Researcher exploring ways to bring digital content to school libraries

Studies have shown that digital resources — video clips, audio, simulations and images — improve student learning in science and math, and the emergence of online digital libraries has made more free resources available than ever before. Yet few make it to student classrooms or computers. A new research study at The Florida State University looks to change this.

“Digital Libraries to School Libraries (DL2SL): A Strategy for Lasting K-12 Open Content Implementation” will explore how school libraries can successfully integrate digital library “open content” in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM materials) into their collections and services. The research project, headed by Marcia Mardis, an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Florida State’s College of Communication and Information, received a $309,344 grant from the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program of the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.

“‘Open content’ refers to digital materials that can be downloaded, edited and combined. For example, a student can download a short science video and add commentary, subtitles or additional images,” Mardis said. “It is in the manipulation of ideas that real learning happens. Editing and creating content requires higher-order thinking and engages children more deeply by appealing to a diversity of learning styles.”

Most school libraries have the instructional resources, digital tools and space to support this type of learning, but few school librarians have the skills and awareness to take the quality STEM-related material available for free on the Internet and make it available for teachers to integrate into their curricula.

The Florida State project will provide professional development to school media specialists in building collections of STEM material that teachers can use, thus increasing student use of the digital materials that aid in learning. Research findings will be shared with the digital library, school library and education communities.

“Teachers don’t have the time to spend searching Web sites for these resources and then learning how to use them in the classroom,” Mardis said. “They need a sort of ‘one-stop shop’ where they can come to find them — the type that a school library media specialist can create.”

Mardis is a uniquely qualified lead researcher for this project, having expertise in the combined areas of school libraries, digital libraries and science education through her past research.

“My research projects for the National Science Foundation, for instance,” Mardis said, “have incrementally brought me to this point by giving me the freedom to examine the intersection among school libraries, digital libraries and science education.”