Use of databases and online services in the school library
By Pat Pledger, Information Officer, EdNA Online; Director, Pledger Consulting
This paper will look at the benefits of databases and online services and examine some different
online services and how they operate. The principles used when setting up databases and methods
of utilisation by teacher librarians and students in the school library will be considered.
The school library is a place where students and teachers should be able to find the information
that they need to support their research tasks. Ten years ago the school library in Australia
predominantly contained print materials to meet these requirements, but today the Internet and
computers have provided the potential to access huge amounts of global information.
The teacher librarian has the role of facilitating access to this explosion of information, and of
instructing teachers and students in effective ways of finding, evaluating and presenting it. I
believe that teaching students how to become lifelong learners by using a range of specialist
information tools, services and technologies is the pivotal role for teacher librarians today. The
use of online services and databases facilitates this role by freeing teacher librarians from many
time consuming tasks in administration.
What is a database and online service?
A database is a carefully organised grouping of data in a predetermined format. The data usually
contains a central focus. A database makes it easy to find specific pieces of information by
organizing its contents into columns and rows (also known as fields and records). You might use
a variety of database tools such as applications like FileMaker Pro or Access, to enter and update
the data in a database. Online services employ databases to store their records.
A familiar example to teacher librarians would be the library catalogue system, which utilizes a
database of holdings for its catalogue. Other well-known online services that include the use of
EBSCO World Magazine Bank,
Education Network Australia, EdNA Online,
SCIS School Cataloguing Information Service
Types of databases
In the school library the ability to obtain high quality information is absolutely essential. Students
and teachers need easy access to authoritative sources of information for research. These include:
A reliable and up to date library catalogue
Access to magazine and newspaper articles
Authoritative web sites
Information about a range of literature genres
The provision of these services can consume much of the library staff‟s attention. However,
databases can be used to give school library personnel the time to spend teaching students
research skills, rather than actually entering the data into the school catalogue or cutting
newspaper articles to put into a filing cabinet.
There are different types of online services that allow the school library staff to give more
attention to the students using their services. Some are free, some need to be subscribed to and all
have advantages and disadvantages.
Selection of Online Services
The selection of online services for your school library will depend on a number of factors.
1. The audience of your individual school and their research needs must be considered.
2. The question of whether the database will save you time and give you the opportunity to
develop more effective teaching activities with students should be investigated.
3. The quality and relevance of the information stored in the database will also be important to
4. The information should be well organised and adhere to international standards if they are
5. Cost is also very important. It may be necessary to make additional budget requests to obtain
the money to purchase subscriptions.
The New South Wales Australian School Libraries Branch has compiled a list of Online
Subscription Resources for School Libraries, giving prices and comments from Australian school
librarians about the value of the service. This can be found at
It is also the role of the teacher librarian to provide access to local knowledge networks.
Sometimes it is possible to obtain access to databases through other sources. In Australia many
public libraries have subscribed to online databases that school libraries would find very useful.
Students and teachers could be encouraged to join the public library. This would give them access
to the databases. An example of the database holdings at the Onkaparinga Public Libraries, in
Adelaide, can be found at:
The Australian Capital Territory Public Library also has a good collection that its members can
Examples of Databases
School Cataloguing Information Service (SCIS)
Perhaps one of the most time consuming tasks in the school library is adding records to the
catalogue, and then maintaining that catalogue in a well organised, up to date manner. In
Australia the school library has traditionally used databases, particularly in reference to the school
library catalogue. When libraries became automated, the School Cataloguing Information Service
(SCIS) http://www.curriculum.edu.au/scis/scis.htm ably demonstrated the benefits of using a
database to do the cataloguing for schools. This database has the capacity to explore, query, and
update information at the touch of a button. It contains about 750,000 catalogue records of
educational material. The records are based on international cataloguing and classification
standards. A list of school subject headings has also been developed for schools. The SCIS
cataloguing standard allows schools in Australia to retrieve accurate information quickly and
easily and to download it into their own catalogues.
This is a time saving service, with the aim of reducing the cost and duplication of effort required
by teacher librarians in cataloguing resources in schools. It enables the teacher librarian to spend
more time with students.
EdNA Online (Education Network Australia)
Another Australian national initiative has been the EdNA Online (Education Network Australia)
database, http://www.edna.edu.au/ that is cross sectoral, encompassing Schools, Vocational
Education and Training, Higher Education and Adult and Community Education sectors. It
contains over 16,000 web sites that have been selected, evaluated, described and entered into the
database by Information Officers. It is a free service.
EdNA Online is a database that is organised to store information about the URLs that it contains.
This kind of information is called metadata, or “data about data.” The metadata entry is made
following the international standard set down by Dublin Core (DC), http://www.dublincore.org
and using EdNA standards. The following elements are used:
Categories are also assigned to evaluated items, and this enables resource discovery through the
Browse as well as through the Search function. Categories also allow the information to be
manipulated. Because fields and standards have been set up for the entry of metadata and
categories have been organised, there is considerable interoperability between sectors and
between the states that have contributed.
Commonwealth Government Education Portal
The EdNA Online database has operated as a warehouse for the Australian Commonwealth
Government Education Portal. http://www.education.gov.au/. In the case of the Education
Portal, a collection of approximately 3,000 items has been either entered into, or already existed
in the EdNA Online database. This collection has been given an entirely different look and feel
after being sent to the government site. New records that are specific to the Education Portal have
been entered into the EdNA Online database and can be searched there as well. This is an
excellent example of the benetits of a database to store information that can be used for more than
one purpose and exported for other uses.
Another example of a database of Internet sites is WebLinks Online which can be found at
http://www.weblinksresearch.com/login. It is a database of approximately 6,000 web sites that
have been selected by teachers and teacher librarians to specifically meet the research needs of
students in the school library. WebLinks is aimed at a teacher librarian audience. Its intention is
to reduce the time spent by teacher librarians on searching for appropriate Internet sites. It started
out with lists of Netscape Bookmarks in folders, which were converted into a word document to
send as hard copy to teacher librarians, but the benefits of using a database became quickly
Developing a database requires planning. Prior to setting up, decisions about required fields and
the standards that the record should meet were decided upon. The fields, title, URL, description,
school subject heading and key learning area were assigned to all records.
The WebLinks Online database allows this information to be manipulated in different ways.
Students and teachers can search by key words, subject heading, key learning area and what‟s
new. They can also select items to be printed out for a bibliography, and print out What‟s New to
distribute to teachers. A research service is part of the subscription.
FileMaker Pro http://www.filemaker.com/downloads/ was selected as the WebLinks database
application because it is easy to use and very powerful in terms of the files and formats that can
be exported. FileMaker Pro is also well supported by Web-site tutorials that provide training and
development. Some can be found at
The information developed for the initial WebLinks Online service was planned with standards
and stored in a database. This gave Pledger Consulting the flexibility to be able to use it in many
ways. Items that were for Primary School students only could be extracted, and items could be
called up for an United Kingdom database. The latest innovation is the conversion of the database
into MARC records that can be loaded into school library catalogues.
LinksPlus: A Database of web sites in MARC format for loading into the catalogue.
A development of library systems has been the introduction of library catalogue software that
enables the import of records in MARC format. Modern automated catalogues can also be linked
to Internet Web-browsers. Including records of authoritative Internet sites with other media types
has become increasing important to many teacher librarians. This has the advantage of having all
types of resources stored in the one location. If the library catalogue is linked to the school
Intranet, then web sites that have been selected through the school library will also be available
across the school.
In 2001, it was decided to convert the WebLinks database file to MARC format so that
subscribers can now import over 6000 records of web sites into their catalogue. A sample of 30
MARC format records on volcanoes can be found at:
Patrons can search on their library OPAC for both book and selected web site resources. An
example of this can be found at the Softlink catalogue demonstration site. Search for „volcanoes‟
Because the URLs in the database are kept up-to-date, changed links are automatically placed in
the catalogue when the updated database is imported each month. This eliminates the manual
deletion of records with dead links, a very time consuming task.
Exporting and Publishing from the WebLinks database
It is also possible to export the information from the WebLinks database to publish in other
formats. For example, the web sites listed in the book Homework Helper for Students come
directly from the database.
The storage of magazines and newspapers and retrieval of information from them has always
been a problem in school libraries. Databases have the facility to store large amounts of data in a
very small space. Electric Library http://www.learningfast.com.au/ela/ela.asp makes it possible to
conduct research over the Internet, using a deep database of different sources. It allows a search
through newspaper articles, magazine articles, books pictures and maps. The search is relatively
simple to use, and certainly easier than cutting and maintaining a vertical file of newspaper
clippings. EBSCO World Magazine Bank offers a service for retrieval of magazine articles.
These databases give an expansion of services, as they offer researchers many more sources of
information from which to conduct their research.
The recording and categorization of educational videos is also a worthwhile area for collection
development. Tape Services http://www.tapeservices.nexus.edu.au/framesetsearch.html contains
a database of video and films titles that have been taped for educational purposes. It can be
searched and available titles may be ordered through Tape Service's extensive online catalogue. It
is a very useful service with many teacher librarians in South Australia deciding to purchase the
tapes they need at a very reasonable price, rather than videotaping them. In addition, if a program
is not taped in the school, then the database can be searched and the program ordered. It can also
be searched by subject, which enables teacher librarians to build up a collection in areas of need.
The appreciation of literature is an important aspect of teacher librarians‟ work. The Source
www.magpies.net.au is a database using information that has been taken from Magpies, a
magazine that reviews children‟s literature. It is an entry point to information by subject to
children's fiction, poetry and short stories from around the world with an emphasis on Australian
books. It is excellent for compiling bibliographies of fiction subjects and for checking on the
suitability of books as its fields contain reading age, genre, and subject.
Developing databases for your school library
It is worthwhile developing your own databases for some tasks if you want to become better
organised and if you want to refocus your time and effort on other more effective ways of helping
your students. If you find that you are spending a lot of time looking for information in your
filing drawers or if your teachers are not happy with the way they can retrieve information about
resources that they need, then it would be useful considering putting that information into a
You can certainly benefit from a database if the improvements you get from it are worth the effort
to create and maintain it. You would need to look at individual factors to determine this for every
Here are some indicators that a database could be very beneficial.
A lot of repetitive data-related tasks are involved, for example lists of web sites
Much of the same data is used over and over, but in different sequences or order, for instance
You have too many bibliographies or lists to maintain by hand and to retrieve the information
from them easily, for example lists of video tapes
Being able to have current information readily available is very important, such as newspaper
Uses of library developed databases
There are several types of information that may be of use to the school library if records were put
into a database. These include fiction lists of personal reading, web site lists, videotape inventory,
magazine lists, scanned newspaper items of local interest and local history/photograph archives.
Printing out bibliographies to give to teachers and students is easy to achieve once the
information has been put into a database
Fiction databases are perhaps the most obvious to use in the school library, particularly if you
have English teachers who enjoy the teacher librarian giving book talks. Before you begin your
database, set up the fields that you might need – good databases will allow you to add others later
if you find that you require them. This requires thinking about the types of information that you
wish to extract. The database must allow you to present only the relevant parts of a document that
you want to give to students or teachers. For example in setting up a fiction list, you would need
some or all of the following fields: author, title, genre, subject, book talk notes, page numbers of
appropriate sections to read aloud for your use only, age range, recommended by, film associated
Information that is already available in a list format can be imported into your database. For
example, fiction lists formatted in text format can be separated by spaces and imported into your
database. The data can also be manipulated and shared with other people. The senior fiction
database, that has been set up for the book, Senior Fiction, published by Pledger Consulting, was
useful because part of it was exported in the form of a database to CoSLA, the South Australian
teacher librarian group. It was then sent as a list to teacher librarians and will be put up on their
At Aberfoyle Park High School, because the school library was part of the six Onkaparinga
Libraries, with holdings of over 250,000 items, it was difficult to extract bibliographies of video
titles in subject areas. A small database would have helped overcome this problem. Appropriate
fields would have been program title, date, source, length, notes, subject, and key learning areas.
A database can be very useful for storing information about magazines that are purchased. Details
of place of purchase, agent‟s telephone numbers, price, who pays for them, renewal date and
location can all be retrieved very easily and published.
Students using databases to store research information
Information in electronic form is much easier to store and organise for review than printed
material. Students need to know how to take notes electronically. The information will be more
valuable and more retrievable later on, if it sits within the computer rather than in pages of printed
material. A database application can be open at the same time that information is accessed on the
Internet. Useful information can be selected then copied straight onto a database.
Student researchers will need to be taught the most appropriate way of coming up with fields and
records for their database, which will result in easily searched, valuable information. Each time a
student or team of students finds worthwhile information, the best parts could be saved in the
Source (Author, Title, Date, URL) .
Key question (s) .
Main ideas / keywords .
Abstract or summary .
Examples of web-pages that reflect the use of databases and online services
School libraries that have developed their own home pages usually put up lists of the online
databases to which they subscribe. This enable students and teachers to access them from home as
well as for research during school hours.
Iona College, Queensland, has developed a database library of weblinks, and published it on their
web site at
The database of ex-students of Parramatta High School is an interesting example of the use of
online databases to store information and to enable ex- students to stay in contact.
Database of Award Winning Children’s Literature
Another database is the Award Winning Children’s Literature database by Lisa Bartles
http://www.dawcl.com/. The purpose of this database is to create a tailored reading list of quality
children's literature or to find out if a book has won one of the indexed awards. DAWCL has over
3,500 records from 49 awards across five English-speaking countries (United States, Canada,
Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom).
In conclusion, databases selected to meet the needs of the school library, whether purchased or
developed specifically for an individual school library, are very powerful tools. They provide
research information that would not normally be as readily available to students and teachers and
are usually easy to navigate enabling efficient resource discovery. They are time saving tools,
enabling the teacher library and school library staff to spend their time effectively working with
teachers and students.