Curation and Pathfinders

The Back-to-School Goal and the Conversation That Ensued

At my school, we are having a long overdue conversation about types of  library materials and the organization of library materials (print versus electronic… Dewey or Don’t we, etc.). This conversation began after sharing our library goal for the year with our faculty members. The goal this year is to raise the level of research and scholarship at our school so that we are, in fact, a true research library. With this goal, we launched a series of online research and course guides in collaboration with faculty who worked with us over the summer. Our physical collection is excellent but needs better signage and a more accessible arrangement. Our primary concern, however, is that students need to learn to navigate the tsunami of online information that bombards them on a daily basis.RESEARCH

Creating Research Guides/Pathfinders

To accomplish our goal for a more research-focused library we decided to invest in a reliable software for research guides and pathfinders. In almost every school there is a need to deliver information to extend beyond initial instruction. There are also those classes for one reason or another where co-teaching is just not possible. In the past few years, we have used blogs, other free tools, and the library website to deliver digital library instruction. This had worked well for a while, but with students using tablets and other mobile devices to access these sites, we realized that many times our formatting was clunky and often not responsive. The addition of the new responsive software has increased our ability to reach the students in the way that they consume digital information.

“Who Moved My Shakespeare?”

Tackling the physical collection was another task in curation. After attending a BERS workshop titled “Revitalizing Your Library Space to Enhance Your Library Program” presented by Pamela Harland, we made our physical collection more user-friendly by gathering associated works meant for a specific project. For instance, we would shelve Faulkner’s works, biography, and criticism together rather than in three separate locations. The re-organization was meant to make the collection more accessible and to align the collection with the current curriculum. When we began moving the collection around and gathering feedback from teachers, we had faculty members with concerns. One question was whether we were creating a college preparatory environment by not keeping with a traditional library arrangement. The instruction on “how to conduct research” was focused on the mechanics of finding physical books in the library and knowing how to use the Dewey Decimal System. This meant that the students were becoming library/book literate in our library rather than the larger objective of being information literate.


We encounter faculty and students who prefer hard copies of books and articles. Some cite research [they found online] about the pitfalls of digital reading and note taking. They also mention that they “need” the tactile interaction. There is sometimes the fear that students will not continue to learn basic skills like using an index, table of contents, and even the Dewey Decimal System. The most understandably “nostalgic” department on my campus is the History department. This week I revisited a 2012 article that was brought to my attention by a member of our History department. This article by Dominique Daniel hits on the collaboration between History teachers and Librarians. Daniel writes “If librarians find communicating with historians challenging, historians are equally mystified” (Daniel 2012). The History teacher and I agreed with Daniel that “The debate on e-technologies and instruction often revolves around the practical, mechanical aspects of the technology, obscuring the underlying cognitive, or intellectual, issues involved. I would argue that both librarians and history faculty may be underestimating the challenges facing students” (Daniel 2012). As much as we hope to expose students to the world of digital resources, the work with hard copies [sans search box] can help students develop the persistence needed for deeper, more complex research.  This week we agreed to host a history class for a “hard copy only” project. To help the students find the right books we created a physical book display and created a book finder guide. We explained to students how to scan the index and table of contents. We talked about how the topics would not necessarily be the title of a book, but would more than likely be in the table of contents or the index.

The Point

What does all this have to do with curation? With all this change in our library, the concern among teachers has been that our curating information for students is not teaching them to find and evaluate information for themselves. In many ways, I might agree with this assessment. However, the evaluation of information is a challenge for students and faculty alike given that our ACRL library partners teach in the information literacy framework that “Authority is Constructed and Contextual.” This idea from the ACRL framework  may fly in the face of the “Wikipedia is the Devil” lesson that some school librarians continue to teach.

Two things that we hope students graduating from our school learn before they leave us:

  1. Collaboration – The academic librarian will be a valuable resource in college
  2. Growth/Lifelong learning – For college, career, and life – never stop “digging/mining” for valid information

I often quote the controversial blog post by Seth Godin “This librarian takes responsibility/blame for any kid who manages to graduate from school without being a first-rate data shark.” After this, I would add a warning to students: “don’t be too independent. Ask for help when you need it.” Librarians are qualified to curate and evaluate information. Not just qualified, we love it! Some of us think of the research “dig” as a hobby. Because this is our passion, we will find so much more on a topic than the average searcher. We will also find it faster!

Building Curation, Guides, and Pathfinders

At our library, we have considered software for research guides since 2007 but we have used our school website until this year. The product we finally chose was LibGuides CMS by Springshare. There are other products referenced by Joyce Valenza in her 2012 School Library Monthly “Curation” that may be free or may work better for your situation (Valenza 2012). In fact, I was very impressed by Joquetta Johnson’s work in LiveBinders.

Here are some examples of our brand new guides. (I am still learning to build within the LibGuides CMS system, I am sure there are much better examples.)

With many of the curation tools, you can add widgets and embed media. The goal is student engagement. We do not want our tool abandoned for an easier but less fruitful Internet search.

Make use of Widgets and other tools provided by databases:

You can also embed or link selected online media

For more on digital pathfinders and curation

Daniel, Dominique. “Teaching Students How to Research the Past: Historians and Librarians in the Digital Age.” The History Teacher 45.2 (2012): 261-82. Web.

Valenza, Joyce Kasman. “Curation.” School Library Monthly XXIX.1 (2012): n. pag. ABC-CLIO. Web. 30 Aug. 2016. <>.

Vileno, Luigina. “From Paper to Electronic, the Evolution of Pathfinders: A Review of the Literature.” Reference Services Review 35.3 (2007): n. pag. Web. 30 Aug. 2016. <>.

A Sampling of University Research Guides:

UT Knox –
Belmont –
Vanderbilt –
Rhodes –
Wake Forest –
Harvard –
Yale –
Brown –

Some sites that offer free accounts:





Author: Hannah Byrd Little

I’m a dedicated Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle, leveraging my background in higher education libraries to guide students through the crucial transition from school to college and beyond.

I am honored to have served as the AASL Chair for the Independent School Section in 2023 and am excited to begin my upcoming role as Director-At-Large for the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) later this year, following my previous experience as a Member Guide in the AASL Emerging Leaders program. These appointments reflect my commitment to advancing library education and professional development on a national scale.

With experience in state-level leadership through the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL), including serving as TASL President in 2012, I bring a wealth of knowledge to my role. My educational background includes certifications as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, a Bachelor of Science in Communications (Advertising & Public Relations), a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies (Education & Information Systems), and a Master’s in Library and Information Science.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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1 reply

  1. This is a great article and I will add it to my curation unit for my classes. I’d like to recommend the Web site WebTools4U2Use which is always so helpful and has a section Curation Tools for an additional discussion of curation as well as an exhaustive list of tools (free) that could be used for library curation.

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