Technology and the school library: Ideas for projects and teaching

Written by: Elizabeth Hutchinson & Clare Brumpton | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Continuing their series of articles looking at what your school library and librarian can do to support your teaching and lessons, Elizabeth Hutchinson and Clare Brumpton look at developing technology skills and ideas for using tech tools for specific projects

How often do you consider your school library and librarian when thinking about how to integrate technology into your curriculum?

After our last article about inquiry-based learning and the school library, we want to continue this journey through the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions school library guidelines (IFLA, 2015) and the five core instructional activities of the school librarian. These areas are:

As the guidelines state: “Technology helps to extend the reach of the library and its resources into the classroom and beyond.”

In this article, we want to discuss the different ways your school library can use technology across the curriculum, from using the library catalogue and ebooks to enabling collaboration across the world.

We recognise that some schools have very strict rules on the use of devices while others allow much more freedom. Most (if not all) of the tools and platforms listed below are compatible with desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones, and each school can find ways to utilise these ideas based on their own device policy.

Library Management Systems

Most school libraries have a library management system. You may have heard of Heritage, Reading Cloud, LibreSoft and Accessit to name a few. These systems help librarians to keep track of and manage the resources within their school libraries. It helps them issue and return the books as well as helps them to locate their resources on their shelves.

However, this system is not only useful for school librarians it can be the starting point for engaging students on their digital literacy journey. On a basic level, it can be used to teach students how to do a keyword search in order to find books on the shelves. Ask them to write down the classification number as well as the author and title of the book they want to find. Most of these systems can be used in the classroom or from home so there is no need to go to the library to start with.

For younger students, it can be used to teach how databases work by putting in keywords to discover how many books are on the system or even how many books can be found using a specific keyword. These are usually fairly basic databases and can be used to spot discrepancies such as why did it bring up a book on elephants when you used the keyword ants? Or why did it bring up a fiction book about elephants when you wanted non-fiction? These are great questions to use as a starting point in using your library management system more fully. It is obviously recommended that you ask your librarian to check some of the keyword searches before you start so you know what is going to come up.

Online resources and e-books

For older students, websites can be added to the system to help start a piece of research when you want to ensure they only use what you give them. Instead of giving them a file with the websites you want them to use, add them to your library management system and teach your students how to find them using keywords. This adds another level of skill to something that would otherwise just be given to them.

Remember: “The first step to digital literacy is finding and using appropriate information to answer questions. If we allow our children to head straight to the internet we know that they are going to find something quickly but can they read and understand it?” (Hutchinson, 2022).

One of the important roles of the school library is to help students find age-appropriate information fast and this can be done through your school library management system.

There are a number of excellent ebook and audiobook platforms for schools to choose from such as ePlatform by Wheelers, which provides a licence for the use of a shared library (additional titles can be added).

Other platforms require creating a full library from scratch and so would take longer to build up, with the benefit of the assurance that each title has been individually selected as part of a curated collection.

Online subscriptions

There is an abundance of digital subscriptions available to schools. Many schools invest in digital resources for post-16 education when there is an expectation that students will be more independent in their information-gathering and online searching, but there is a strong argument to embed these skills much earlier, even in primary.

One of the greatest benefits of using any combination of online subscription resources is that they can be used as a starting point for any online search by students. This helps to scaffold their searching while they are still learning how to do this well and will keep them working within a collection of resources that are safe to use and contain reliable information.

Britannica is a great resource for students of all ages. A whole school subscription will cover content from primary through to university level. It can be searched via school stage and readability levels can be increased or decreased within each section. It also has the function for users to listen to the articles and to translate them into other languages using Google Translate – to be used with caution!

Q-Files is an excellent general encyclopedia for upper primary and lower secondary. It is very affordable in comparison to other encyclopedia subscriptions and is a good choice to use in conjunction with other resources.

Where budgets allow, the following subscriptions, to name a few, are also recommended and are used widely within schools:

  • GALE In-Context
  • JSTOR Schools Subscription
  • New Scientist
  • The Economist
  • Issues Online
  • Complete Issues
  • Hodder Magazines Archive
  • JCS Online

The fun stuff

One of the many skills school librarians have is their connections and ability to stay on top of new tools and resources. It is these connections that have led to some exciting lessons that we want to share with you. We hope that it will inspire you to work with your school librarian more – you never know what they may bring to the table.

Padlet: Padlet is an online post-it wall. Elizabeth used it to create a question-and-answer session with an author during a book club. The students were asked to read The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence. Having met Caroline during book week in Guernsey, Elizabeth approached her to ask if she would be prepared to answer some questions from her book club members. Elizabeth expected her students to create the questions and for Caroline to reply at a later date. However, Caroline turned up live and answered their questions as they typed them. The excitement as she responded to their questions was palpable but more than that the students really started to think about the questions they would like to ask her and a real learning conversation was had by all.

Padlet is also used as a collaboration tool within the classroom. It is a great way to see input from individuals or groups of students and is one of the most user-friendly platforms available within education. There are a range of plans from free to institution-wide (Padlet Backpack) for those who are heavier users.

Flipgrid: This is a video recording tool but one that can be shared for others outside the school to watch. Elizabeth used this to encourage students to talk about a book called Wonder and connected her students to a school in Arkansas. The American students filmed themselves asking a simple question: “If you could describe this book in five words what would they be?”

The students in Guernsey had to think about the words, film themselves responding, and were very aware that other students in another part of the world were going to watch them. This had a real impact on this very short session.

Mystery Google Hangouts: This was an international collaboration again with a school in Arkansas and we linked to a school in Alderney. The students were not told where each other was and they had to use geography skills to find one another. They were only allowed to ask yes or no questions. They were allowed to use atlases, maps and Google Maps. They could use clues like what their accents were like and once they got closer they could ask about major landmarks, rivers and mountains. They had to use their internet research skills and work as a team. When they “found” each other they then told one another about the place they lived. This is one of my favourite sessions.

Zoom and Teams: Bringing experts into the classroom or connecting classes from around the world is certainly possible. Now that staff and students are so much more comfortable with video calls and have the confidence to try new things, many schools have used the technology very effectively in the last few years to adapt the practice of author visits. While an in-person author visit would always be considered to be the “gold standard”, there are an increasing number of libraries that can’t cover the cost of a visit. The online visit option can make this more affordable, allow visits from authors who might not be able to travel in person for a range of reasons, and gives the author an opportunity to meet with much larger groups than they would in a traditional visit.

Wakelet: This is a user-friendly digital curation tool that can be used to great effect by both staff and students. They offer a Staff Community Leader/Ambassador opportunity alongside a Student Ambassador programme and this includes a training programme which has been adopted by students all over the world. Clare uses this widely across her school and has provided the training to all year 6 students who are now ambassadors. It is a powerful tool for librarians sharing resources across the school or with smaller groups. You can access an example here.

Kahoot: This is a game-based learning platform that allows users to develop quizzes and games known as kahoots. It is typically used to test student understanding before or after a unit of work and to get feedback or answers very quickly. The platform is easy-to-use and the basic subscription is free.

Mentimeter: A student engagement tool that can be used online and live for quick-fire responses, for example, taking a poll, a quiz, sharing ideas quickly, presentations with real-time feedback, etc.

ChatGPT and AI: As with all new technology school librarians will engage and harness these tools. We look forward to developing ways to harness this technology to support good practice within education.

Final thought

We do have to acknowledge in writing this article that each school has different facilities, budgets and resources. But whatever the situation in your school it is certainly worth having a conversation with your librarian to find out what they can offer beyond physical books and how they can bring their digital expertise into your classroom.

  • Elizabeth Hutchinson is a chartered librarian and fellow of CILIP. With 20 years in school libraries she is now a trainer and advisor and an advocate for FOSIL Inquiry based Learning. Visit
  • Clare Brumpton has worked in school libraries for 25 years. She is head of research centre at the International School of London, an IB school where she is responsible for three libraries and the Research Institute.

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