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TL v58n1 What's New in Databases for Schools
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 58 Number 1

 2008

What's New in Databases for Schools 

by

Dorothy Hooper
Librarian Media Specialist
McKissack Professional Development School

Program Abstract: New databases are being developed for children and teens. Databases are analyzed using searches used in school curriculum. Special features and tips on using databases and what might be best for your school or children's section.


The Tennessee Electronic Library (TEL) has allowed students to access online resources.   However, other databases are available that provide digitized book content to meet curriculum needs of schools.   Most of the materials that are digitized in the Gale databases available in TEL have periodical content.   There is a federated search that is now available to search selected databases.   The TEL database that has materials for younger students is Kids InfoBits. Since many students are not reading on grade level, there is a need for digitized content on a variety of reading levels, including easier reading.  Although periodicals are the genre for scientific research, school assignments often require students to research general factual information about a subject rather than current event articles.   

Databases were selected for preview based on the following criteria:  search results using the same terms, quality of content, ease of use, appearance of screens, and special features.  The search results had to have relevant results.  Boolean techniques were used in the searches.  Words to be searched were based on curriculum, across several subjects.   The following words were used in the searches: abortion, Argentina, Annabel Lee, Armistice AND World War II, Athena AND Greek Gods, Aztec, Babe Ruth, George Washington Carver, Geronimo, Hydrogen, saline, and snails.  Content that came from nonfiction books, and specialized reference books was preferred over general encyclopedic materials.  

Before starting with the databases, problems with searches in Gale’s Kid’s InfoBits were identified.   To start, Geronimo was searched under People in the Kid’s InfoBits database.  Geronimo was a choice under Historical People, but the results were problematic.   The reference result given was from Columbia Encyclopedia, and the writing was on a higher reading level, with no lexile information provided.   The first choice under Magazines was a story about Geronimo the bunny.   Having taught school, I know that many children would have used that article and written about the bunny instead of successfully completing an assignment on the Indian Geronimo.  Another choice under newspapers, “Tough to Stay on Top” from USA Today, features the word "geronimo," not the person Geronimo. 

Databases reviewed include products from EBSCO Publishing, Facts on File, and ProQuest.  Databases were presented in alphabetical order by vendor.  Two additional Gale databases were also suggested.   All databases reviewed include mostly digitized book sources which are not available in TEL resources.  

The EBSCO databases presented were the Book Collection Nonfiction, Columbia Granger's Poetry Database: School Edition, NovelList K-8 and NovelList Plus K-8, and ABC-CLIO Solutions Databases. The Book Collection may be purchased for Elementary, Middle, or High School individually, or all together. The sources in this database are good nonfiction materials. Subjects may be searched by lexile  ranking, and if a general search is done, the lexile number may be clicked and a chart of grade levels appears.  To find images, a new search is required.  A search for Babe Ruth found several good articles, as well as a variety of images.  A search on snails also produced excellent results.  The Columbia Granger's Poetry Database supplies full text poems as well as biographical information.   The subjects include poets and are applicable for all grade levels. A search of Annabel Lee produced the full text poem.  NovelList K-8  provides listings by author Hinton and the results showed the book’s lexile ranking, whereby the teacher could assign the title based on a student’s reading ability.  Bibliographies on subjects can be generated, and a curriculum guide is available. One feature is "Grab and Go Topical Book Lists," where teachers and students can find bibliographies based on curriculum subjects.  The database is child and teacher friendly.  A new database for spring 2008 is NovelList Plus K-8, which is similar to its predecessor but includes both nonfiction and fiction books, and has all the features of the NovelList.  

The ABC-CLIO databases include American Government, American History, State Geography, United States at War, World Geography, World History (Ancient and Medieval Eras, Modern Era), and Issues.   Digitized reference materials comprise the content of all of these databases.  The hardcover editions are excellent reference materials on a primarily high school level, and the databases are these digitized print materials with additional features. The outstanding feature of these databases is the dual login for student and staff. Discussion questions, worksheets, tests, and related lessons are available with the staff login only and are based on text articles. Teachers may also design their own tests using this database. The issues database includes statistical data, timelines, court cases, and glossary terms, and is more comprehensive than the EBSCO issues database included in TEL.  These databases can be bundled or purchased separately in any combination.   A new feature this spring is a federated search for  any combination of databases.   The ABC-CLIO databases would be ideal for a highly academic school, including Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes where teachers often design specialized curriculum.

Like the ABC-CLIO databases, the Facts on File (FOF) databases are based on digitized reference materials. The FOF reference materials are less in-depth  than ABC-CLIO's, but offer academic terminology and appeal to a wide range of students, from elementary through Advanced Placement high schools.  Articles are short and readable.  Content includes primary source documents, graphics, pictures, and video clips.  In Science Online, all definitions include chemical formulas and correct terminology. For example, the definition of saline includes the name and formula for salt: “sodium chloride, NaCl”.  A unique feature is the online science projects that come from the FOF loose leaf books; these print from a PDF file, and list materials, procedures, data table, and analysis. These experiments, along with detailed charts and diagrams, are in Science Online, as well as the cross curricular databases, Curriculum Resource Center and Junior Curriculum Resource Center (for elementary and junior high students).  The resource centers have worksheets for math, including geometry and algebra, along with blank chart paper.  The social studies databases feature topics that are difficult to research: American History, American Women’s History, African-American History, American Indian History, Modern History, and Ancient and Medieval History.  Like the ABC-CLIO databases, the social studies databases have a federated search.  The World Atlas has general information and blank maps, and is the only database that prints free blank flags for students to color and decorate; atlases other than FOF print flags in color that show gray on a black and white printer.

The ProQuest online databases featured are SIRS Researcher, SIRS Government Reporter, and SIRSWebSelect. Government Reporter has government documents, and SIRSWebSelect features hand-selected websites, including obscure government sites that are not .gov addresses.  WebSelect contains only premier sites, and excludes all subscription sites and those with major advertisements. Of all web selections tools, this is the most accurate and contains quality sites, not quantity only, as in Google and other searches like NetTracker. Sites like these which use machine searching rather than a hand-selection process include inaccurate matches and  subscription sites requiring login. Although SIRS Researcher includes articles that overlap TEL, these two components can be bundled to enhance TEL research.  SIRS Discoverer on the Web is a junior version of Researcher for elementary and middle school students and features digitized book selections, images, hand selected web links, and student activities, and is more comprehensive with better search results than Kids InfoBits.  A search of snails in Discover results in article “Slippery Slimy Snails: Is it a snail, a slug or an escargot?”, and “A Fun and Easy Snail Experiment” which entails hatching snails.  All articles in Discoverer include the lexile score so that students can be assigned articles by reading levels. 

CultureGrams is an atlas with unique features of “Hear the name of the country”, “Hear the national anthem”, “Currency Calculator”, “World Time,” recipes, as well as standard information about the people, government, language, and land. This database could be used for up to tenth grade, but is more applicable to elementary and junior high school, as information is scanty and articles are brief. It could be used across the curricula as monetary units and time could be applied math projects as well as foreign language and cultural studies. The SIRS Decades also has cross-curricular applications in language arts and social studies.  A Boolean search of Armistice AND World War II produced the classic photograph of “Announcement of the Armistice on November 11, 1918,” and “Learning Lessons in the American Expeditionary Forces" from SIRS Government Reporter, as well as political cartoons. This database is excellent for presentations and projects, and provides graphic content that is difficult to find in book or other online sources. Lexile scores are given in SIRS Decades, and this is applicable for middle and senior high school curriculum.

Finally, although Gale databases are the predominant source in TEL, two collections need to be considered for subscription purchase.   UXL publishing features easy to read reference materials excellent for upper elementary, junior and senior high schools.  Unlike most e-books, the UXL database offers federated searches among all digitized books.  Opposing Viewpoints, which somewhat duplicates EBSCO Viewpoints, offers government statistical information with both charts and raw data, and features the digitized Opposing Viewpoints books.

School libraries cannot live without digitized book collections that add depth to book collections and support specific research.   Recommended databases are EBSCO Nonfiction Collection, ABC-CLIO Social Studies, Facts on File History, or Science Online databases.  Another necessity is a geography database. Choices are ProQuest CultureGrams, Facts on File World Atlas, or ABC-CLIO Atlas.  The final consideration when making database subscription purchases is to fill holes in your collection.   FOF Curriculum Resource Centers are multi-subject databases, SIRS Discoverer, or SIRS Decades fill needs often void in print collections. Sirs Government Report and WebSelect help with web research.   EBSCO Columbia Poetry, NovelList, and Gale Opposing Viewpoints and ABC-CLIO Issues also provide multi subject support.  Although TEL is a great resource,  digitized book based databases and specialized subject databases make your library a fully functioning twenty first century research center.


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