Morris (2005) outlines many benefits and obstacles of virtual libraries. I have suplemented them with ones I found in other articles and my own thoughts of how the obstacles can be overcome.
Benefits of Virtual Libraries
1. Anytime, anywhere access – Reference material that traditionally could not be removed can now be used outside of the physical library (McCaffrey, 2004); students can access their school library at home, at a friend’s or relative’s house or the public library.
2. Tutorials support independent inquiry. The student finds out what they need to know when they need to know it – like the web 2.0 tutorials that we use as we are learning the tools.
3. Students learn information & critical literacy skills in context.
4. Students are explosed to a vast array of information sources. They look beyond Google.
5. The focus is on curriculum and the school’s learning goals and priorities for students.
6. Students build confidence knowing that items have been provided and checked by an expert (Mardis, 2003).
7. Diminishes digital divide by providing access and instruction on use for all.
8. Materials are not lost.
Virtual Library Obstacles include a lack of
1. Technology skills and professional development, both of which I believe can be overcome if there is a desire to learn. The problem I see is people don’t know what they don’t know. Someone needs to take the lead in showing what there is out there.
2. Time is divided between webmaster, face-to-face instruction and reader advisory, and collection development (Casey & Savastinuk). I wonder where I will carve out time to design a virtual library that meets the diverse needs of learners with a variety of information skills and reading abilities. However, once I do, it will be very easy to maintain if I choose to build it using a blog or wikis and enlist the assistance of teachers who can add links to support their instruction.
3. Understanding of the role of Teacher-Librarians – A virtual library, coupled with collaboration with teachers, can help educate the school community about the role of a TL.
4. Confidence in the future of the profession – Fuller (2005) calls this “a triple-edged sword.” The power to reach any student causes a “fear of disintermediation” (where students bypass information and technology specialists and go straight to the information) and a “threat to democracy posed by the widening gap between the information haves and havenots.”
I don’t believe “disintermediation” to be an issue. With the vast quantities of information, experts are required to point students and teachers to the gems and teach others about how to manage and analyze information. TLs are these people.
As the world becomes flatter I believe the digital divide is getting smaller. People have access to information through technology, either personally or in public spaces. Schools are moving in the direction of ensuring students have skills to be able to move independently through the information. The democracy comes into play when people decide whether or not they wish to use their skills to participate.
5. Funding and Political Support can also be overcome by using many of the Web 2.0 tools. However, if there isn’t a teacher librarian in a school, who will build the virtual library?