On the verge of the 21st century, media specialists have never had more opportunities to use technology in the library. At the same time, they have never been more torn between supporting the traditional roles of the library and the newly emerging ones.

While more sophisticated tools now exist than ever before in history, the patrons of the school library—the students—may know more than the custodians of the tools. This dichotomy has led to wide differences in how individual media centers work and what they offer to students, even in schools within the same district.

“I can’t do it all,” said elementary media specialist Sherry Wilk of F.C. Martin Elementary School in Richmond, Fla. “The school has 20 new computers in the lab and 10 in the media center, and I can’t support that technology and still do my job as a media specialist.”

F.C. Martin Elementary has a once-a-week technology assistant, shared with nearby elementary schools. Wilk persuaded the school’s governing council to fund a part-time library clerk to do her most routine jobs but can’t keep someone in the low-paying job.

Wilk’s solution is to focus in two areas. The first is the specialized research and reference needs of the school, a magnet for Pre-International Baccalaureate studies of foreign language and international studies. A second focus is circulating curriculum materials into classrooms.

Instead of teaching younger students to do internet searches through the school-wide network, she helps them find a few useful sites. She finds that electronic resources provide more accuracy and currency in reference areas than print materials.

About 20 miles away, Kinlock Park Middle School media specialist Carole Ray and computer education teacher Jessica Wetmore together developed a cadre of students to work in the media center and on the school’s Macintosh network. At neighboring West Miami Middle School, media specialist Karen Oberstein leveraged a team of students to support the school-wide Windows network and other technology, not just in the media center but also throughout the school. (See sidebar for a profile of Oberstein as the leader of a “high service” media center.)

Filling traditional roles

Today’s media specialist needs to be able to use new technology to lead students into traditional technology, such as books, asserts Gary Becker, who supervises media centers in Florida’s Seminole County, an affluent bedroom community northeast of Orlando.

Becker’s concern is that media specialists who have technology skills and knowledge will be drawn away from their role of support for the instructional program into more technical areas.

“Teaching research skills with print and web-based resources is an appropriate function,” he said, “because colleges are getting more into that mode.” Because of the opportunity for licensing online reference materials that are more current than print material, media specialists need to expand to online databases. But the media specialist shouldn’t become the network support person for the school, he believes.

In Seminole County schools, every high school has two media specialists, two clerks, a certified teacher who is the technology facilitator, and a network specialist. Elementary schools share the network specialists assigned to middle schools. With this level of staffing, media specialists can focus on direct delivery of service to students while maintaining and adopting technology delivery systems to access information.

In California, Proposition 13 eliminated most media specialist positions in the public schools years ago, and library clerks run school libraries. These clerks receive ongoing training but don’t have the education or experience of a media specialist with a master’s degree, reports Harvey Barnett, retired from the Cupertino school system.

While librarians lost their jobs in California, in Florida more are needed. Teachers are being paid to become media specialists in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, where massive retirements of those hired in the 1960s are now occurring.

But as schools make the transition to the 21st century, the role of the library media specialist is becoming more and more important, and districts can’t afford not to invest in this position.

“Sadly, some districts are funding technology programs by eliminating and reducing library staffing budgets,” said eSchool News columnist and technology consultant Jamie McKenzie. “Good-sized schools need full-time library aides taking care of the non-professional tasks, so the library media specialist may devote attention to information literacy, and large schools will need several librarians.”

Providing accountability for student learning

Increased accountability for student learning has impacted schools, and media centers have become the home base for some efforts to improve student reading ability, especially in elementary and middle schools. Recognizing the importance of student learning, the tagline of an American Library Association report on school libraries, “Information Power,” is: “Because Student Achievement is the Bottom Line.”

Two products that focus on increasing student reading ability are Advanced Learning Systems’ Accelerated Reader and EBSCO Publishing’s Online Reader. Advanced Learning Systems also offers products in other curriculum areas, such as math, while EBSCO has been in the library market for years. Both of these products refer to each student’s Lexile score, a measure of reading ability of the student and readability of materials.

To improve their reading ability, students read at and above their Lexile level. MetaMetrics of Research Triangle Park, N.C., developed the Lexile framework and has measured more than 12,000 books. The Reader’s Digest, for example, scores roughly 1,000.

Accelerated Reader (AR) provides computer-based tests for a wide range of fiction and nonfiction titles for K-12 students in English and, to a limited degree, in Spanish. Students receive AR points based on the Lexile score and length of the book. A shorter or easier book such as The Red Pony gets 5 points, while 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is valued at 20 points. Competition between classes, grades, or individual students in getting points is essential to using the program, Wilk reported.

Circulation of books increased dramatically after Accelerated Reader was implemented, said media specialist Bebe Stennis of Ponce de Leon Middle School in Coral Gables, Fla. Parents approached two local branches of the public library about providing copies of “junior classics” such as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn so that the school didn’t have to buy books that were already easily accessible in the community.

In some places, Accelerated Reader is getting credit for increasing student test scores on standardized tests. In the Florida Keys, for example, Monroe County Schools reading specialist Dr. Ralph Huhn attributes the high scores on state and national achievement tests in part to Accelerated Reader. The district’s eight elementary schools had Stanford reading scores ranging from 66 to 72 percent.

The downside of a program like Accelerated Reader is that it can take over the budget and focus of the media center. Funds can be concentrated in acquiring computerized tests and the related books. For a school with a wide range of reading abilities, this means fewer different titles might be purchased. In one study, from two-thirds to all of the book budget went for AR books in about a quarter of libraries using AR.

More processing of books is also required to add the Lexile reading level and number of AR points on the cover of each book. As media center funding has remained static or decreased over the past few years in many districts—while book prices have increased—the net effect is that fewer books are being purchased in many school libraries.

Online Reader, in contrast, does not require the media specialist to buy or circulate more books. The entire product is delivered through the computer. Students read current nonfiction magazine articles included in the software and answers questions based on the content. Reading levels are assigned to each article, from grades 4-12, and are categorized as recreational, informative, or functional. Like AR, students earn points for choosing more difficult reading types and for reading above grade level.

Online Reader, which doesn’t require any purchase of additional print materials, does require that schools have sufficient workstations for students to read online and take the tests. Both require staff assistance to print out results for teachers. Oberstein said that at a school in South Carolina where she worked for a year, the school used a full-time clerk to print AR results for teachers.

Another resource that can help match education standards and a wide range of materials is ExplorAsource, a free online service of MediaSeek Technologies Inc. Media specialists can find materials to support classroom teachers on specific topics or with particular students, and they can search for particular portions of a national or state standard.

The web site provides a list of learning resources, including books, web sites, software, videotapes, and audiocassettes. Each item has a direct link to the publisher’s web site. The online database and its companion online newsletter are free for educators because of sponsor support.

Cataloging and circulating materials

To be able to take on new roles within the media center and school, the media specialist today needs technology support in as many traditional functions as possible. These include circulation (checking in and out books, maintaining records of what books are used, sending overdue notices to students) and the card catalog (so patrons can find what they are looking for).

The decision to move to electronic support of basic library functions is accompanied by the need to “weed” collections of outdated books, then convert the catalog to electric format. Any new books purchased must have not just copies of cards to file in a catalog, but electronic MARC (Machine Readable Catalog) records as well.

While media centers have paid for these records in the past, CASPR Library Systems recently started offering them for free through a web-based service called FreeMARC, which draws on the 1.8 million records of titles in the Library of Congress. A school can search by title, author, or ISBN number and “tag” the record when it is found. All tagged records can be transferred at once into a single file.

The FreeMARC service is located on the company’s LibraryCom web site. Through LibraryCom, CASPR recently announced that it also would put school catalogs onto the internet for about $400 a year. The school catalog is then available to students outside of school and can be limited by password security if desired.

When choosing an automated system, there are certain features you should look for. “Speed of access is important to us, as is the ability for a whole labful of students to launch into a library search simultaneously during instruction,” said Nancy Messmer, director of library media and technology for the Bellingham School District in Washington.

Bellingham uses Follett Software for its circulation and cataloging. “Since we use the Follett Windows version on our NT network, every computer in every school accesses the library,” Messmer said. “It is efficient and natural for students and teachers to search for books from their classrooms, without having to line up in the library to use a search computer.”

In Messmer’s district, every student in third grade and above has a network and eMail account (with parental permission). “Wherever they go in the district, when they log on to any computer, they are served their menu of available services. One of these is the library catalog,” she said.

Baltimore County Public Schools use Chancery’s Library Pro Automation Software. “We chose it because it was one of the first that could be used with Mac computers, we were able to participate in the beta stage and have a lot of input as an end user, and the technical support is outstanding,” said Della Curtis, coordinator of the district’s Office of Library Information Services.

Curtis cites the following as important features to look for in a system: user friendliness and appealing presentation for K-12 students; searching capabilities, from simple keyword, subject, and title searches to complex Boolean logic; the ability to develop a Union Catalog of all schools and to distribute it via the internet (the current trend); templates for reports and flexibility to create your own reports for needed purposes; and technical support and documentation.

Managing electronic collections

All too often, the web is primarily a world of self-publishing, where people say anything they want. School libraries have traditionally had policies for developing their print collections. Now they need to be careful to select internet resources that can enhance and expand the library’s collection of print resources, as well as increase awareness and maximize use of excellent sites.

The University of Oregon’s electronic resource development policy provides a good example for schools to follow. The policy guides the selection of internet-based resources according to criteria such as user-friendliness, currency and relevancy of content, and accessibility under copyright laws.

While some government and museum sites are free, many important online reference databases must be licensed for school use. Media specialists need to negotiate an appropriate license. What is the correct number of users if the school has only two workstations that can access the ‘net? Sometimes “home use,” allowing students to have a password to use the resources from home or the public library, is available for a small additional fee.

When licensing online resources, consider joining a consortium, advises Jane Pearlmutter, president of the Wisconsin Library Association and a faculty associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies.

“As a result of consortial licensing, Wisconsin’s libraries, schools, colleges, and other internet service providers have access to BadgerLink, a full-text database of 4,000 magazines and journals, 28 national and regional newspapers, 13 state newspapers, 1,000 health pamphlets, and several other databases,” Pearlmutter said.

“Contracts with the vendors of the magazine indexes EBSCOHost and UMI’s ProQuest Direct allow the state to offer this wide range of resources to all of these information agencies,” she continued. “The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has estimated that the cost of providing these resources to schools and libraries on an individual basis would be $50 million. How much does the consortium pay? $2.1 million! That’s more than a 95 percent savings.” She estimated that 17 states were providing similar services.

Other databases—especially those created or funded by the federal government—offer free resources, but may be too sophisticated for elementary school students. A federal internet search service originated by the U.S. Commerce Department, for example, is available free to all secondary schools that choose to participate.

The site, called “usgovsearch,” gathers more than 20,000 federal agency and military web sites, 2 million document summaries from National Technical Information Service archives, and 8 million articles from Northern Light Technology’s database.

While less than 10 percent of English works are now available in digital form, Information Access Institute is helping to put library and museum knowledge online for wider use by libraries and schools. Texas museums and the Florida State Photographic Archive are cataloging their holdings and putting them online with help from the Institute.

At the same time, issues of copyright and distribution of items such as online music are still being developed. Access to electronic musical documents may be increasingly restricted.

Internet filters and content focusing

Recent surveys indicate that 89 percent of K-12 public schools have at least one connection with access to the internet, most commonly in the media center, while 57 percent of classrooms have connections. “Circulation” of materials means far more than moving a book from the media center to a classroom; now, materials can be purchased in electronic format to circulate through the school’s network into all classrooms.

With increased access to electronic materials, however, comes an increased responsibility to ensure that students aren’t able to download inappropriate materials.

Content-focusing services such as Scholastic Network offer several levels of internet use, so that younger children can work only within the Scholastic site, while older children can use Scholastic-previewed web sites. While focusing on certain resources limits what children can look at, it also means they are more likely to find materials that are at an appropriate reading or cognitive level.

Earlier this year, Winnebago Software released WebManager, an “internet content management tool”—read “filter”—that provides different levels of ‘net access to different types of users within a school, with a similar rationale as that of the Scholastic Network.

The product also includes a feature called Dynamic Document Review, which automatically analyzes word relationships in blocking sites. The example provided by Winnebago is that while other filters might block breast cancer sites because of the word “breast,” this filter would not.

Congress currently is debating whether to require some type of filtering technology on school and public library computers before they could receive federal funding for various projects. For more information about the technical considerations of various filtering solutions, see Trevor Shaw’s column on page 35 of this issue.

Digital cameras, projection devices, and furniture

About a quarter of all U.S. schools had a digital camera in 1998, according to market research firm Quality Education Data (QED). But more than half of all schools with a digital camera were elementary schools, so they are less common in secondary schools.

Getting a camera that uses a floppy disk to store images is high on the list of many media specialists. Sony was the first to make a camera like that, and now it has a digital camera that records about 30 seconds of video and sound, also on floppy. This makes it relatively easy to use the images, sounds, or videos in presentations or on a web site. These cameras also are inexpensive to operate, as floppy disks can be reused and poor pictures can easily be deleted.

Karen Oberstein reported that her students always took the digital camera on school field trips to help document what students learned.

About a quarter of schools also had some type of computer projection device in the 1998 QED survey, and a little more than half of the schools with a computer projection system were elementary schools. This is another item that school media centers are increasingly interested in acquiring and circulating.

As for furniture, you’ll want to make sure that it supports the technology increasingly found in the library media center. Study carrels can’t easily be converted into computer carrels; the height is wrong. The surface is often 30 inches off the floor, when the idea height for a computer keyboard is 27 inches. Students can’t easily type at the awkward height.

The depth is usually wrong, too. The computer monitor and keyboard often are deeper than the carrel. In addition, an easy way to thread electrical cords and cables is to use holes drilled in furniture, which don’t always exist in carrels or aren’t positioned ideally.

“As libraries fill with computers, our main concerns are that furniture is low, movable, and roomy,” said Bellingham’s Messmer. “It is important to have space around computers for books, papers, and pencils.”

Flexibility to group or cluster furniture for various instructional purposes or activity areas also is important, said Baltimore County’s Curtis. Look for modular furniture that is deep enough to accomodate all sizes of computers.

For information about the ergonomical considerations of furniture, see the article “Ergonomics in the Library Media Center,” available on the Internet School Library Media Center web site. The site is hosted by James Madison University’s Inez Ramsey, professor emeritus of the university’s Library Science program.

Shift to home-based technology use

When public libraries were first created slightly more than a century ago with massive funding from Andrew Carnegie, one major function was to provide access to materials that individuals—many of them new immigrants—could not provide for their children at home. School libraries focused particularly on the interests and needs of students in their care.

But today, more than 40 percent of households with children have a computer at home, and more than 5 million children younger than age 12 are on the internet. Many schools are finding that students have more advanced technology at home—and more sophisticated use of the internet at home—than they do in school, though the school access may be at a faster speed.

Public libraries are also providing a place for children to use the internet outside of school. But in many schools, a “digital divide” between those with easy access to technology and those without it is increasing.

Some colleges now give laptops to incoming freshmen and wire residence halls to support high-speed internet access. College libraries assume that students will use electronic card catalogs and perform internet searches. High schools, in particular, have an obligation to ensure that students can find resources, search for information, and communicate online.