Recent cuts in state school spending are causing school libraries to reduce the availability of expensive databases of journals and periodicals. While this will surely result in making it more difficult for students to complete research assignments, it may also force them to improve their ability to use the Internet effectively.
As Joyce Valenza explains in a recent post for School Library Journal, Pennsylvania has cut its subscription with EBSCO, which hosts electronic databases of publications and journals. EBSCO content has long been a “critical tool” for schools and public libraries throughout Pennsylvania, according to Valenza, who wonders how she’ll “cover the gaps” without additional funding.Echoing Valenza’s concerns is Kristin Hokanson, a technology integration specialist for Pennsylvania’s Upper Merion School District. State funding for Pennsylvania public libraries in 2010 will be $68 million, compared to $94 million in 2008, while a “specific portion of state funding” for databases like Power Library fell from $11 million in 2009 to $2.9 million in 2010. Hokanson discussed funding cuts, which she suggests “undermines years of effort to connect all schools to the Internet,” with Rick Wills of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Much of the good and reliable information on the Web is not available for free. The free Web is so cluttered that you can't find things,” Hokanson said.
That the 2011 federal education budget proposal doesn’t include “any additional funding for school libraries” is another dilemma librarians face this year, according to Buffy J. Hamilton, the Unquiet Librarian. Hamilton is a media specialist/teacher-librarian at Creekview High School in Canton, Georgia, who recently blogged about the budget proposal in the form of a letter to President Obama. Instruction of skills like information evaluation and self-filtering “has the most value when taught in the context of the school curriculum and when driven by student’s own inquiry,” Hamilton writes. Thus, cutting funding for school libraries could be catastrophic for students.
Glenn Miller, the Pennsylvania Library Association’s executive director, summed up what seems to be causing a sense of panic among educators and librarians. “We are talking about dozens of sources of reliable information, vital educational tools that reach tens of thousands of students with little money,” he said, according to Wills.
The challenge then becomes finding free, online resources that are reliable and educational, and that can provide teachers and librarians with an alternative to the expensive databases of years past.
At Dulcinea Media, we’re repositioning our entire company to be one of these alternatives. The most loyal visitors to our Web sites are librarians, teachers and students in high school and middle school. Thus, a year ago we began to focus our content on these groups. We presented at two national conferences in the fall and we learned there is a critical need in the school market for free products that promote the effective, safe and responsible use of the Internet, and that ours fit the bill well. Indeed, in a subsequent post, Valenza reviewed our newest product, SweetSearch Biographies, and noted that it “looks especially sweet in these tight database times.”It may not be easy for students and educators to transition away from tried-and-true databases, but when students leave the confines of the classroom, they’ll be better equipped to tangle with the mass of information on the Web.