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TOOLS FOR LEARNING: Libraries Get Social—Social Media, That Is!

By Victor Rivero - Posted Oct 29, 2010
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It’s the 21st century. Do you know where your library is? Where should it be? Everywhere our students are, for starters.

There’s a quiet—or not so quiet—shift happening in school libraries across America. The social media revolution—reflected in all manner of shiny iPhone apps, blogs, Nings, Facebook pages, and other social networking tools, sites, and platforms—is real, and it’s running like a loud line of students straight through the stacks, into the common areas, taking a sharp turn, and heading right on up to the teacher librarian/media specialist’s desk. Are you ready for it?


Some school administrators are banning social media to protect young students from cyberbullying and for security reasons—case in point, Anthony Orsini, principal of Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, N.J. In other cases, they are banning social media for experimental reasons. For example, Eric Darr, provost of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology (Pa.), banned technology for a week for an “academic exercise” to raise consciousness among students on that campus. (Students weren’t upset; they simply looked both ways and whipped out their iPhones.)

Other schools are still trying to figure it all out. School Library Journal has published articles suggesting that school libraries consider instituting social media policies due to “embarrassing Facebook mishaps, hothead Twitterers, and outspoken bloggers” among other miscreant-rebel types mucking it up for the mannerly majority.

But really, how do you ban or police something that’s ubiquitous—and mobile, for that matter?

This leads us to our next line of questions.


What are the benefits of opening up to social media usage in and around school libraries? What true value can social media bring to the academic and cultural experience that we call school? What role does the school library play, and what resources are there for the teacher librarian/media specialist to consider in leading that charge?

After all, the school library is a traditional source of knowledge. It’s what we all had in the dinosaur days before Google. It’s the decaffeinated Barnes & Noble-for-free, right inside the school. And as a central source for knowledge in our physical world, for our real lives—it’s still going strong (Amazon didn’t kill it; it just made it more attractive).

The teacher librarians and media specialists that head our bastions of knowledge have been the human face, the saving grace for so many lost students looking to find that part of themselves in a book, a resource, or a study group.

How do we reconcile our physical school libraries with the virtual world and leverage the social media revolution that’s quite literally taken over the world? (If 500-million-member Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth largest; Twitter has grown by more than 1,300% recently; LinkedIn recently grew by 5 million members in 2 months and is currently at 67 million strong.)

Do we get rid of them entirely? Last year, The Boston Globe (itself threatened with extinction) reported on Ashburnham, Mass.-based Cushing Academy headmaster James Tracy’s decision to “optimize technology”—effectively doing away with a 144-year-old, 20,000-tome-strong collection to create a $500,000 learning center replete with large, flat-screen, internet-enabled TVs; laptop-friendly study carrels; dozens of e-readers; and, yes, a new $50,000 coffee shop ($12,000 for the cappuccino machine alone). That’s pretty radical, and it may very well be the ultimate in social mediaization of a library, but …


For those of us still carting around what some see as scroll-like, papyrus-scented museum pieces—whose school libraries are not so Jetson-ized—here are some tools for learning, for fostering student collaboration, and for opening up to a new chapter—or, let’s say, gently finger-tapping on to a new site—in your professional life.

There’s an app for that. Remote searches of school library/media center databases are just a few clicks away. Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, has a new iPhone app: AccessMyLibrary School Edition allows a student to select his or her school, enter the school password (one-time login remains active until the end of the school year), and proceed to the school’s library or media center. The student chooses a topic and then dives in to current magazines, journals, encyclopedias, and more. It’s available 24/7 and provides hundreds of sources for homework, hobbies, or personal knowledge; science research information; biographies, both historical and from current headlines; the ability to track a best-seller or to write a book report; and, of course, more. It’s free and downloadable through the iTunes store (

Efficient, engaging, and collaborative. Destiny Library Manager from Follett Software is a K–12 library resource management tool that reaches past library walls, opening them up for student-teacher collaboration, individualized instruction, and 24/7 access to library resources through the web. Providing better access to online resources, the tool enhances a school library’s current collection, tracks book inventories in real time, and bridges the library media specialist’s projects with those of the classroom teacher. The same company also offers a user-friendly, visually engaging search interface with Destiny Quest, with which students can easily narrow or broaden their searches to get their research done. Additionally, the company provides a cool networking blog for library management types (

Lots more community features. TLC’s library automation solutions allow for book clubs, discussion groups, shared interests, and web participation through tagging, list sharing, and user reviews, as well as RSS result feeds, RSS indexing, predictive results that complete typed searches, item mapping to help users find where in the library their resources are located, and a “book river” that showcases your collection with book jacket images that “flow” by. Check it out for yourself; it’s pretty cool (

Build your own community. From SirsiDynix (tagline “Tomorrow’s Libraries. Today”) comes Web 2.0 integration that lets students rank materials, submit reviews, and use other social media tools as part of their library experience. Users can rate content and submit their own book reviews while browsing through other reviews, cover images, tables of content, awards data, fiction profiles, excerpts, summaries, and indexed author notes (

Shape content and services of your system. Ex Libris customers are leveraging their open interfaces to build extended functionality to fit their environment. Students can evaluate and annotate information for their own benefit as well as for the benefit of their community. The library systems provider also allows students to search results by popularity and adds links and recommendations to the mix as well. Ex Libris has a Facebook page where customers can directly collaborate in changing the user experience for the better (

Catalogs and Web 2.0. By way of example, The School Library System of Genesee Valley BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services in New York state) offers a next-gen portal it hopes is socially engaging: book reviews, forums, comments, and tags all contribute to making its Fish4Info site an interactive social community (

A Google-like library search engine. VuFind has been adopted by libraries worldwide. The Google-like interface allows users to search by keyword, see suggested searches, narrow results with various filters, and see related items. What’s the social part? Students can favorite a search, save it, send it to their phone, email it, tag it, or comment on it. The system is a lot less rigid than older library search engines, where searches yielding zero results were usually a result of strict, to-the-letter book-title searching; this system uses topic searches and, overall, is a more flexible technology open to user input and sharing (

Making connections. The latest version of ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher offers students tools that help them engage in meaningful 21st-century learning: social bookmarking and note organizers to discuss and share ideas and research tools such as critical-thinking questions and media streams to create, present, and even mash up ideas (


But why stop there? Social media isn’t just for the students entering through the doors (or through the virtual doors) to your library—it’s also for the teacher librarian/media specialists themselves. Here’s a small collection of social connections for the person who helps others so much he might not stop to help himself, so we’re doing it for him:

Library 2.0 by Steve Hargadon. Librarians and the Internet, Social Media, and Web 2.0. This 246-member Ning-powered site includes librarians from all over the globe and provides a very easy-to-use platform for connecting with your fellow professionals (

Information Tyrannosaur by Andy Burkhardt. Top of the Information Food Chain. This blog is a reflection on technology from an emerging technology librarian at a small college in Vermont. Well-written and real, you may find comfort in a solid collection of archived and recent posts, including “Four Reasons Libraries Should Be on Social Media.” Check it out (

Awful Library Books by Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner. Bibliophiles, indulge! This amusing site contains actual library holdings but no actual libraries are mentioned (to protect the innocent), although the authors say, “A good librarian would probably be able to track down the holding libraries without too much trouble anyway.” Submit your comments and covers there (

Disruptive Library Technology Jester by Peter E. Murray. This sassy little blog is written by a techie librarian with a knack for translating librarian, computing, and networking jargon into an understandable whole (

Everybody’s Libraries by John Mark Ockerbloom. A digital library architect and planner at the University of Pennsylvania, Ockerbloom delivers a site that is a little bit of Shakespeare and a whole lot of digital (

Library Garden by Janie Hermann and others. It’s not The Real Housewives of New Jersey , but it is from the Garden State, hence the name. With a healthy mix of public, academic, consortial, state, and youth libraries, a team of contributors keeps it interesting, and weeded (

The Merry Librarian: True Stories from a Library Near You , by “Merry.” This is a confessional-style blog filled with anything-but-boring stories culled from the daily life of public and academic librarians. Merry isn’t always the right word for it; proceed with caution (

The Travelin’ Librarian by Michael Sauers. Sauers has been training librarians in technology for more than 13 years. His blog is a humorous and fascinating look at library life that includes videos, cartoons, and quotes (

The Handheld Librarian by Barbara Fullerton and others. This is a collection of handheld computer news, ideas, and opinions from librarians and others interested in libraries (

Hey Jude by Judy O’Connell ( The site features a great presentation on emerging technologies, social media, and libraries that O’Connell delivered at ISTE 2010 in Denver (

Wired Librarian by Karen Kliegman. Kliegman is a library media specialist from a small elementary school who was nominated for a best librarian/library blog by Edublog Awards. Visit the site and find out why (

Victor Rivero is a contributing writer and reviews editor for MultiMedia & Internet@Schools . He is based in Colorado Springs, Colo. Reach him by email at



Social Media and Academic Libraries

“Social media is highly prevalent in higher education, especially in academic libraries,” says Melissa Mallon, M.L.I.S., library instruction coordinator for Owen Library at the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown, Pa. “Our library uses Facebook as a way to connect with students and offer further research assistance. I also teach a number of workshops geared towards undergraduates on ways to use social media to make the research process easier and more effective. Tools such as Google Docs, wikis, and social bookmarking allow students to collaborate with one another, share resources, and fulfill group work obligations without having to meet in person. RSS feeds are used by a number of article databases to alert users of new journal issues; this is a feature that both students and faculty are becoming more interested in using,” she says.


World’s Largest Book Club

Want to join a book club? How about a book club with 1 million book lovers? The Wall Street Journal calls it “a sort of MySpace for bookworms.” The New York Times says, “Many social connections thrive at the site. Although members can keep all details of their online catalog private, most choose to display their libraries. …” Find people with eerily similar tastes, and forget Oprah’s Book Club; check out (—it’s so much more interesting!


Library Technology Guides

The site provides comprehensive library automation-related information. Marshall Breeding and other “regular gang members” make this a worthwhile site for librarians looking to select a system or simply keep up (


What a Widget!

Shelfari , the largest social book site in the world (acquired by Amazon in 2008), is a completely free widget (a cool little tool for any website) that works on most blogs and on Facebook. It’s very simple, but what it does for book browsing is quite stunning and worth a look (


Educators and Social Networking

We found significant differences in attitudes and behavior of teachers, principals, and library/media specialists. Librarians were the most likely to join a social network (70%), followed by teachers (62%), and then principals (54%).

• - Librarians are the most positive about the value of social networking in education, but they express frustration with the blocking of access to websites by school districts.

• - Principals have some reservations about social networking and feel behind in the technology, but they do accept that this is the future.

• - Teachers see how students use this technology every day and believe they will need it for success in life, but teachers feel they have very little time to use it and some reservations about their privacy.

Source: “Survey of K–12 Educators on Social Networking and Content-Sharing Tools” (2009), MCH, Inc., MMS Education.


Quick Links for Libraries

To speed your research on all the latest in library technology, here’s a partial list of some major library automation companies that you may find useful. Type them into the search window of your favorite search engine, and you’re there:

Auto-Graphics, Inc.


Book Systems, Inc.


COMPanion Corp.

CyberTools for Libraries

EOS International

Equinox Software

Ex Libris

Follett Software Co.

Infor Library and Information Solutions

Inmagic, Inc.

Innovative Interfaces, Inc.



Mandarin Library Automation, Inc.


Polaris Library Systems


Serials Solutions


Softlink International

Surpass Software

SydneyPLUS International

The Library Corp.

VTLS, Inc.


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