Equitable Access: The Dream and The Promise

Oregon School Library Information System Goes Statewide

By Mary McClintock, September, 2000

[Note: This essay was written to explain the origins of OSLIS. As such, it reflects the status of the OSLIS project as of the year 2000. The current statewide database package is with Gale Cengage Learning. The Oregon Department of Education stopped contributing to the cost of the database subscription many years ago. Databases are paid for by the State Library of Oregon with Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds.]

In 1998 a small group of Oregon Educational Media Association (OEMA, now Oregon Association of School Libraries or OASL) members met with Oregon State Librarian Jim Scheppke at Churchill High School in Eugene, to brainstorm how we might promote a leadership role for school librarians as information experts in the midst of the explosion of Internet access in the schools.

By 1997 there was a mad rush by school districts to "get connected" without much concern for the searching skills of students and staff or for the quality of information found online. Even more alarming at a time of rampant budget cuts were the expressions by some administrators that "if students have the Internet they have all they need for research." Clearly the research expertise of school librarians needed to be asserted in the connectivity frenzy.

One key inspiration that day was Willamette University's Webstation, an attractive and useful portal to online subscription services, selected Web links, and research guides. Webstation clearly identified the library as the appropriate gateway to the Internet for researching Willamette students. OSLIS was conceived that day as a library portal to online resources with an information literacy framework, but without funding, resources, or infrastructure it was hard to envision how this might ever come to pass.

Now here we are in the fall of 2000 with the exciting debut of statewide access to an array of online databases from EBSCO, made possible by the Oregon School Library Information System. Incredible hard work by many OEMA members and our OSLIS consortium partners has brought us to this successful high point. Whether students are from an affluent suburban school or an isolated rural school, they have access to extensive research resources via the Internet.

The EBSCO databases bring online full-text access to more than 500 magazines, over 1000 Essential Documents of American History, the Encyclopedia of Animals, the World Almanac, more than 150 newspapers, and much more. In addition, students will be able to search online for health-related questions and for current topics in reputable publications generally not available in school libraries.

Even with the Oregon Educational Technology Consortium's (OETC) consortium pricing, this kind of online subscription resource has been unattainable by approximately half the schools in the state--until now. Oregon schools serving approximately half the students in the state (250,000 students) paid approximately $500,000 for some online database last school year. For the 2000-01 school year, ALL students in Oregon have access to a high-quality periodical database for approximately $165,000. News of cost savings on this scale needs to be shared far and wide with administrators, legislators, and the public.

So how did OSLIS move from an intriguing dream to a reality with statewide promise? The key to the birth of OSLIS was in the formation of partnerships. Jim Scheppke initially set us up with potential partners from the world of academic libraries with the prospect that ORBIS (the higher ed library network) might provide the Internet infrastructure. Out of that meeting we did find our research and evaluation partner, Teaching Research (TR), at Western Oregon University. With Gail Leslie and Mark Schalock from TR on board, we soon found our most logical partner for hosting Internet access to be OPEN. The Oregon Public Education Network is the educational agency that provides the backbone for most K-12 Internet access in Oregon through regional ESD hubs.

OPEN's director Tom Cook immediately saw the potential for OSLIS to enhance Internet access with high-quality content that was best selected by trained school library media specialists. OPEN also had the expertise to design an effective Web site and provide technical support. OPEN's staff of talented contributors to OSLIS has included Dennis Schultz, Marilyn Kelly, Gus Frederick, and Dave Moore.

The need for a fiscal agent led us to a natural partnership with the Oregon Educational Technology Consortium which was already negotiating group pricing for a wide range of computer software and other technology products for every school district in the state. OETC Executive Director Thor Prichard has now become an expert in negotiating prices and services with the library database vendors. As OSLIS fiscal agent, Thor has worked diligently to manage the grant funds so crucial to OSLIS. The other partners in the OSLIS venture have been the Oregon State Library and the Oregon Department of Education since both are the funding sources for the grants that have allowed OSLIS to grow and develop.

Diane Claus-Smith wrote the first funding proposal that brought us the initial LSTA (Library Services and Technology Act) grant for $173,000 from the Oregon State Library in 1998. With this first grant award we knew OSLIS was destined for success. Other OSLIS grant writers have included Patty Sorensen, Sheryl Steinke, Jim Maxwell, Mark Schalock, and myself.

Under Diane's leadership as OSLIS Curriculum Liaison, the first six pilot secondary schools in LSTA Grant I selected online resources, developed curriculum materials and experimented with the early Web-site prototype. The value-added curriculum includes tutorials on using search engines and citing sources, among others. Along with the next 12 pilots, they assessed student learning before and after using OSLIS resources and completed other evaluative instruments.

With a second LSTA grant of $225,000 for the 1999-2000 school year, the OSLIS project expanded to include 101 secondary schools and 10 elementary pilot sites with combined student populations of 81,664, located in ALL geographic regions of Oregon. The OSLIS model of professional development which encourages collaborative planning between teachers and media specialists and peer mentoring among media professionals was recognized by the Oregon Department of Education with a $199,500 Technology Literacy Challenge Fund Grant of Statewide Significance for 1999-2000. An additional TLCF grant for $150,000 will continue the peer-mentor model, staff development, and collaboration projects in the 51 newly selected elementary and secondary pilot schools in the 2000-2001 school year.

Coordinating the initial OSLIS partnership required a leader with the ability to balance competing interests with skill and grace. Newly retired as superintendent of Yamhill ESD, Mary Kerns was the perfect OSLIS project manager. As a former OEMA president, Mary had a school library background to bring to her broader perspective of the Oregon educational culture. Respected educator Jim Maxwell has been serving as OSLIS project manager for the past two years. As a former advisor to the Oregon State Board of Education for Norma Paulus and a former superintendent of Lane ESD, Jim manages OSLIS affairs with the skill of the most seasoned CEO. The guidance of Rushton Brandis from the Oregon State Library has kept the OSLIS steering committee grounded in our library roots. Other OSLIS key players are Nancy Powell, Secondary Training Coordinator; Sheryl Steinke, Elementary Pilot Curriculum Liaison; Martha Dean and Gary McFarlane representing ESD interests; and the most recent addition to the OSLIS board, Melanee Lucas.

As the information/research experts, school librarians saw the need for guiding students in effective use of electronic media and in managing the wealth of Internet resources, but alone we could not have achieved our vision. The ultimate collaboration of OSLIS steering committee members Sheryl Steinke, Thor Prichard, and Martha Dean with the Statewide Database Licensing Group (SDLG) led to the low cost for the K-12 portion of the Oregon contract with EBSCO. The OSLIS project is a model of organizational cooperation that brings together the strengths of different educational associations to further the academic success of the students of Oregon.

Without appropriate guidance, students are left to flounder on the World Wide Web where much information is unreliable, biased, or purely commercial in nature. While it is exciting that the four walls of the traditional library have been expanded to provide access to global resources not accessible to students in the past, the need for resources selected and evaluated by professional librarians has not changed. In meeting the high academic standards in various content areas, students need to have access to information in a variety of formats that is current, balanced, and authoritative, and the OSLIS databases provide a reliable alternative to the unstructured chaos of the Internet.

By directly addressing Oregon's Content Standards on Information Literacy which are infused within a number of academic areas, the OSLIS project also indirectly addresses all academic areas and levels the research "playing field" for all students. In the two years that data has been collected and analyzed for the pilot schools, a positive correlation has emerged between access to quality online resources, information literacy instruction, and academic achievement. Indeed, the longer the school has been in the OSLIS project, the greater the improvement.

While access to the EBSCO databases is a wonderful economic boon to schools, more importantly we have an opportunity to strengthen the information literacy skills of all Oregon students. The OSLIS gateway establishes a school library context for Internet access, provides quality electronic resources, and promotes good searching strategies and practices. That makes it imperative that schools access EBSCO through the OSLIS Web site as much as possible.

"We started OSLIS to enhance the status of school media professionals as having expertise and leadership in the delivery of electronic information in schools, and in instruction in the use of these resources. We won't achieve that goal if OSLIS moves to the background, or to a footnote, and just becomes a freebie EBSCO account," states Jim Scheppke.

While establishment of statewide consortia to provide online electronic databases to all schools in a specific state is a growing phenomenon, it appears that the OSLIS project is unique in that it also seeks to provide an instructional framework for accessing the databases. A number of OSLIS board members and librarians from the pilot schools have presented the OSLIS project at state, regional, and national conferences and have received enthusiastic responses. In OSLIS sessions at Computers in Libraries, NCCE conferences in Seattle and Portland, and AASL in Birmingham, there has been a high degree of interest from other states in replicating the OSLIS curriculum framework for accessing online resources.

The significance of the OSLIS project is enormous for all libraries and library users in Oregon. A seamless continuum will begin for Oregon students since these same databases are also available to most Oregonians in many Oregon public and academic libraries. Students will see the same search screen at school, at home, and at their public library. And when they graduate to a community college or other higher education institution, they will be familiar with how to search for current information.

The Oregon School Library Information System (OSLIS) will be using technology grant funds from the Oregon Department of Education to pay the EBSCO subscription fee for all Oregon schools--high, middle/junior, and elementary--for one year. Let's make the most of this year and be sure that all students and teachers know about and use both the EBSCO databases and the curriculum-enriched OSLIS Web sites.

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