You are here

April 2011: Research Explores How School Librarians Use Digital Content for STEM Learning

March 15, 2011

Florida State University, School of Library & Information Studies

Laura Bush 21st Century
Librarian Program Early Career Researcher Grant, 2009-2012

Marcia Mardis
Associate Professor, School of Library & Information Studies
Florida State University
PO Box 3062100
Tallahassee, FL 32306-2100
(850) 644-6253
E-mail address

Web site:


"Develop an easy-to-use tool that is cross-platform, and cross-browser compatible, which
allows school librarians to import web resources into their catalogs."
-Web2Marc Objective

The vision for Digital Libraries to School Libraries (DL2SL).
"I feel my job is to prepare school librarians for the future, not for now," explains Marcia Mardis, an Associate Professor at Florida State University's School of Library and Information Studies. "I want to make sure that they are not surprised by any trends that are coming down the line and understand how they fit into those trends." One such trend will undoubtedly be a renewed focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning in schools. Despite historical achievement, the United States lags behind other nations in STEM education at the elementary and secondary levels. International comparisons of students' performance in science and mathematics consistently place the United States in the middle of the pack or lower. Libraries are part of the solution. IMLS has supported research, conferences, professional development, and a host of library and museum projects designed to improve STEM learning and teaching.

Having spent more than ten years developing science collections in school libraries, Mardis is no stranger to the challenges of integrating STEM resources into the K-12 catalog.

Paving the way for the future of STEM learning in school libraries.
Lack of STEM expertise among school librarians combined with rapid dissemination of new information in STEM fields means that school libraries’ STEM resources are often poorly represented or out of date. Interestingly, however, recent research suggests that traditional materials—like books-- are not the most effective ways to promote STEM learning. Instead, studies suggest that students learn STEM concepts most effectively when exposed to interactive resources like models, videos, images, data sets and manipulatives, many of which are freely available to school libraries as open content through the web. With funding from a Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant, Mardis's current research is paving the way for the future of STEM learning in school libraries both by investigating how librarians are currently using open content STEM resources and by developing a tool that allows librarians to easily create catalog records for these resources.

Overcoming barriers to open content use. What factors enable or inhibit its useω
Technology constraints in schools have forced Mardis to be flexible when designing a tool to facilitate integration of open content into school library catalogs. Originally, the plan was to create an RSS feed for open content STEM resources. She soon realized, however, that librarians preferred selecting their own resources, but wanted to be able to quickly add a record to their catalogs.

Preliminary results from Mardis's survey of open content use by librarians suggests that bandwidth issues, more than catalog constraints, are preventing librarians from adding online content to their catalogs. "A lot of schools feel very limited in how much they can utilize digital resources based on the amount of connectivity they are allowed to consume," she explains. Slow internet connections keep many teachers from spontaneously streaming online resources in the classroom, even when librarians provide them with great resources.

The Web2MARC Tool.
Initially she addressed some of the use and access issues by using Zotero, a citation creation resource which automatically generates a MARC record from an online resource. However, because Zotero was developed for use with Firefox, a browser not used by many schools, it had limited utility. "So we cut out the middleman," Mardis says, and together with her programmer created their own Web2MARC tool, which automatically generates MARC library records from the URLs of online resources.

As the grant approaches its final year, Mardis will begin presenting Web2MARC to the library community. Along with a professional evaluator, Mardis will lead a workshop and two in-school case studies to better understand how librarians and their students use STEM digital resources. From those librarians already familiar with the Web2MARC tool, Mardis has heard glowing reviews. "I've been so pleased and actually a little bit overwhelmed at the delight of the users. I just demonstrated it for some school library district directors and they were blown away. They said, "Oh, this is so obvious! Where has this been all our livesω" Librarians who work with English language learners and special education students have been particularly enthusiastic. She explains, "When you're teaching science in particular to these students, the more visual and interactive you can be, the more ways kids have to demonstrate what they know."

Web2Marc exports website information as a MARC21 Record, which is readable by
popular cataloging software, such as Destiny and Alexandria.
Click on image for a larger view.

School librarians have essential technical expertise.
The project has also surfaced the importance of strong relationships between librarians and STEM teachers. "There are so many librarians who have said to me, ‘Well, I don't really even know what to say to my science teacher", but those that had good relationships with their science teachers didn't let their lack of content knowledge stop them, because they knew that they had something to offer." Mardis hopes the study will help librarians realize the value of their expertise as schools move to digital resources.

"[Librarians] aren't being disenfranchised by the move to digital textbooks and open content in schools, because somebody needs to be there to advise on the selection, organization and management of using more digital content in schools. I think the Web2MARC tool can help them have an entry point that's comfortable to them, because every librarian knows how to work his or her catalog."

Encouraging STEM careers through modeling, mentoring, and informal environments.
Mardis is hopeful that the case studies developed from the project will do more than just provide feedback on the Web2MARC tool, but instead will start a dialogue between students, STEM teachers, and librarians. "I want to hear what students wish they could do in a science class and that they don't do, and what they wished they could do in the school library and that they can't do. Because, I think that sometimes we underestimate our kids. And I think that kids are really a lot more excited about learning than we think they are."

For other STEM digital library and open content resources please check out: National Science Digital Library, CWIS, MSP2: Middle School Portal 2 Math & Science Pathways, Beyond Weather & The Water Cycle, and Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears.

Progress to Date Next Steps
National survey analysis underway


CWIS Plug-in complete


Zotero extension complete


Web2MARC v.1 complete; v.2 April 8

Open source


More controlled vocabularies


Additional features—record of records; more site scraping technologies esp. for common sites


Application program interface (API )for button on own pages, toolbar for browsers

Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program