Reference Materials: The Tools in My Information Services Toolbox

In Themes One and Two, we have explored areas of reference services, including research models, the types of services teacher-librarians offer, reference interviews, collaborating with colleagues, the selection and evaluation of sources, and reference collection development and management.  With an overarching understanding of what references services are and what they entail, as well as learning about the extensive and crucial role that teacher-librarians play in information skills development, Theme Three has culminated in an exploration of specific types of reference resources, in both print and digital formats, that can be used to support students.

As in previous lessons, the selection and evaluation of reference resources is a vital and ongoing focus of our work.  In order to ensure that one is choosing information sources that are best suited to the learners we work with, and support and strengthen the practices of our colleagues, one must thoughtfully select the most reliable sources available.  Factors such as space, budgets, and cost often impact our ability to do so, however when these factors do not impede our choices, one must have criteria from which to draw upon to guide and inform the selection of new resources for our libraries.  Likewise, these guidelines are essential in evaluating those reference resources that we currently house in our collections that we may be looking to supplement, weed, or replace.  Fortunately, Ann Riedling (2013), in her book Reference Skills for the School Librarian: Tools and Tips, offers teacher-librarians the following main criteria to guide the process of evaluating and selecting a reference resource:

  • Scope: Breadth and depth of what the resource covers; comprehensiveness; reflects the intention of the source and audience; contemporary (pp.22, 52, 72)
  • Accuracy: Precision, note omissions or biases (p.52)
  • Currency: Up to date, current; “posting and revision dates”; general, average guideline for replacement of many reference materials is 5 years (pp. 23, 24)
  • Format: Functionality of resource; user-friendly; information easily located; workable, easy to navigate interface for digital resources; clear; readability; types of search functions; illustrations clear, current and suit the audience (pp.40, 62, 72)
  • Authority: Reliable resource; reputable, prominent publisher (p.72)
  • Cost: Library budget allotments, variable costs, learning needs, and “frequency and length of use” are considerations (p.23)

I find these guidelines to be extremely valuable, practical, and helpful for me moving forward in teacher-librarianship.  I feel more knowledgeable and confident that I have a solid base from which to draw upon when deciding on and and choosing those resources that will contribute to the development of a strong, well-rounded reference resource collection, and that will best meet the information and curricular needs of the students and staff I work with.


In Lesson 8, my technology skills and understandings of the web were definitely challenged and broadened.  Through the teacher-librarian diploma program, a significant piece of my personal learning and growth has been expanding my skill set around the use of technology, such as web tools.  Learning about the invisible web and grey literature has not only deepened my awareness and understanding of these topics, but has brought to light how important it is to develop search skills that go beyond relying on Google.  A key part of information skills development is learning how to search effectively due to the vastness of the web and the fact that information is changing and being added at an unbelievably rapid rate.  In order to pinpoint and achieve more precise results when searching for information, one must learn more efficient and specific ways of doing so.  This module has seen the steepest learning curve for me yet, but with resources from La Guardia Community College and Asbury University, I feel better equipped going forward to continue to develop my skills and develop a deeper understanding of doing the same for students and staff.

To learn more about the deep/invisible web, as well as developing effective search skills, visit:



The focus on indexes and databases in Lesson 9 bookends our conversation about the invisible web perfectly if my mind.  Considering the web is unfathomably deep and that we typically only access a small portion through our searches, it can be argued that databases provide more focused and reliable searches for our students.  Through database bundles in our schools, students have access to a variety of options to support inquiry projects and allow teacher-librarians to support their information skills development.  Furthermore, as the bundles are evaluated and vetted through ERAC, school staff can be assured that students have access to reputable sources.

The benefits of databases in the reference resource collection are reinforced by Mueller (2017) as he states, “arguably, electronic databases are priority resources in the eyes of users because they are:

  • Electronically accessed resources considered to be more reliable than Web pages
  • Convenient to search because they are in electronic format
  • Intuitive to search because of format and seamless linkages to other Web resources
  • May be accessible from home

As well, they save staff storage space and reinforce important search skills in an information environment [that] students will likely face at university or at work.”

This, then, makes databases a preferable resource for teacher-librarians, particularly in the elementary years, as they look to develop the types of digital skills that are critical for students today.  Databases can bridge the gap to using internet searches in the future by providing a strong foundation with which to develop information skills before making the jump to a broader and more complex resource.

This course has given me the opportunity to learn about the variety of databases available and to explore them more extensively, particularly those offered through my own school’s library catalog.  In doing so, it became quickly apparent that there are World Book databases that span all the elementary grades, and this is a fantastic discovery!  This is because it goes to show that even our earliest learners can and should have experiences learning to access and interacting with databases.  Some may be of the assumption that doing so is better suited to upper primary and Grades 4 to 7, but this is not the case.  As a future teacher-librarian, I can provide information for and support to colleagues to provide insight into ways in which they can incorporate databases into their practice, even at the K/1 level, and to realize that information skills and digital resources should be part of learning at every stage.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 8.06.18 AM

There are often opportunities and a need for students to research information about a specific individual, and this is where biographies become a source for them to answer their queries.  Riedling outlines that fact that there are two sources for biographical information which was new to me: direct and indirect.  Direct biographical sources “…provide factual information about a person…” and indirect sources “…list bibliographic citations leading the student to other works that may contain the information sought.  Typically these sources are indexes to other sources” (p.51).  These sources “…can be further divided into two categories: current and retrospective” (p.51).  Like any other reference resources, Riedling uses the criteria previously mentioned to ascertain the value and suitability of any given biographical source to a library.  Further to this, she indicated that content, vendor, statistical, and technical criteria should be applied to the evaluation of electronic bibiliographies (p.53).

Lesson 10 has been enlightening in terms of increasing my knowledge of biography and bibliography sources, ways in which they should be evaluated, and their value and use in the reference collection and as part of reference services.  While the available digital sources are wide-ranging, I have highlighted the following as tools that I find to be personally relevant to my future in librarianship:

Another important focus for me in this lesson has been that of the school library catalog, especially because this has been a foundational part of another course I am taking concurrently, LIBE 465: Organization of Learning Resources.  The overlap between the two courses with regard to the school library catalog has solidified my learning in this area and I appreciate the opportunity to draw connections between courses and the diploma program as a whole.  As we recently discussed the relevance of the OPAC in today’s school libraries, I found the following to be very helpful: “OPACs have improved the library catalogue in many ways including:

  • The consistent use of the MARC format (Machine Readable Cataloguing) has provided standards for catalogue records and this has also allowed records to be shared among many OPACs.
  • Due to computerization, there is much greater speed when looking for records
  • There are multiple access points on an OPAC, including keyword, truncation, Boolean Logic, and finding material is much easier.” (Mueller, 2017).


This image from a past post bears repeating!

I found Lesson 11 to bring us full circle in many ways with the exploration of free citizen-built encyclopedias, as we were asked early on in the course to share our perspectives on Wikipedia and its use in schools.  After reading the articles for this lesson, it was fascinating to learn that Wikipedia is monitored more closely than some might think.  As our discussion posts revealed, I have come to see that Wikipedia does have relevance in our schools and as a reference resource to some extent.  It has been my experience that many are often leery of allowing students to access Wikipedia at all, but it is apparent that it is often a beginning point for research for people to develop their prior knowledge on a general topic.  When we are tasked with developing information skills in our students, including critical literacy, we must ensure that we are not limiting their access to those materials that can assist in attaining the critical skills needed to ably and confidently surf the information tsunami.  Berinstein and Harris’ articles reveal to educators that there is indeed a place for certain reference sources like Wikipedia, as opposed to sheltering students from them.  Furthermore, as Harris (2007) so expertly points out, “…students are just going to use it anyway. My May 2006 column for SLJ “MySpace Can Be Our Space” (p. 30) explored the futility of attempting to ban a wildly popular Web site. Even if you filter Wikipedia and its typically prominent results on Google, students will just use it at home”.  Instead of avoiding its use and burying our heads in the proverbial sand, “it would be much more productive to teach colleagues, students, and parents how to best use Wikipedia”, (Harris, 2007), including the “three ‘rules’ regarding the wiki that also serve to enhance research overall:

1) At least three sources are required to verify research.

2) General encyclopedias like Wikipedia are a great place to get started, however …

3) Serious research projects cannot cite general knowledge encyclopedias”, (Harris, 2007).


A focus on encyclopedias also gave me the opportunity to explore digital alternatives to what can be a costly acquisition for a library when in print.  At the school where I currently teach as a classroom teacher, our print encyclopedia collection is large, yet severely outdated.  I am of the mind that it would be extremely costly to purchase replacement materials and most likely could not be entertained by the teacher-librarian based on this.  As a result, it is very valuable to pursue digital options with students.  Our district provides access to a variety of World Book databases, as well as National Geographic Kids and KnowBC.  When budgets are tight, as they usually are, databases are a reputable and reliable source to turn to.  Additionally, there are some online options that can be accessed that also provide reliability including Historica Canada.  For additional encyclopedia works visit:  Surf Net Kids.

When considering print and digital sources for students and the reference collection in the library, how does one know how to choose?  Does one have to choose one or the other format?  There are a wide variety of factors that will come in to play, but my general sense after exploring a range of materials in Theme Three is that balance is key.  To develop well-rounded students with a range of skills that meet the information needs of the 21st century, it is incumbent upon us to provide them with a variety of materials and experiences.  Dictionaries are an example of how print and digital versions can serve a purpose in different contexts and both formats have relevance.  Regardless of format, an evaluation of the source must occur and Mueller (2017) notes that “with any print or web based source, examine or explore to determine the following:

  • Organization and format, indexing and navigation.
  • Currency of information.”

Almanacs are another reference source where the pros and cons of print and digital formats is weighed.  Mueller (2017) states that “there are advantages and disadvantages to using both the print and non-print versions of almanacs.

  • Print copies of almanacs contain a wealth of information.
  • Users searching for factual information may find not only what they have been searching for, but at the same time, may have their interest piqued in other topics.
  • Students may find topics of interest that they hadn’t thought about in the past.
  • By searching the almanac websites, students will locate the information that they are seeking, but unless they search for a variety of topics, the general information that is found in this rich source may not be accessed.”

When observing students in my own classroom, Riedling’s comments that “students enjoy facts and trivia; therefore almanacs are wonderful sources for browsing as well as information seeking”, (p.43) ring true.  Over the years at work, and even at home with my own children, kids cannot get enough of books like Guinness World Records and these types of books see high circulation numbers in our school library.  Not only can almanacs support information literacy, they can also be used to promote and encourage a love of reading for enjoyment.  This dual purpose feature is a real coup for the teacher-librarian!

For your trivia and info seekers out there, try these sites!

World Almanac for Kids

Guinness World Records

Farmer’s Almanac

World Almanac

Info Please

Fact Monster


In some instances, however, digital resources are a preferable option when currency is of the utmost importance, as is the case when students are seeking information related to atlases and gazeteers.  With our world’s geographical boundaries and place names often being subject to change, the ability to access the most up-to-date information possible ensures students are identifying the most accurate information they can find.

Information about flags of countries

CIA Factbook

National Geographic maps

Google maps

before the web library pic

Over the course of Theme Three and LIBE 467 as a whole, Riedling’s work reinforced for me that “sources included in a school library collection should be based on the students and community served, the types of questions asked, and the number of questions posed in a particular subject area (curriculum needs)”, (p.41).  There are a wide range of materials available to the teacher-librarian, and identifying the needs of one’s community must be at the fore of any decision made: “In practice, as a school library media specialist, these reference sources should be selected primarily because they meet the student’s informational needs—but also because they portray the uniqueness of the school, student population, and community served”, (p.45).  This is sage and essential advice to developing a strong reference collection that truly has relevance to the school, and will have purposeful application in the work carried out by students and staff.



Asbury University. (2016, Aug. 16). Finding Information on the Web: Invisible Web. Retrieved from

Berinstein, P. (2006). Wikipedia and Britannica: The Kid’s All Right (And So’s the Old Man). Searcher 14(3), 16-26. Retrieved from

Burnaby School District 41. (2017). KnowBC. Retrieved from

Burnaby School District 41. (2017). National Geographic Kids. Retrieved from

Burnaby School District 41. (2017). World Book. Retrieved from

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2017). Britannica Digital Studios on YouTube! Retrieved from

Educational Resource Acquisition Consortium. (2008). Evaluating, selecting and acquiring learning resources: a guide. British Columbia, Canada: Retrieved from

Harris, C. (2007). Can we make peace with Wikipedia? School Library Journal, 53(6), 26. Retrieved from

La Guardia Community College: Library Media Resources Center. (2015). Beyond Google: The invisible web. Retrieved from

Montgomery, M. (2015, Apr 30). Grey Lit & the Invisible Web- LLIB-1115. Retrieved from

Mueller, A. (2017). LIBE 467: Information services I. [course notes]. University of British Columbia: Vancouver, B.C.

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.

The Canadian Encyclopedia. (2016). Historica Canada. Retrieved from


Rielding book: Retrieved from

There WAS life before the web: Retrieved from

Information tsunami: Retrieved from

Because not everything on the internet is true: Retrieved from

World Book Early Learning database: Retrieved from

2 thoughts on “Reference Materials: The Tools in My Information Services Toolbox

  1. Aaron Mueller says:

    Well done on this very thorough tour of your learning in this last theme. Your links, discussions, examples and highlights were very well written, supported and explored. A good wrap up for many topics and ideas that we have been exploring as a class and hopefully this has helped you build a solid foundation of familiarity and understanding moving forward.


  2. Drew Wetmore says:

    I will echo Aaron’s comment regarding your thorough reflection of theme 3. Discovering the value of the resources we have to offer students and teachers helps give us the confidence to promote these for student learning. Databases are often overlooked in favour of Google searches. However, as you indicate, the grey web of ERAC resources are much more reliable and efficient than the tsunami of surface web search results. It is evident from your post that you have gained a great amount of insight from both LIBE 467 and 465 understanding reference resource and services. Well done.


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