocacy materials she hadn’t even been using. She was able to refer to these materials to improve her own understanding, she said. The amount of available tools will be a pleasant surprise. Options include extensive handouts, tip sheets, video tutorials, product descriptions, FAQs, discussion groups, guided tutorials, and classroom teaching materials. Webinars are another useful tool; most are archived for later viewing, which is helpful if workday participation is difficult.

Leading the Horse to Water


This article is available in its entirety in a variety of formats — Preview (free), Full Text, Text+Graphics, and Page Image PDF — on a pay-to-view basis, courtesy of ITI's InfoCentral. CLICK HERE.

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