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Virtual Library Learning Commons

Today I had an opportunity to share our school library website (aka a virtual learning commons) during a workshop with our school's teaching assistants. I was pleased, and maybe a bit relieved too, that the SEAs were amazed by the many resources gathered on our site and could identify ways this information could be used to support student learning.

It made me think back about the process of creating this website. When I completed my Masters in Teacher Librarianship at the University of Alberta, we were expected to complete a literature review and write a major paper on an inquiry topic of our choice. I decided to focus on the question: Why might the virtual school library be considered a necessary feature in today’s secondary school program?

From my research on the topic I began creating a shopping list of the various features it could contain and to imagine a vision of how the design of the school library website. However, it took this quote from Pappas to send me off in a new direction. looking beyond to new possibilities:

School library media center websites can be designed as more than a collection of resources. These websites have great potential to be digital learning centers, providing resources for information and tools that become a scaffold in the process of gathering and using that information.

I started to consider how this virtual collection could also further the learning priorities of today's library program. I wondered how I could make the site more active than passive to provide for a two-way flow of information. I also thought about what considerations would make for an exemplary virtual school library. Being a visual learner I started out with ideas categorized onto coloured index cards and built the website from the ground up, section by colour-coded section, spread out all over the Library carpet. I played around with three different website building programs, but none of these versions appealed to me. It wasn't until I stopped trying to create the website myself, and started involving the rest of the school, that everything started to click.

Mr. Radford, our Computer teacher suggested trying as a platform and Josh, our Library teaching assistant narrowed down the various templates to a favourite few. Then the Library Advisory Council (LAC) students voted on which was their favourite template, and Ms. Elliott, our Library Technician, who has fabulous technology skills, eagerly took on the role of Webmaster. Then things really started to get going!

We created a frame, decided on headings, colours and fonts, and began the process of adding content. The LAC was with us every step of the way, offering their opinions on heading titles, layout, and content. Ms. Norman's Photography class took photos to contribute to our banner. Mr. Radford had his students apply their knowledge of website building to critique our first efforts. Our WGSS department heads and classroom teachers contributed favourite websites for our Classroom Resources page. The Counsellors helped us with the information under Spotlight's Seriously Speaking page. Teachers on call would stop by the library to offer their assistance and would be pressed into action looking for Music and English resources or checking content for accuracy, and links for viability. The Library's teaching assistants located and wrote blog reviews, found needed resources, and became our cheerleading section offering valuable advice about what teens would want to see in a website. Ms. Keyworth's Gator Pod class were our Beta testers - and proved fabulously critical. They caught all sorts of little mistakes and helped us immensely. On May 11, 2016 we finally launched our website at

Check it out and see what you think. What would you like to see? What else can we add? It takes a village to create an exemplary website, one that promotes student learning and supports staff instruction. We invite you to join the process.

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