A Digital Library for Virtual Education – What is it and why should it be part of the virtual school?
by Mark Sivy
There are many aspects of a traditional school that are taken for granted, but require special consideration and measures to be able to offer them within the realm and culture of a virtual school. One such piece that many consider to be the hub of education in a school is the library. The library has been a place where students learn about performing research, gain specialized in-depth knowledge, are self-motivated to learn and reflect, and can find momentary solitude or solace from many of life’s stresses and pressures. Some of the time-honored benefits of a conventional library can be extended to virtual schools through adaptation, other uses may not apply, and new practices and advantages are possible. This also involves more that using e-books through services such as OverDrive or Follett’s Enlight.
Given the increasing enrollments and social acceptance of virtual schools, having access to electronic versions of library materials and services can facilitate the learning process and addresses the mobile needs and schedules of learners. A digital library provides a central access point for those resources that are similar to ones found in a traditional library such as books, papers, journals, magazines, audio sources, video productions, and web-based materials. The concept has been around for a while, as seen in an article, Roles for Digital Libraries in K-12 Education, written by Miriam Masullo and Robert Mack in 1996. With the variety and volume of content, the digital resources are often locally managed through a common interface such as a custom website, but are delivered from an assortment of cloud-based services. Because these are available through the Internet, the electronic resources are available through devices such as personal computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
With this occurring within the realm of electronic networks, new approaches beyond the traditional library can be integrated into the fabric of the virtual school environment. Connections can be created between digital libraries, other digital repositories, and learning management systems. This online storehouse is capable of distributing educational information to a great number of primary and secondary students across geographic, economic, and cultural boundaries.
For the virtual learner, social media can be tied in with the library to create an engaging and enriching social aspect. This and other educational technologies can be used to create sharing and collaborative efforts between students, which is one of the cornerstones of 21st Century Learning. It also enables the teacher to have multiple students simultaneously using resources or to work as a team through common access to projects and materials.
On the logistical front, digital libraries can allow content and services to be made available to a greater number of individuals at a lower per student cost than traditional libraries. The preservation and storage of existing and future acquisitions becomes less of an issue as do the needs for large physical structures and furnishings. Digital libraries also remove the concerns and expense of non-returned materials, damaged books, checking-out /checking-in, theft, and following up with students.
A Digital Library for Education, Part II will outline what is involved in creating a digital library.
Reflection Point: The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man. ~T.S. Eliot