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I saw the paperwork for an investigation recently – not from my own school – which ran a shiver down my spine. Quite apart from the lack of guidance about searching or using information, I was actually left speechless by the resources:

  • there was a possibility of access to the internet
  • there was a list of possible evidence to be used which didn’t mention books
  • the list of URL recommendations – to be used if computer access was possible I suppose – excluded some obvious websites, but contained some that were far above the age level intended, and included Wikipedia (but that’s another article).

Turns out this particular school has no librarian, so I do have sympathy for the teacher who created it. I usually end up spending anything from a couple of hours to a few days hunting for materials, depending on what we already have in stock.

Why so long? Well, there’s a lot involved:

  1. LRC: check the catalogue; look through existing resources for useful information (books, encyclopaedias, posters, CDs, DVDs etc); add supplemental keywords where necessary; create a suitable reading list.
  2. Online: explorations over several search engines using all manner of phrases; follow links to identify additional materials; search the deeper web for hidden nuggets not necessarily mentioned by the major search engines; create an online reading list or website.
  3. Catalogues: hunt through paper and online publishers’ bumph; check other library catalogues; check major book sellers.
  4. Local libraries: contact the ERS for topic boxes or artefact collections or DVDs available for borrowing (the ERS has saved the day too many times to mention); check local library catalogues, especially local schools, to see what they’ve got that might still be available.
  5. Ephemera: additional material can be sourced from charities, businesses, museums; useful stuff can come from anywhere or be anything.
  6. Wikipedia: has to be checked out for content, since I know the pupils will definitely look at it :-): information, images, links all have to be verified.
  7. Video: many organisations are adding their video clips to YouTube or Vimeo and the like, but these need unblocked before being able to watch them in school. So that means searching for clips and then arranging for them to be made available. Thankfully the BBC has an excellent collection of ClassClips.
  8. Further discussions: on many occasions I’ve gone back to the teacher, explained the lack of materials and helped to rewrite the investigation to match the resources available.

Exactly when is a teacher meant to do all this?

Plus, it’s never enough to just identify this stuff. It’s got to be at a suitable reading level for the class requiring it, it’s got to be up-to-date and it absolutely has to be easy on the eye. A mass of closely written text (like this post!) will not encourage 1st years, and an all-singing, all-dancing website will be too distracting.

Not forgetting that a book on rainforests full of information about animals and plants would be potentially useless if pupils actually have to write a short report on how the Amazonian rainforest should be used to assist medical researchers or logging companies or ranchers. Materials must be analysed in detail to ensure the necessary information is included. So as often as possible, that means a visit to the book suppliers with sleeves rolled up so everything is viewed first.

And that’s before the purchasing process kicks in, or all the necessary procedures when the materials come into school.

Librarians don’t just put the books on the shelves; librarians identify resources of all shapes and sizes, select them and show  pupils (and staff) how to use them to find what they need, and then how to pull it all together to make something interesting.

Working together, teachers and librarians can make outstanding investigations that pupils will enjoy and learn from. One without the other is less than half of the whole.