Electronic Eye August 2013
Common Core and Online Resources – Changes to eLibrary and eLibrary Curriculum Edition
Common Core: Two words that garner a strong reaction in the minds of librarians of the moment, both those who are in schools as well as public libraries. It seems that everyone is scrambling to see how the national educational standards will transform how information is delivered and used by today’s young adults. Online resource companies are wisely looking to increase their level of compatibility with the new standards, but it is one thing to layer new objects onto existing content rather than creating a solution that meets the higher needs for informational text.
That was on my mind when my school librarian team met to review our online resources. The task that was assigned to us by our district administrator was to look at them with an eye towards how they support teaching Common Core standards. It was a great chance to look more reflectively at the sources we use with students and also consider ways in which we can better promote them in our programs.
As we began our work, we were struck with the fact that ProQuest had just re-tooled their affordable general reference database called eLibrary and had given it a clean new interface. And right in the center of the screen was the heading: “NEW! Common Core Correlations.” Bold print and an exclamation point to draw your eye right in! What do you get with this Common Core Correlation functionality?
There are over 2,500 full-text sources in eLibrary and the information is pulled from a variety of media, including magazines and newspapers, television transcripts, photographs, maps, and some reference books. It is one of the few online resources that make this distinction clear. Users have always been able to check and uncheck the types of sources that they would like to search from the icon bar right below the search box. The new interface presents these choices in very clean and elegant blue icons. While the list of sources has been tailored to the younger researcher, there are more scholarly journals represented as well and a check box on the advanced search screen will allow a user to limit the database. The collection of newspapers is headlined by the New York Times, but also includes a significant database of smaller market news sources. Newsweek and Time are represented, but so are journals with more easily readable content like Scholastic Scope. I like this because I am often called upon to find information that is accessible to struggling readers. The book collection is impressive with the page images placed in line with the text, but the really good books are sometimes hard to find. For instance, I searched the word “pyramids” after discovering a useful book dedicated to the subject while browsing the publications list. I tried to see how easy it would be for a user to find it with a simple search and discovered that, even limiting the collection by books only, the search garnered too many results and most of them represented small articles in the encyclopedias that are also considered books in the database. It is somewhat frustrating that what I would consider to be the more useful source for that simple search did not come up quickly.
There are also images, maps, television and radio transcripts and short audio and video files. The short audio and video files include animations from the A.D.A.M. library which makes medical topics more understandable as well as 3D animations that have appeared in National Geographic programs and on the television news. Eye on Nature videos give users a quick glimpse of animals and the chance to learn the calls of specific birds.
I’ve always valued the transcripts, which are drawn from popular programs on radio and television, including NPR, ABC, and Fox. Like the other news sources, the information seems to appear within a day of being broadcast, making eLibrary very current.
One of my favorite new additions to eLibrary are the “Research Topics.” These exceptionally helpful pages are visually appealing and will draw the eye of a user. They also come with a wealth of information plus links to other sources. For instance, a search on the Indus Valley pulls up a research topic on the Harappan Civilization that includes a brief overview of the topic along with images and maps. Users will find these topics to be a very useful jumping off point for further exploration. I also like the fact that a snapshot of the research topic appears as the first result on the search results screen and a user can expand the research topic to view it further.
Users are also now able to create their own accounts on eLibrary, which will allow them to access a suite of functions and save sources and take in-line notes on these sources. eLibrary calls this “My eLibrary.” My eLibrary includes the ability to create and save lists of resources and gives them the opportunity to synthesize information with a timeline feature as well as a slideshow generator. While both expand the functionality of eLibrary and allow users to access their work anywhere, they are both pretty basic and might not appeal to a young adult user. Users should be able to export their slideshows so that they can share their work with others, but I could not seem to make this work. Note taking on sources is quite useful, however. The top of each source has a little red pin. When clicked, the user can choose to enter into one of two modes: summary mode or note-taking mode. Note-taking mode allows users to create notes in line with the text. When the user exits note taking mode, the text remains marked up with little red pins. Users can hover over the red pins to see the title of the note, clicking on the pin allows the user to view the entire note. There is a 1,000 word maximum for notes. Notes can also be accessed from the My eLibrary home page. Users can work with these notes further by exporting them as a text file, emailing, or printing them. My eLibrary users can also change the theme of their page. That’s also fun.
Teachers and librarians can also have their own My eLibrary with the added function of being able to share a bookcart of resources with users. These educator tools have great potential. Imagine being able pre-select a collection of resources for a group of users to explore. This would solve my earlier problem of trying to easily find the right pyramid book to share with users! Quizzes can also be created and shared as a part of this interface. There’s a great deal to like about My eLibrary. I can envision a user spending the entire research process on this resource, from gathering resources, to note-taking to synthesis, either via timeline or slideshow.
What makes eLibrary Curriculum Edition different from the regular eLibrary? The Curriculum Edition comes with access to two “special collections.” These special collections are ProQuest Learning: Literature and History Study Center. Both can be accessed by clicking on the links to the right of the search bar. Both ProQuest products are very complete and come with their own interface. They represent a significant boost to the content of the regular eLibrary. Unfortunately the My eLibrary functionality does not transfer over to these two collections.
What about that Common Core Correlations button prominently featured in the interface? It allows a user to access the Common Core standards and drill down to an exact objective. Each objective has been tied to a specific subject search from eLibrary’s collection of subjects. The user can then view the results of that subject search. For the English Language Arts and Literacy (ELA) standards, the bulk of the search results offer journal articles that give similar insights about teaching that standard or external Web links give. This makes the Common Core Correlations an excellent professional development tool for teachers but less useful to the young adult researcher. The math standards return results that are either a definition of a mathematical term from an encyclopedia or an external Web link to a trusted mathematics teaching Web site, such as Visual Math Learning. Both research needs are valid and the tool does seem to work well.
I think that eLibrary is a hit as a Common Core product because of the amount of informational text that it puts at the fingertips of young adults, who will be given a greater dose of informational text reading with these new standards. The ability to work with the text by marking it with notes that are saved within the My eLibrary interface is also of great benefit to young adult users as well as the teachers and librarians who work with them.
After working for eight years as head librarian at Marymount School of New York in New York City, Kathleen Meulen is now a librarian for the Bainbridge Island School District in Washington state. Please e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.