Tag Team Tech April 2015

Databases: Making the Case with Kids

Joyce Kasman Valenza

In a world where we celebrate free open educational content;

In a world where user generated content abounds;

In a world where we’ve grown used to the convenience of a single search box (and one seriously impressive open reference source);

Serious database questions prevail:

  • What role do subscription databases play in the lives of young people and those of us who serve and love them?

  • How do we make their quality, curricular content for learners easily discoverable and available in students’ pockets on the devices they prefer?

  • How can we ensure our ROI for state and our own library digital purchases?

  • How do we make the case for their use to the your researcher? The teacher? The parent?

I’ve struggled with these questions for years, in the public library, as a high school librarian, and now with my university students.  A little while back, I was asked to present a workshop to help librarians make the case for the investment and to help us guide young library users to exceptional resources that may live beyond the search box of their natural first choice.

It’s probably not necessary to make the case for librarians, but  . . .

Our databases have long addressed students’ needs for journal, news, and magazine content. They now offer ebooks, media, newsfeeds, and selected social media as well.

As we move beyond static, homogenized textbooks to meet curricular needs, databases present a different kind of anthology, as diverse, junk-free, media-rich, ever-updating alternatives that serve learners across disciplines, grade levels, ability levels. Databases allow learners to explore their own interests, to follow their own paths, and to investigate multiple truths. They offer structured knowledge features to promote exploration and discovery, as well as much-needed attractive, contextual language and navigational supports in text, video, and audio for young people. They offer a growing array of instructional material, templates, scaffolds, and tools for organization and documentation.

The Common Core State Standards demand that learners access a wide assortment of nonfiction options at appropriate levels.  They suggest that educators create text sets  (collection of related texts organized around a topic of inquiry), share mentor texts as exemplars to improve writing, and that students analyze primary sources and that they examine examples of text structure and text types.

The English Language Arts Standards include a focus on research that can be beautifully supported by leveraging the databases we already own:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7: Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7: Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.


I absolutely acknowledge that we own the issues of access and use. Our collections are siloed.  We have too many entrance points–the OPAC, various brand name links that make no sense to users, and the digital distance–especially in school interfaces–between the information need and the resource.

In the same way that we promote our physical collection, we need to figure out how to translate face-out shelving for database content.

Most of our database vendors and publishers are working hard on responsive design, optimizing content for all screens.  But that effort doesn’t really go the distance. As we move to settings where we meet our learners in distant, hybrid, flipped, and mobile spaces, it is essential that we roll-out and embed these materials where learners will best find them.

Unless they are unglued, databases buried in state interface pages or within the suite of a particular brand may be undiscoverable.  We need to work to embed these resources on web pages of immediate need, for instance, our homework pages, specific project, or subject pages we share with teachers. Though I suggest the metaphor that teachers and librarians love brand names in journals and databases in the same way some kids love clothing labels, the brands we trust mean little to students and their parents.

We can promote awareness through our curations on our websites, on such platforms as LibGuides or Symbaloo, as interactive posters using tools like Smore or Thinglink, or push them out through QR Code handouts and bookmarks.  We can ensure that these strategies transfer easily to our own mobile sites. We must make it very easy for kids to access database content on mobile devices as it is to access their favorite games and apps.

Make the case with students:

Along with my colleague Brenda Boyer, I recently created an infographic that we both hope makes the database case to kids, sharing Top Reasons to Use Databases.  Please feel free to use and embed it.

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Here’s the expanded argument.

Eliminate the noise: A web result list is less able understand that you are not necessarily interested in a lot of the stuff adults, business folks, and others may find super interesting.  The databases provided by your school and public libraries are selected for you with your curricular needs and personal interests in mind.

Find the right stuff faster: Want only journal articles or newspapers or ebooks?  It’s easy to filter for format, type of article, reading level, and for date, too.  Advanced search screens offer even more power!  Though you’ll always need to refine a search based on your results, you are far less likely to have to sort through millions of irrelevant results to get to the good stuff. The abstracts, or summaries, that open most documents allow you to make decisions about the value of a document.

Read stuff written just for you: Your librarian selects databases that represent your interests, your studies, as well as your reading level.  Whether you are just entering middle school, or a senior searching for scholarly content, the results you get will likely be readable and useful and you will be able to sort for the type of content you need.

Make articles read themselves: Among the features you regularly find in subscription databases are audio files that make it easy for you to listen to articles as you read.  Many of these files are downloadable, so you can grab and send sound for you to read on your phone or tablet.  In fact, you can often choose the accent, speed, and highlighting style of the reader.

Cite sources easily: Databases make citation a breeze.  After selecting the style your school or teacher prefers–APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard–you can copy your formatted citation to enter in your project from the bibliography generator. Some databases allow for automatic export to Google Docs, EasyBib, or other reference lists.

Translate those documents:  If English is not your first language, your selected results may be conveniently available, professionally translated into a variety of languages through a handy pull-down menu.

Push, don’t pull, your search: Once you create that killer database search, no need to do it over and over again to keep up to date.  You can set up a persistent link to updated results, set up an email alert or set up an RSS feed.  You need only conduct that great search once!  Alerts for new content will be pushed to you automatically.

Meet the pros: Especially at the high school level, your databases allow you to sift through the crowd, and introduce yourself to and get familiar with the most quotable literature, scholars, authors, and experts relating to your personal areas of research or interest.  You’ll meet the rock stars of the subject area, check out the folks they cite, and discover the academic or subject-specific vocabulary they use.

Take it with you (or share): Some of your databases are available as separate mobile apps or available through your library’s mobile site.  Even if they are not, it is so easy to email docs and MP3s so you can work on the go or learn on the fly.  You can also easily email important articles your friends or members of your group!

Impress your teachers: If you reach beyond the one search box your classmates might be using, your teachers will be impressed by your research chops. Teachers like “brand names.” They look for and are delighted when they see the journal titles and authors you’ll find in databases appear in your source lists.

Act like a college student: Your school databases are the little brothers/sisters of the resources you will meet at the university. If you get friendly with them in middle school and high school, you will be so much more ready to tackle college level research!

Shop for a topic or issue:  Not sure what you need? Browse in the Subject and Topic lists, or check out other features like timelines, videos, maps, and more for ideas.  Check out overview articles to get quickly up to speed. Finding and clicking on a “killer” subject heading will gather a wealth of useful options!

Take notes: When you set up a login, you can often highlight, add notes to, and save documents you are using and meet up with them again when you login on any device or platform.

Define: Many databases offer embedded dictionaries that allow you to immediately access definitions for new terms–professional and academic vocabulary–you are reading.

Find the scholarly easy button: Databases search features make it easy to find peer-reviewed, academic, or scholarly documents.  Look for buttons or pull-down menu options and your whole search terms academic.

Discover multiple points of view: Most databases work to offer balanced content, allowing you to easily discover a variety of takes on an issue in the form of essays, editorials, and more!

Databases offer: Control, quality, customization, portability, support, clarity, and opportunities for you to stretch your research chops! And, there’s a database for every information format and every subject!

THESE QUALITY RESOURCES ARE FREE FOR YOU TO USE! Ask your librarian for a list of available databases and database apps!

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Top Reasons to Use Databases. https://magic.piktochart.com/output/4021098-top-reasons-to-use-databases

Subscription Databases: A State-by-state Look. http://www.thinglink.com/scene/628624327662632960

Valenza headshot, used with permissionJoyce Kasman Valenza has been a special, public and school librarian, and a library educator. For ten years, she was the techlife@school columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Valenza is the author of Power Tools, Power Research Tools and Power Tools Recharged for ALA Editions. She currently blogs for School Library Journal. Valenza is active in ALA, AASL, YALSA, and ISTE and ALISE. She speaks nationally and internationally about issues relating to libraries and thoughtful use of educational technology. She joins the faculty of Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information in January 2014.  For more information: http://about.me/jvalenza. Contact Valenza at joycevalenza@gmail.com.



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