Introduction

The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) states that reference transactions are “information consultations in which library staff recommend, interpret, evaluate, and/or use information resources to help others to meet particular information needs.” Both the Association of Research Libraries and the National Center for Education Statistics also include instruction of the use of these items in their definition ("Definitions of Reference"). Reference services for youth encompass these same basic definitions but have unique qualities of their own.

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Allen County (IN) Public Library "Clifford asks a question at the reference desk." 25 June 2009. Flickr. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.


Youth Reference Services

Youth reference services encompass reader’s advisory as well as homework help and self-generated queries. Homework assistance presents the difficulty of the “imposed query” and the vast ages encompassed by the term “youth” require special skills due to developmental needs. The question of censorship is at play with youth services as well. Youth services tend to be underrepresented in libraries, and these special circumstances cause many librarians frustration and an attitude of detachment. However, information literate youth become information literate adults, and positive experiences in a library will keep them coming back. As the American Library Association’s (ALA) Bill of Rights states in article V: “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.” A child or young adult's question, however ill-defined, has no less weight than that of an adult, and as stated by Bunge & Bopp: “Each question, no matter how routine, is of importance to the user who asks it, and that meeting the information needs of each library user is the goal of an effective reference service (7)."

Reference Design

There is a great deal of research that states that youth input for the design of resources is key. An obvious need is for reference desks that smaller children can see above. Additionally, having materials on lower shelves for children to browse is important as well. Indeed, RUSA and YASLA both require the inclusion of audience in planning (“Guidelines for Library Services to Teens”). RUSA's Professional Competencies for Reference and User Services Librarians also discuss using focus groups to address information needs.

Collection development strategies have to take into account what children and youth prefer. A reference librarian must vet the publisher, author and currency of informational sources for inclusion into the collection (RUSA's Professional Competencies). This integrated design need also manifests itself in the digital world. The International Children’s Digital Library is an excellent example of taking the information seeking behaviors of children into account (Bilal 205). In a study of online reference interactions between librarians and teens, the teens attempted to personalize the interactions with idioms or emoticons (Walter and Mediavilla 221). This behavior indicates the teens' wish to take ownership and affect the way the transaction is carried out. School libraries need a way to increase student interest; having students create a space and integrate social media with research is a way to give them ownership of the space, and thus greater investment (Loertscher). Children have indicated that they prefer working at computers with one another, and social use of computer technology may breed more connections between users (Dresang 186, 192). Addressing the desires of children and teens will give them a sense of ownership and investment in library activities and resources. Teen advisory boards can be very handy in these instances.

When weeding and updating your reference collection, there are several resources to help you stay current on the top-rated, most-recommended reference sources:

Access to Information

One component of reference services is providing access to and help with information sources. Accessing information has three important components: the right to, the means to, and the ability.

Right

The ALA Bill of Rights addresses the right to use a library, regardless of age. Materials of use to children exist in print and online. ALA also has an opinion on Internet access, stating that Internet filters infringe on this right, regardless of competing view points on the topic. ALA encourages librarians, where able, to advocate for extending access and to teach youth the skills to safely use the Internet (“Minors and Internet Activity”).

Means

According to RUSA’s Guidelines for Library Services to Teens information and technologies should be as current as possible. RUSA feels incorporation of blogs, social networking and online homework assistance are required. They also suggest ultimately having 24/7 access available for reference services, possibly coordinating with state-wide electronic reference services where applicable to aid with staffing and coverage.

Ability

Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)’s Teen Services Evaluation Tool states that a proficient service to teens includes “initiative to formally teach how to find, evaluate and use information effectively, using a variety of print and online tools.” RUSA’s guidelines agree, stating in article 5.3 that libraries should “Guide teens to be self-sufficient library users through example.” Librarians and educators have a responsibility to educate younger children in how to effectively and safely search for information (Gross, Eaton et al.).

The Reference Interview

The most important component in a reference transaction is the reference interview. It is during this procedure that the patron develops their perception of you and the library based on your demeanor and performance. The reference interview is where you are tested as a professional and can make or break the likelihood of a patron's return to the library. RUSA identifies five main components of a reference interview (Ward et al.):

  1. Approachability
    • This step is imperative as it sets the tone for the entire interaction. The librarian or reference personnel must be welcoming and set the client at ease. Body language must be inclusive; eye-contact and smiling are vital. Roving librarians would do well to interact with patrons, much as a store clerk would, by asking if they might help them and if they are finding everything they need. RUSA has added “remote” requirements for online interaction, and specifies that interactions should be jargon free.
  2. Interest
    • A good transaction occurs because the librarian displays a great deal of interest in the query. All patrons deserve the same attention to detail and complete service (including children who may not be sure what they are asking for). To show interest, RUSA encourages facing the patron when speaking to them to focus one's attention. Again, eye contact, smiling and ascension through nodding are key. In a remote setting, the librarian must maintain contact with the patron by sending messages occasionally to indicate active listening. The librarian or the system must be constructed in such a way as to be timely. The remote librarian must also indicate resources on the web and turnaround time for each question.
  3. Listening/Inquiring
    • Like interest, listening is an active role. The librarian must be kind and engaged with the patron. They can show they are listening by repeating questions back to the user, to confirm queries. The tone and language used must be appropriate for the situation and user. A child will not understand the same words as an adult, and this is an important specification. If a goal can be identified, this is the time to do so. The librarian may use open-ended questions to encourage patrons to expound on their topic. The librarian may also use closed questions to be certain they are retrieving the correct information. The librarian must not be judgmental, regardless of subject matter.
  4. Searching
    • The librarian should maintain the line of communication so they are not repeating the client’s searches. This is a teachable moment. The librarian can explain why they choose certain sources, as well as engaging the patron in the search by showing them what they are doing and where to find materials. It is important to accompany the patron (at least initially) to be sure they find what they need. Remote reference transactions should take advantage of whatever technology is available to the patron to complete the transaction (e.g. web browsing, fax machines, email).
  5. Follow Up
    • Finally, and possibly second only to component one, the librarian must follow up. They should ask a question as to whether the patron found the information they needed, or if they need anything additional. Without this step the librarian runs the risk that either a stunted transaction has taken place or completely mismatched information has been proffered. This includes directing the patron to other sources (in the library or without) that may be of further assistance. How can a professional measure the value of a transaction unless they know it has been successful? Why would a patron return to a librarian who has not helped them find what they were looking for? The follow-up is also the moment to encourage the patron to return, to show them you enjoyed assisting them.

Components Unique to Youth

Librarians must be aware of the developmental stages of youth to use appropriate language and find appropriate materials (Bishop and Salveggi 367-358). The approachability is key, especially in young adult users (Curry 72). Many times adults still intercede for their children in self-generated queries. Much of the time these intercessions are to facilitate a successful transaction, but they may also be related to controlling what their children have access to. Regardless, most professionals feel that librarians should direct questions to the children whenever possible to maintain their involvement in the transaction. A librarian should not alienate the adult but interact continuously to clarify components with the child throughout the exchange (Gross).

Young adults are a severely underserved library population. According to a 2007 Public Library Association study, only 51% of public libraries have a full-time young adult services librarian (Braun, Flowers, and Hastler). However, teens are often struggling with key life issues and tender as well as judgment-free treatment is imperative. A study by Joanne Silverstein found that middle school students are just beginning to explore issues of health and mortality.

Self-Generated Query

In many ways the self-generated query is a straightforward reference transaction. The question comes from a place of interest to the youth. This means the youth will have context as to where the question originated. This puts the youth in an easier place to interact with the librarian to find information (Gross). However, there are still some challenges that working with younger users present in this scenerio.

Children

Kathleen Horning describes an interaction she had with a seven-year-old boy. He came to the desk on his own with a question. The boy stated he wanted geographic books. After further use of the interest and inquiring portions of RUSA’s guidelines, she discovered he wanted books with the alphabet in them but with “more words”. Then with more prodding, he described books about Pluto (the planet). When the librarian led him to the section in non-fiction the boy asked if they had books like that but about whales. She gave him a book about whales and soon after his father came into the department. The boy rushed up to him and declared:

Boy: “Dad! I got one!”
Father: “About whales? Let’s see it.”
Boy: [handing the book to his father and pointing at the librarian] “She helped me find it.”
Father: “And you asked her for help all by yourself?”
Boy: [beaming] “Yeah” (57-58).

This transaction reveals quite a few things. First, it demonstrates the need for a complete reference transaction. We must never oversimplify a child’s request. Second, it demonstrates the pride inherent in a positive transaction. Clearly, this boy is proud of his ability to locate the information he needs without his father’s help. He is also grateful to the librarian who helped him (making him more likely to ask again). Last, it demonstrates the affect developmental stages have on a reference transaction. Horning surmised that the boy was trying to help her in his roundabout way. He was describing a type of book (geographic as non-fiction); a level (alphabet plus words as early reader); and a genre (Pluto as science) (59). Had she stopped at the initial question she would have come nowhere near his request.

Young Adults

The Importance of a Whole Library Approach to Public Library Young Adult Services: A YALSA Issue Paper references recent research findings that the brain is only 80% developed by adolescence. This confirms the idea that young adults must have access to every part of the library; some may be in need of children's resources, while others may need adult materials. This "whole library approach" stresses collaboration across departments for collection development as well as information literacy support. YALSA recommends that young adult services be integrated into the library as a whole.

As Silverstein noted, young teens are just beginning to struggle with health and mortality issues. These issues may be so personal to them that they wish to conduct investigations on their own, without involving a parent or adult. Relevant, factual and current information is not only beneficial but expected (“Teen Services Evaluation…”). Additionally, teen years are when questions of sexuality emerge. While many agree that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens (GLBTQ) are big library users, there is little research on the reference service they receive (Curry 66). Curry’s unobtrusive investigation in British Colombia revealed that only 50% of librarians studied conveyed approachability and interest, while 30% were described as “cold,” “reserved” or “neutral” (70). Additionally, only three of 20 librarians explained how to use the sources, and only six of the 20 accompanied the user to the shelves (71). This study is important because it addresses the need of reference librarians to be open and understanding to every kind of question they receive. The study revealed two instances in which librarians destroyed the confidentiality of the user’s question by being loud. This study’s implications affect the type of reference service given to youth in general. The user in the study stated she would only return to 40% of the libraries visited, revealing how instrumental reference services are to return library use (72).

The Imposed Query

A central issue in reference services to youth is the nature of the imposed query. An imposed query is information sought on behalf of another (Gross). This is seen often in children’s services, due to homework assignments. Not only do many youths not fully understand assignments, they may be uninterested in the project or arrive at the library at the last minute (Gross). There is also an instance of “double-imposed query” when a parent asks a question on behalf of the child who has an assignment on behalf of a teacher. Obviously, this sort of reference interaction can be difficult. The best-case scenario is to be prepared for the question. Librarians can keep assignment sheets if they are available, or teacher’s may send an Assignment Alert form pre-alerting librarians to projects (Gross). A standard difficulty of the imposed query is the inability to really conduct a follow up with the patron. In many cases, only the teacher knows if the question has been fully satisfied (Gross). Interaction with teachers in the community may alleviate some of this.

Information Seeking Behavior of Students

Libraries are excellent centers in which students can find help for research assignments and yet too many students are unaware of the research services libraries provide (Kuhlthau; Leckie 205).

Research papers are assigned to help students learn about subjects or issues they are often unfamiliar with, which is precisely why students “have a hard time getting started on their research papers”—students, as inexperienced researchers, “do not know how to narrow either their reading or the topic” (Leckie 203-204).

After the topic is chosen, students search for information only to discover inconsistent and incompatible information (e.g. opposing viewpoints). In addition to the confusion and frustration they feel (Kuhlthau), students have “no sense of who might be important in a particular field, and find it difficult to build and follow a citation trail... They do not think in terms of an information-seeking strategy” (Leckie 202). As a result, they have trouble differentiating between appropriate (scholarly) and inappropriate (mainstream/popular periodicals) sources. They may even reject the very sources best suited for their research because “the words in the title did not match the words they were using to describe their topic” or search inappropriate databases (Leckie 204).

Librarians can help students navigate through these issues—if the two connect. Students may view the library as intimidating and may never enter the building (Leckie 204). There are times when, conversely, librarians may feel overwhelmed by the number of students seeking help with the same assignment. Regardless, when students do approach the librarian, it is important to give them the same time, attention and in-depth reference interview that librarians would give adults. “This is not to suggest that librarians be involved in every stage of the information search process of every student” (Kuhlthau). The goal is to make students independent researchers—not dependent on librarians (Leckie 206).

Fortunately, librarians can prepare students for research before the process begins by collaborating with teachers (Kuhlthau; Leckie 201). Teachers themselves may not be aware of the research services libraries provide, and it is therefore up to the librarians to reach out to teachers (Leckie 206).

Homework Help

Recognizing the importance of aiding children in their schoolwork, many public libraries have developed dedicated homework help centers or programs, either in-person or online. Homework help takes many different forms, and can be integrated into the current reference services, or exist as an additional library service.

In-person homework centers offer one-on-one assistance for children with their homework. Often this takes the form of a standard reference interview with the goal of the librarian to aid the child in researching the assignment. At other libraries, homework help programs offer one-on-one tutoring and academic assistance in the form of an after-school program (Gish). Relying heavily on volunteers, homework programs fill many needs for students including offering a safe place to study, access to materials, and personal help in tackling difficult assignments. Homework help programs are especially valuable for students who are not native English-speakers and who may face additional challenges in their studies while having access to less support (Gish). Benefits of in-person homework help extend beyond academic support, and include increased self-confidence and a chance for students to develop social relationships in a supportive environment (Gish).

Online homework assistance also takes many forms, but always starts with the library’s website. Libraries offering online homework help reach students wherever and whenever they access the Internet, and online homework help is a popular option with the 73% of students that use computers for homework (Michaelson). This online assistance can be provided by chat, by email, or by online forum, and may take place live or asynchronously. In order to offer live homework assistance outside of library hours, many libraries now subscribe to online tutoring services. Many factors need to be taken into account when selecting an online tutoring or homework assistance service including tutor quality, safety and the student experience, customer support, price and reporting (Michaelson). Trial periods can be negotiated with most vendors allowing an opportunity to evaluate the service and choose the correct product for your library.


Web 2.0 Reference Services

In our increasingly technological world, it's no surprise that children and teens are adept in digital skills. Considered digital natives, children and teens today have never lived in a world without computers, the internet, and increasingly, mobile technologies.

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Infograf from OCLC 2010 Perceptions Report


According to the OCLC 2010 Perceptions Report, teens and young adults are continuing their online information habits--particularly seeing growth in use of ask-an-expert sites, social media and texting. As this infograf [right] from the 2010 report highlights, teens (ages 14-17) fairly frequently use library services, as well as heavily engage in social media sites (85%); social networking sites (72%) and ask-an-expert sites (62%). Harnessing teens' prowess for using online social media as well as their propensity for turning to online "experts" could hold the key for developing web 2.0 reference services, including chat reference, email reference, user-generated FAQs, and mobile applications geared toward reference services.

Teen Use of Chat Reference Services

So how are teens using chat reference services already? Based on an informal review of chat reference transcripts between librarians and patrons who indicated they were under the age of 18 in three states (New Jersey, Colorado and Maryland), Kortz, Morris and Greene (2006, 12-19) identified four key question categories:
  1. Homework & Research
    • These queries make up the majority of questions received via chat from middle- and high-schoolers (about 75%-85%), and they can include anything from narrowing research topics, selecting sources, citation help, or ready reference.
  2. Personal & Recreational
    • This type of question made up about 15%-20% of the overall transcripts, and touched on areas from finding part-time employment, skill building and information on hobbies to celebrity/pop culture information and specific website recommendations. While some of these types of questions may not seem important--especially to reference librarians who are used to working more with adults--it's still important to remain nonjudgmental, conduct a reference interview and get the patron to information (14-15).
  3. Inappropriate & Prank
    • Fortunately, these types of chats do not occur very often (less that 2% in the chats that were analyzed), and seemed to fall into two categories: "goofing around" and "inappropriate language." It's important that some sort of reference interview still occur--even if the librarian expects it's a prank chat--to determine if it's a serious inquiry (for example: a 9th grader doing research for a sex ed class may initially appear to be asking a prank question, depending on how he/she approaches the query). Another tactic if the patron appears to be "bored" and simply looking to talk with someone is to send them a link to some online procrastination games or other educational games websites (many public libraries link to such resources--sometimes even in their online homework help sections). By not scolding the teens who may not be using the service appropriately but sending them an engaging link, the librarian is a) keeping the service open to patrons who have real inquiries, and b) encouraging future use of the initial patron, by showing them that there is a real person on the other end of the line who is willing to help them out (16-17).
    • It may also be handy to have scripted messages available to send if a patron persists with inappropriate behavior or language during a chat session (example: Your language is inappropriate for this service. Please change it, or you will be disconnected.) (18).
4. Crisis or "cry for help"
    • While the informal evaluation of chat transcripts found the "crisis" question to be the most rare, they are often the most memorable for online reference librarians. If teens ask about suicide, eating disorders, cutting, etc., it is important to refer them to the resources you would if they were physically present in the library (prevention hotlines, crisis counseling, etc.) Librarians are not responsible for counseling patrons in crisis; but Kortz, Morris and Greene say that acknowledging the emotions can go a long way in working toward a more productive session (i.e. the patron contacting one of the prevention services the librarian provides).

In a pilot focus group conducted by Greene and Thompson in 2004, teens revealed that when it comes to asking for help with information seeking, they prefer chat over e-mail; they place high value on anonymity; they appreciate high-speed options such as chat or text; the acknowledge a need and appreciation for services that help them save time doing their homework and/or research; and they also appreciated the ability to be able to develop virtual relationships with librarians they deemed helpful while avoiding ones they did not (10-11). By keeping teens' priorities in mind when addressing the various types of questions, librarians and patrons both will be more likely to have a positive experience with the chat transaction.

Common Web 2.0 Reference Tools

  • Chat Programs: More and more libraries are implementing their own chat reference services, which is staffed during some or all of the regular reference desk hours. This can differ from adult services and teen/young adult or children's services, or there may be one chat service for all patron age groups. If your library does not have its own chat widget set up on the website, linking in to state-wide or national services can also be an option. Common programs include: AIM, Meebo, Pidgin, LibraryH3lp, Trillian, etc.
  • Text/SMS Services: Based on the findings in the OCLC 2010 Perceptions Report, teens are addicted to texting. As more and more people access the internet and other data via mobile devices, texting is one way reference librarians may be able to reach and engage teen patrons. Aside from considerations such as cost of texting per phone plan and character-count limitations, there are other distinct characteristics about texting (or SMS) that suggest libraries should also develop a set of best practices for this mode of communication. According to Lili Luo (2012) in her article "Professional Preparation for 'Text a Librarian,'" "While texting is technically an asynchronous channel, it is often used synchronously, especially among teens, the largest demographic of texters. The different characteristics of service venues makes it necessary to develop venue-specific best practices.Reference librarians need to be aware of each service venue’s impact on their behavioral performance, and be equipped with proper skills and knowledge in response to it." This awareness is especially important for reference librarians who regularly work with teenagers. Common programs include: Google SMS, AIM Hack, LibraryH3lp and Mosio.
  • Social Media: While conclusive studies on the effectiveness on social media as a reference tool--particularly with a youth services bent--still have room for development, libraries who are active on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook are able to field basic reference questions (mostly service related), and also embedding chat widgets and links to library reference resources on Facebook profile pages or Twitter posts can facilitate reference engagement.


Pro Tip: The ALA page for Virtual Reference: A Selected Annotated Bibliography has links to many resources about starting, maintaining and evaluating virtual reference in your library.


Examples of Online Reference Resources

Beyond virtual chat reference, online reference sources continue to grow in popularity (even eclipsing print sources in many instances). There are a few significant benefits to online resources.
  • Many resources the library pays for may be accessed remotely with a password.
  • They are much more current than print resources.
  • There are many free resources youths may utilize in the library, at school, or at home.

This last benefit is significant because a child who has not received a library card, lives in a rural area where the library has little invested in databases or who is simply curious may access these resources without cost. The resources listed below are freely accessible.

Free Children's Resources

Internet Public Library For Kids
Internet Public Library (IPL) for Kids has a prominent search box, making it similar to Google, and thus familiar to many users. It also contains separate categories for common searching. It is colorful, not too busy and easy to navigate. The children’s page contains a tab on the right with more common searches-likely for school, e.g. information on presidents, states and science. IPL also has the “Ask a Librarian” feature, which provides vetted answers from professionals or students in the field. One problem with IPL is that many links are frequently not updated and ending up with a bad link might stop the search then and there.

International Children's Digital Library
The ICDL is an excellent resource for readers advisory and book selection for children. The fanciful glittering book in the center of the homepage leads to a selection screen with the ability to search for a book by its color, its size (small, medium, large), or various other descriptors. Its simplicity relates to the way children ask and search for books that they may have read or are looking to read.

Kid's Catalog Web
The Los Angeles Public Library supports Kid’s Catalog Web, another good source for children’s reference. It is simple and has tabs for various kinds of searching: icon searching, type searches, alphabetical and readers’ advisory. There is also a “help” tab to describe the different functions of the searches.

KidsHealth
This site is an excellent resource for children interested in the science of biology and how their body works. On a given weekday this site has more than 700,000 hits. It also has won four Webby awards: Best Family/Parenting Site and Best Health Site on the Web, Parent's Choice Gold Award, Teacher's Choice Award for Family, and the International Pirelli Award for best educational media for students (Izenberg).

Other sites of interest to children would be the sites for kids from National Geographic and Discovery. However, these sites are designed in the way that adults have come to accept as normal and may require some help navigating for children.

Free Teen Resources

Teens will be using a combination of children’s and adult materials (Braun, Flowers and Hestler). Some of the following resources will be of interest to teens (particularly the Internet Public Library) but many will be those adult databases subscribed to by the public library. Additionally, as indicated by research, brand recognition is huge and teens will be consistently turning to those search engines they are familiar with (Hargittai et al 488).

Internet Public Library for Teens
IPL for Teens also has a centralized search box and various frequently searched subject tabs. The “Ask a Librarian” feature may be even more useful to teens as they approach broad research projects.

Advocates for Youth
This site is an excellent resource for teens interested in information on reproductive and sexual health. It can also be a resource for their parents.

Teen Ink
This is a literary magazine written by teens and for teens. It includes creative writing as well as journalistic writing on current events.

Government Resources

In recent years more and more government resources have been made available online, thus making a multitude of quality sources easily accessible to librarians and their youth patrons. They give children the opportunity to learn more about their government and how it works, as well as exposure to such unique and cool things like historical diaries, letters and songs. The following is a list of websites that provide quality government resources, and most of them are geared to children and youth (Harper 2011).

Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government for Kids, http://bensguide.gpo.gov
This site is provided by the U.S. Government Printing Office, and is designed for grade school students through high school. It offers educational information on how the government works, accessing primary source materials, and citizenship.

CDC’s Website for Kids and Teens, http://www.cdc.gov/family/kidsites/index.htm
On this page, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a list of educational websites for children and teens on a variety of topics including environmental health and making healthy lifestyle choices.

CIA Kids’ Page, https://www.cia.gov/kids-page/index.html
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) offers this resource for students from elementary school through high school to learn more about the CIA, also providing activities and games.

The CIA World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html
This website provides detailed information of 267 “world entities”, including maps of each country.

Energy Kids, http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/kids
The U.S. Energy Information Administration has created this website as a tool for students and teachers. It provides information about energy, its sources, strategies for using and saving it, as well as an energy calculator and games and activities.

Find Youth Info, http://findyouthinfo.gov
This website, provided by the U.S. government, provides resources to build and maintain effective youth programs. It includes statistics, resources to help assess community assets, and a searchable database for finding funding for youth programming.

Gov Spot, http://www.govspot.com
An excellent ready reference site, this website is designed to simplify the search process for government information online and includes links to such things as government websites, publications, and political information. A drop-down menu of U.S. states gives quick links to that state’s government websites and information.

Kids.gov, http://www.kids.gov
This website is the U.S. government’s official website for kids. It is designed for students between kindergarten and 8th grade, as well as parents and educators. Visitors to the site can do three main things: “learn stuff”, “play games”, and “watch videos” on a wide variety of topics including art, exercise and eating, and math.

Kids and Families Section of the Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/families/
The Library of Congress has created a fabulous collection of resources geared for grade and middle school students. Visitors to the site can explore American history through such things as audio files and games in “America’s Library.” The section “Everyday Mysteries” provides information about fun science facts. There is much, much to explore on this site.

National Gallery of Art Kids, http://www.nga.gov/kids/kids.htm
A fun and creative site, the National Gallery of Art offers this as an interactive site where children can learn about the National Gallery’s collections and exhibitions as well as participate in a variety of activities such as manipulating art objects.

National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov
A website for both children and adults, this is a resource that not only provides detailed information about U.S. national parks, but has movies, interactive activities, web cams and photo galleries.

NIDA for Teens, http://teens.drugabuse.gov
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a section of the National Institutes of Health, created this website as a tool to educate adolescents and teens on the science of drug abuse.

Smithsonian Education’s Student Page, http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/students
Provided by the Smithsonian Institution, this site offers a variety of information on a broad spectrum of topics for educators, families, and students.

StopBullying.gov, http://www.stopbullying.gov
Managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this website provides information for parents, educators, teens, children and communities to stop bullying. It also provides a phone number to LIFELINE for those who might be struggling with being bullied.

A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change, http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/kids
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers this site for children and youth to learn about climate change and ways they can help prevent it, including providing an emissions calculator. The site also provides resources for educators.

Teachers Resources (National Archives), http://www.archives.gov/education
The National Archives has sponsored this site as a tool for educators. It provides resources on conducting primary source research, lesson plans, and activities.

THOMAS (Library of Congress), http://thomas.loc.gov
This is a resource provided by the Library of Congress for learning about the legislative process of the U.S. government in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson.

Treasury Direct Kids, http://www.treasurydirect.gov/kids/kids.htm
This website, geared for children, offers educational information, games, and activities, about the U.S. Treasury.

USA.gov, http://www.usa.gov
The official U.S. government website, it is designed to offer easy access to federal and state government services and information.

U.S. Fire Administration for Kids, http://www.usfa.fema.gov/kids/flash.shtm
Designed for children, this site was developed to educate them about the importance of fire safety and provides activities and games.

You Are Here (Federal Trade Commission), http://www.ftc.gov/youarehere
This is a website geared for students between 5th and 8th grade to teach them to be better consumers. The layout of the site is designed as a shopping mall, and thus visitors can learn about such things as supply and demand in the “Food Court”.

Reference Services in the School Library

Reference services are one of the most important aspects of the school library; the reference desk is often the place where students and faculty alike seek help from information specialist. School librarians must fill many roles when working in the reference section of the library; they help students and faculty find the appropriate resources, they provide instruction to users to ensure the proper use of library resources, specifically technological resources, and they aid teachers in the development and facilitation of lessons. In addition to fulfilling all of these demands, reference librarians are also tasked with supervision of the library space and its materials.

Provision of Access to information and Appropriate Resources

Librarians have a responsibility to guide users to selecting resources that are appropriate to their purpose. To fulfill this responsibility, library media specialists must have knowledge of the resources and materials available to users. Additionally, they must have knowledge of the user and the users' information needs. Information power: Guidelines for school library media programs suggest that for librarians to be proficient in providing users with the guidance necessary to find the appropriate resources they must be adept in the following areas:
  • "the complete range of educational materials, their potential uses, and their relationships to each other"
  • "the psychological, social, and intellectual development of children and adolescents"
  • "techniques for determining individual needs and interests and for matching them with appropriate materials"
  • "approaches for presenting materials that make reading, listening, and viewing meaningful and attractive" (American Association of School Librarians & Association for Educational Communications and Technology 30)
Elementary and secondary students have a tendency to shut down if they have difficulty locating resources, so often librarians working in schools have to be diligent in understanding the students' needs and aiding the student in finding the best information and resources.

Provision of instruction to Users

Library Media Specialist are often charged with the duty of helping students use technology to find the appropriate resources. This responsibility ranges from helping students use the OPAC to locate books and media resources, to helping them use better search terms to locate information on the internet. These tasks also require the librarian to be skilled in the art searching; however, it also requires the librarian to be skilled in the art of teaching. Inevitably, it is the librarian's job to teach students to become autonomous information seekers, and it is through providing instruction that librarians achieve this task. Information power: Guidelines for school library media programs asserts that "Library media specialist are responsible for ensuring that skills, knowledge, and attitudes concerning information access, use, and communication are an integral part of the school curriculum" (American Association of School Librarians & Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 31-32). To achieve this goal library media specialist often conduct orientation for students, these orientations teach students the basics of searching for information in the library. However, beyond the initial orientation, librarians provide students with one-on-one direct instruction guiding students through the information process. Some school libraries even hold technology seminars in which they teach students how to use different technologies in a small group format.

Provision of Instructional Support to Faculty

Effective librarians collaborate with colleagues and faculty members to ensure that library's resources are being utilized to enrich curriculum. This collaboration is important because librarians often have a specialized knowledge and resource base from which classroom teachers can benefit. Specifically, librarians may have access to special collections that can enrich a specific unit or may have access to equipment or resources that can help a teacher better facilitate a lesson or unit. Additionally, library media specialist are trained information specialist and they can aid teachers in the facilitation information seeking procedures.

Public and School Library Collaboration

Collaboration between public libraries and school libraries is imperative to academic achievement of youth (de Groot and Branch 51). While public libraries provide free services and materials to children and their families, school centers focus on literacy and the use of these materials. However, due to budget cuts, many times one organization must rely on the other. According to a study by Hart in Cape Town, South Africa, students relied primarily on public library support for homework and research projects (qtd. in de Groot and Branch 56). As detailed in the discussion of the imposed query, many times librarians in a public library setting do not have all the necessary information to answer a homework question. A suggestion made by some is the use of an Assignment Alert form to inform public librarians of likely questions to come (Gross, Jacobson and Sutton 291). Another suggestion is the use of a “Can’t Fill Request Notice” to inform teachers of the students attempt at the research. Public librarians are also encouraged to reach out to schools by integrating themselves with book-talks and story-telling visits (Gross).

Modeling good reference skills is important. Also important is focused teaching of information literacy. In a report of Internet use in Rhode Island, it was noted that where the median internet connections in children’s or youth area’s was one, the median in schools was six (Eaton et al. 52). While students were more likely to use the computers for entertainment in the public library, they did school work in both (54). One school librarian noted that tech classes taught evaluating sources, as though it was not their concern (54). Both public and school library specialists noted a worry that youth are not aware of the dangers related to privacy concerns on the Internet, and yet none of their responses indicated addressing this skill (58).

In all instances, time and budget constraints were targeted for blame at the missing components of information literacy instruction. While this is understandable, it is clear that collaboration between public and school librarians might attempt to bridge this gap. In an increasingly technological society, skills for accessing sources as well as being aware of privacy concerns are necessary. Information literate children become information literate adults. A good indication of the success of reference interactions—albeit impossible to measure—would be the ability to carry skills from childhood into adulthood. Collaboration is a step in the right direction.


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