I decided to do a bonus post on databases because databases have become a very large part of the school librarian’s decision making in the purchasing of materials for our collection. Information literacy skills are a fundamental part of every area of the school curriculum in all subject areas. At one point or another, every student in the school will be using our online resources. We must expand beyond NOVEL every year to accommodate projects that are being initiated in all areas of our school. The way I see it, databases are the reliable storehouses of information – where we keep our magazine, newspaper and journal articles for students and staff to search for and find quickly. I try to impart that these are the places where we can find the most reliable information for our research and learning needs.
We have our own SEARCH page that allows staff and students to access all of our online resources including databases, BrainPop, encyclopedias and e-book collections that are available to our school community using one username and one password. This has made life easier for everyone. Teachers may request that I purchase resources that they find invaluable to their classes.
I would have to say the most popularly requested database, without a doubt, is Proquest. We have Proquest – Newstand and Proquest-Research Library. Our senior English classes rely on both of these databases for their research paper units. The English teacher who assigns 3 research papers per year specifically requested this resource as the sole database that he would like to have in his repertoire if he had no other choice.
Some of our new databases that I wish that I had more time to work with include Biography In Context, World History In Context, Science In Context and American History in Context by Gale (we always had Opposing Viewpoints In Context). These databases appeal to me as a librarian because they are visually appealing and offer various search strategies within them. I also love Gale’s devotion to primary sources in their history databases.
The Advanced Search toggle prompt in almost every database takes you to a page where it is easy to find sources based on a variety of limiters- but Gale has so many ideas on how to find exactly what one needs – I love how they have thought of everything you might want to look for. One might also browse topics on these databases – I suggested using the topics browse capability in Opposing Viewpoints to help students narrow their research topics. These databases have a Listen feature so reluctant readers can have information read to them. They also have a wide variety of tools including citation makers (almost all databases have these now – I am so envious of the modern students as we had to make our own from scratch following the MLA model). Citation makers allow students to choose the format and with a click here or there – it will automatically whip up the citation to be conveniently cut and pasted into the Works Cited page. (For you non-educators/librarians reading this – YEAH, I KNOW. SO EASY!) It couldn’t be any easier to find information or cite it with the help of the database resources available today.
Remember the days of The Guide to Periodical Literature – the constant drilling of how to use an index? These skills could still be translated into our digital world, but now they would be a pre-taught skill leading to more intensive searching techniques. Students must learn how to take their topic, break it down and narrow the scope so that they may fine tune the search for information on a database. It is difficult to teach these skills without constantly exposing students to the practice of searching with a purpose. Students must be exposed to searching at all levels so they will be more competent as they move toward their first research papers. Students must also continue to use basic reading skills to take the information from the database and translate it into their own work. Paraphrasing information is critically important and student need to know how to find the main ideas of the work , comprehend and translate it into their own words.
I try to publicize and teach staff and students how to use databases for every project. Every database has a search engine and are just as easy to use as Google or any other search engine on the Internet, but the reliability of information is higher. I find that I don’t have to worry about students finding and using a 6th grader’s report on the solar system if I can successfully steer them to using our databases.