Current Reference Resource
I have recently evaluated the Wildlife and Plants encyclopedia set in our library to determine its relevance and application to student learning in our school. This 13 volume set is an alphabetical listing of various kinds of animals and plants. In British Columbia’s revised curriculum, plants and animals are central features of the big ideas and content in the Kindergarten to Grade 4, as well as Grade 7, Science concepts. As a result, it is a necessity to provide students and their teachers with resources that support intended learning outcomes, and also develop the skills that are a fundamental part of the reference process.
This set of encyclopedias includes 13 volumes and an index, and is currently kept in the reference section with the other encyclopedia sets in the library’s collection. Each book is of a relatively small size, only one centimetre in width, thus the entire set does not account for much space on the shelves. It is, however, shelved at the very bottom of a bookcase and is likely being overlooked by students and staff. The pristine condition of every book in the set would indicate very low, or even non-existent, use amongst library patrons over the years.
I have developed the following checklist which I used to evaluate the Wildlife and Plants encyclopedias. Areas of consideration are Curricular Content Scope and Application, Layout and Design, and Learner Considerations:
1. Curricular Content Scope and Application
This reference set could support Science concepts covered in the British Columbia curriculum, as well as the needs of teachers and students, but at a minimal level. While detailed information is provided, the content is not reflective of the current focus for children who are learning about their local environment or more broadly, that of British Columbia and Canada. As part of this focus, First Peoples perspectives regarding the natural world are absent and unsupported through this resource. The purpose of Wildlife and Plants is to provide students with detailed information about a variety of species in a manner that makes this resource best suited to providing background knowledge to students as a precursor to more in-depth research. As it provides factual information about plants and animals, it is best used for ready-reference in the library to give students fast, straight-forward facts about their topic.
With a publication date of 2007, the age of this resource is of significant concern due to the fact that currency guidelines for encyclopedias recommend replacement after five years.
2. Layout and Design
Wildlife and Plants has a consistent format that is repeated throughout each topic, providing predictability. Some text features are present, as indicated in the checklist, and provide some support to readers. While well laid out, this resource lacks the visual appeal and engagement to draw students in and to enhance learning. Likewise, the absence of essential text features including a glossary and keywords in each volume limit readers’ understanding of the key terms and concepts associated with the subject matter. Finally, the very small font and text heavy/low visual support format limits students’ ease of use and more importantly, their comprehension of the subject material.
3. Learner Considerations
Considering the students who will access and use this resource are predominantly in the primary grades, this reference resource is unsuitable due to advanced technical vocabulary and a reading level that far exceeds that of the target audience. With this in mind, students and teachers looking to use a resource to explore the Science concepts included above, could not use these encyclopedias to meet their learning and instructional needs. Additionally, the text-heavy, print-only format restricts use to only those students who can access print materials for their learning, and does not provide accessibility to a diverse group of learners.
Proposal for Replacement Resource
I am proposing the National Geographic Kids online database as a potential replacement for the Wildlife and Plants encyclopedias. This resource is currently part of our district database bundle through ERAC, however in speaking with staff, it has little to no use amongst teachers and students. At the time of this evaluative review, I was not able to attain individual pricing information for National Geographic Kids despite having contacted Gale representatives and ERAC. Our district teacher-librarian was also unable to provide individual pricing information, but she states that our district pays $1.00 per student for the ERAC database bundle. As this resource already exists in our district database collection, it is even more cost-effective since no further funds will need to be invested. However, efforts need to be focused on the promotion of its use amongst staff and students.
This reference resource is vetted by ERAC making it a logical choice as part of the library’s reference collection; staff can feel confident about the reliability of the site. In addition to the database, National Geographic has a companion website which does not require password protected access: http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/. And some of the books and magazines in the database are commonly available in print form in school libraries. This is advantageous when the print version is unavailable, lost or destroyed, more than one teacher needs access to titles for research, or when students require multiple copies of the same title. Through the database itself, teachers and teacher-librarians have access to a topic guide directory which allows them to access all of the subject areas contained in the database: http://nglibrary.ngs.org/libguidedirectory. Further information regarding the ERAC agreement and Gale, National Geographic Kids’ vendor, is available at:
- ERAC agreement
- National Geographic Kids Virtual Library
- Gale/Cengage Learning National Geographic Kids announcement
My evaluation of the National Geographic Kids online database is as follows:
1. Curricular Content Scope and Application
As previously mentioned, plants and animals are a focus in the Kindergarten to Grade 4 Science curriculum, and National Geographic Kids supports these concepts by providing extensive information about various species, as well as habitats and ecosystems. However, the database goes beyond simple facts to cover broader, more current global and environmental issues including carbon footprints, global warming, and conservation, for example. By covering such topics, students have the opportunity to engage in deeper inquiry, and develop critical thinking and literacy skills. While the subject matter of Wildlife and Plants is limited to Kindergarten to Grade 4, National Geographic Kids supports learning from Kindergarten to Grade 7, making it a significantly more useful and valuable resource for the grade levels that it spans. One of the books included in this database is a wild animal atlas which could potentially supersede the Wildlife and Plants set in and of itself. Additionally, there is also access to two atlases, negating the need for more print versions in the library collection.
Though the database mainly supports areas of the B.C. Science curriculum, it also supports many concepts in the Social Studies curriculum. With the possibility of exploring global peoples and indigenous groups in the revised curriculum, there are many options for students in the database, however the focus on Indigenous Peoples of Canada is minimally supported. This is a key area for learning, therefore greater content in the database is essential. Yet with it being from the United States, there is only general information for other countries included.
Being an online database, National Geographic Kids affords teachers and students the opportunity to focus on the development of digital literacy skills. With books and magazines to read, students strengthen the skills needed to read using a different medium. Bookmarking and citation tools in the database provide students with additional technology and research skills. In a Learning Commons, students need access to digital materials to support the goals of being able to successfully and effectively use technology and navigate information in the digital world, and to foster new understandings of literacy, particularly information literacy.
In terms of subject matter, format, and medium, National Geographic Kids reflects the currency needed in a library reference collection. With some material published as recently as 2016, students are utilizing information that is not only relevant, but current and meets the needs for 21st century learning.
I have cross-referenced the National Geographic Kids database with the Science and Social Studies curricula, and have highlighted the concepts that are covered in the database:
2. Layout and Design
This database has strong visual appeal and impact, making it an outstanding choice for young eyes and minds. With vibrant colours, designs, and images, students will be engaged with and encouraged to access this resource for their learning needs. So too does it provide teachers with an in-roads to hook their students. Text features are present throughout and extensively used, and for example, keywords are defined within the text thereby supporting students’ comprehension as they read. Full colour photographs are also used extensively which further supports learning and understanding. The user-friendly interface allows even the youngest learners to navigate the site effectively and with ease. This database has appeal for Primary students through to Intermediate, and provides easy access and use for a range of ages.
3. Learner Considerations
The multimodal nature of the online database makes it an exceptional resource for elementary school students. Each topic search results in video, photograph, book, and magazine options to gather information, and books and magazines provide audio read-alouds. This allows students with diverse learning abilities and needs, including special needs, equal access to information and learning. Having resources that all students can use is of utmost importance, and is a hallmark of the selection and evaluation process. Further to the multimodal format, the audiobook feature allows non-readers to still use National Geographic Kids as a source of information. The presentation of information, text features, vocabulary, reading level, and the ability to enlarge text provide access for readers at a range of stages in the elementary grades.
While there is much value in this reference resource, the needs of our province’s Indigenous students to see their traditions, beliefs, and ways of life reflected in the material they read is not fully met. There is minimal information about traditional Indigenous ways of knowing in connection to the environment and the world. There is opportunity to explore cultural diversity within the database, yet a much larger emphasis on B.C.’s First Peoples is required.
In closing, Wildlife and Plants does not provide the range of access and depth of content needed to support learning concepts in B.C.’s current curriculum. National Geographic Kids online database is an engaging multimodal reference resource that presents the broad scope of content to the wide range of learners that is required, and does so in a format that supports curriculum and goals for information literacy in the 21st century. I highly recommend the use of this online database in achieving these goals.
Armstrong, M. ed. (2007). Wildlife and plants. New York: Marshall Cavendish.
BCERAC. (2017). Nelson-Gale Education. Retrieved from http://www.bcerac.ca/agreements/nelson-education.aspx
Burnaby School District 41. (2017). National Geographic Kids. Retrieved from https://learn.sd41.bc.ca/index.php/staff-resources/elementary-web-resources
Gale, Cengage Co. (2017). National Geographic Kids. National geographic virtual library. Retrieved from http://solutions.cengage.com/national-geographic-virtual-library/kids/
Ministry of Education (2015). B.C.’s new curriculum. Retrieved from https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum
Riedling, A.M., Shake, L. & Houston, C. (2013). Reference skills for the school librarian: tools and tips., Linworth, Santa Barbara, CA: Linworth, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC., p.139.
Riedling, A.M., Shake, L. & Houston, C. (2013). Reference skills for the school librarian: tools and tips., Linworth, Santa Barbara, CA:Linworth, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC., p.24.
My evaluation checklist is based on the following works:
Educational Resource Acquisition Consortium. (2008). Evaluating, selecting and acquiring learning resources: a guide. British Columbia, Canada: Retrieved from http://www.bcerac.ca/resources/whitepapers/docs/erac_wb.pdf
Riedling, A.M., Shake, L. & Houston, C. (2013). Reference skills for the school librarian: tools and tips. Santa Barbara, CA: Linworth, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC.
For further exploration of the Learning Commons philosophy, view the Leading Learning document at: