October 30, 2014

We Could Be Heroes: Research plus tech skills are a hot commodity

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Librarians are masters of information. Finding it, storing it, organizing it, retrieving it—you name it. We excel at a wide range of skills. And in today’s world, that’s the name of the game.

Case in point: my team and I were recently asked to choose passages of text for a regional K–8 English language-arts exam. We were charged with coming up with six pairs of high-quality, Lexile-leveled narrative/informational passages for each grade—108 selections in all—in a little over a week. Were it not for our information and technology skills—and our knowledge of copyright—we could never have pulled it off.

Just trying to organize 108 passages in folders on a drive wouldn’t have cut it; from the start, we needed an information management system. Enter Drupal. As I’ve noted in previous columns, the open-source framework has become essential to our library work, providing all the back-end tools necessary to create online forms and reports for gathering and presenting information.

For this project, I built a free quick-and-dirty website at drupalgardens.com. Using just the basic tools, I was able to create an organization system, with the required fields: the book’s title, author, Lexile level, genre, word count, and the text of the passage itself, plus a checkbox for whether or not the passage had been selected. Then I built two views, called “reports” in Drupal. The first view showed all of the books entered on the site’s front page, with a dropdown menu to select individual grade levels. The second, a sidebar, displayed the number of books that had been entered and the passages that had been selected for each grade, giving us a quick view on our progress toward thse 108 passages.

It just goes to show, when the going gets tough, librarians get organized. By taking a couple of hours up front to build a site, the four of us were able to keep track of our work. When we completed the project, we were able to provide hard copies of each passage formatted to display its title, author, Lexile level, the text itself, and word count. I’d highly recommend taking the time up front to build a similar system if you’re ever presented with a similar task or any scenario where you need to gather and organize books, articles, or other content.

The final tool in our arsenal: resources for determining quality books from which to select passages. Beyond a Lexile search, we turned to Junior Library Guild’s back lists, Mackin Compendium lists, and SLJ and Horn Book reviews. For us, this amounted to standard research procedure, but it sure looked like magic to those who had requested the materials.

The broader takeaway here is that, once again, librarians saved the day. By drawing upon our unique information skills, my team and I were able to complete an incredibly challenging task in a very short amount of time. The more often we can each come through like heroes (beyond shelving books) the better for our entire profession.

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Christopher Harris About Christopher Harris

Christopher Harris (infomancy@gmail.com) is coordinator of the school library system of the Genesee Valley (NY) Educational Partnership.

Comments

  1. This sounds like a brilliant approach. My not-so-secret dream job is librarian for this very reason. One question, though, you mentioned having to deal with copyright…how exactly did you get around that one? I’m charged with helping to create assessments for my school district and I want to be copyright-conscious. Thanks!

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