Looking Behind the Curtain: An Evaluation of a Reference Resource

It is often unnerving to pull back the curtain and take a look behind. Doing so often reveals an area of neglect, weakness or flaw that has been hidden away, set aside to be attended to another day. A day, that sometimes, never seems to come. The curtain however has been drawn. With that comes the reveal of a terribly neglected area. An area that has been long forgotten and disregarded of its value – the reference section. In the following passage I will explore the weaknesses and flaws of a reference resource found within a primary school library (an encyclopedia). It will be evaluated on its merit in the areas of authority, accuracy, currency, format, indexing, objectivity, and scope. Following its evaluation a recommendation regarding its tenancy within the library will be made. According to Rielding (2013), “encyclopedias still remain among the most frequently used reference materials in school library media centres (print and electronic)” (p.72). As such, it is imperative that we no longer neglect this section and allow the curtain to fall.

Enter stage right, Scholastic First Encyclopedia, Animals and Nature: Our planet and the animals that live here. This reference work was published in 1995 by Scholastic Canada Ltd. Its purpose is to introduce children to the animal kingdom and the natural world. Throughout its pages it explores the five animal classifications, highlights animals that belong to each classification, as well as explores a variety of habitats. At quick glance, it appears worthy of the shelves.

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Screenshot Retrieved from: ttps://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/519R4ECJQ6L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.hjpg

Authority                                                                                                                                          Who wrote it? Who published it?

This reference was written by Janine Amos and Andrew Solway. Janine has a Masters degree in writing, is a university professor and public speaker. She has written over 90 books for children in over 14 languages. She is also the founder of an independent publishing company. Andrew Solway has written over 60 books for children and has won an award for best non-fiction as well as was short listed for an award in 2005. Scholastic Canada Ltd. is one of the leading publishers for children’s books in the country. As such, this encyclopedia ranks high on authority.

Accuracy/ Currency                                                                                                  Is the information provided accurate and up-to-date? Are sources of information listed?

Within the work, one section no longer meets accuracy and currency expectations. At the time of publishing (1995), Pluto was deemed a planet and is represented accordingly. Following further studies and research Pluto was stripped of its planetary designation. As such this section does not comply with currency or accuracy standards. The remainder of the content however is accurate. In regards to the information sources used to create this resource none are listed.  With the aid of other resources, the facts presented are easy to verify. Guidelines discussing currency indicate that print encyclopedias should be replaced every 5 years (Riedling, 2013). According to these standards, this resources has evaded the recycling bin four times (2018-1995= 23 years old). Either this section of the library has truly been neglected or this resource stands the test of time. Keeping the inaccurate information regarding Pluto and its age in mind, this reference scores mid-road an the overall evaluation of accuracy and currency.

Format                                                                                                                      Are the illustrations current, clear and easy to follow? Is the layout clear and suitable for the audience? Is it user friendly?

The images and diagrams in this work are showing signs of their age. However, they are still relevant and fulfil their purpose. The information is presented alphabetically resulting in both a positive and negative affect.  Using the alphabet structure learners are able to quickly find what they are looking for. It appears however that sticking to the alphabet format may have placed a pigeon-hold on the authors in determining which topics were selected. As such, a few categories seem misplaced (why include ‘farm’ or ‘universe’ when exploring the natural environment for example) in an attempt to achieve a complete alphabet. Overall, this resource minimal meets the requirement when looking at format.

Indexing                                                                                                                                           Does the resource include an index?

According to Riedling (2013), “a detailed index is an absolute necessity” (p.73). This resource has a very extensive index, as well as provides cross referencing information throughout the text. The overall evaluation for indexing is a pass.

Objectivity                                                                                                                                             Is the information provided presented from an objective lens? Is there any information that has been excluded that should be included?

The information presented appears to be free of bias and is presented through an objective lens. Objectivity however, could be questioned when considering which topics were or were not represented in the the compilation. As mentioned above the odd inclusion of farm or the fact that some habitats were covered but not others may be questioned. As such, this reference is not exemplary but does meet expectations.

Scope and Accessibility                                                                                                                      Is the resource appropriate for the intended audience? Does the information provided cover the intended topic? Does the information source leave questions unanswered?

“The purpose of an encyclopedia is to educated and inform,…[that being said they]…should not be considered sole sources of information” (Riedling 2013, p.71). Though it is known that all encyclopedias should be accompanied by additional sources of information this reference work provides such brief overviews and facts on the topics presented that it would be of very minimal assistance in conducting research. Though there are curriculum connections present, the limited information provided makes it a weak contender when selecting best fit resources. Furthermore, after conducting a readability assessment it was found that the average reading level was aligned with someone reading at a Grade 6 level. This resource was purchased for use by students in Kindergarten to Grade Three. As such, it would require direct support and guidance and is not deemed accessible for its intended audience. Overall, its limited coverage of the topics and its out of reach reading requirements results in a fail for this resource in the area of scope.

Upon review of this reference source it is easy to see how this resource has evaded the recycling bin four times over. Though it has both areas of weakness and strength, when considering all aspects as a whole, it lands in the category of Showing Signs – Stays for Now. So it lives to see another day. I am afraid not. It is in these situations where professional judgment comes into play. We must not to be distracted by the lights on the stage. The curtain has been drawn, and though the show has been overall good it has failed to meet its purpose. To provide information to its intended audience. The information is too brief and is well beyond the audiences reading and comprehension level. It is time that this resource moves out.

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Replacement

It is my recommendation that this resource be replaced with National Geographic Kids Online Classroom which can be included in the ERAC BC Digital Classroom package.

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Screenshot Retrieved from: https://www.gale.com/s?query=National+Geographic

Authority                                                                                                                                            Who wrote it? Who published it?

Information housed in the documents available have been vetted, are credible and up-to-date. National Geographic and GALE are highly established companies that have been providing accurate information to its users for years.

Accuracy/ Currency                                                                                                                              Is the information provided accurate and up-to-date? Are sources of information listed?

The sources available range in their currency. All resources however, far exceed the currency held by the Scholastic First Encyclopedia, Animals and Nature that was reviewed above. The information provided is accurate and up-to-date.

Format                                                                                                                                                 Are the illustrations current, clear and easy to follow? Is the layout clear and suitable for the audience? Is it user friendly?

Once logged in, the format very user friendly. Use of this site will require some initial coaching and guidance to navigate, however once reviewed students would be able to independently navigate. The layout is clear and is suitable for the intended K-3 audience.

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Screenshot Retrieved from: https://www.gale.com/c/national-geographic-kids

Indexing                                                                                                                                               Does the resource include an index?

This resource does not have the traditional index as would be found in a print encyclopedia, however it does have key word and advanced searching options.

Objectivity                                                                                                                                              Is the information provided presented from an objective lens? Is there any information that has been excluded that should be included?

Keep in mind that I did not take the time to read every entry available to me. However the few sources I did scan were presented through an objective lens. I imagine however that their may be the occasional entry that is not. The site is also free of advertising.

Scope and Accessibility                                                                                                                       Is the resource appropriate for the intended audience? Does the information provided cover the intended topic? Does the information source leave questions unanswered?

This resource is indeed appropriate for its intended audience. The information provided covers the intended topic, however similar to the Scholastic First Encyclopedia, Animals and Nature (1995) it will require the use of other resources to complete an extensive research project. A bonus to this replacement option however, is that some alternate sources (pictures and videos) are conveniently located on the same site. Furthermore, the accessibility in terms of reading and comprehension level is compatible with its intended audience. Attempts have also been made to increase the accessibility by providing a text to speech option that allows the viewers to have the text read aloud. This feature I found could use some upgrading. Overall this resource supersedes that of the Scholastic First Encyclopedia, Animals and Nature (1995).

There is a substantial cost different between the two resources discussed above. This should not be the deciding factor as to whether or not the print encyclopedia gets to stay. There is no point in keeping it if it is not going to be used. The district is currently funding the license for World Book and a few other databases supported by the ERAC BC Digital Classroom. I am going to advocate that this resource finds itself among the others students have available to them.

As mention above, it is often unnerving to pull back the curtain and take a look behind. As was clearly portrayed above, the curtain has been hiding long forgotten resources. Resources that are supposed to be among the most frequently used in the school library, and yet they are not (Riedling 2013). Why? The one in review does not fulfil its purpose, and accessibility to the one that would fulfill this has not yet been granted. As such, it is imperative that our reference section undergo routine evaluation. That the merit of the sources available meet in the areas of authority, accuracy, currency, format, indexing, objectivity, and scope. It is of utmost importance that we provide learned with the tools they require to conduct proper research. Therefore, the curtain must not be allowed to fall.

Image Source: Flickr.com All Creative commons, Anne Contet

References:

Alinsky, Shelby. Hoot, Owl! National Geographic Society, 2015. National Geographic Kids, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5tEREX. Accessed 1 Feb. 2018

Amos, J. and Solway, A. (1995). Scholastic first encyclopedia: Animals and nature. London: Scholastic.

Gale.com. (2018). National Geographic Virtual Library: National Geographic Kids. [online] Available at: https://www.gale.com/c/national-geographic-kids [Accessed 1 Feb. 2018].

Evans, Shira. At the Beach. National Geographic Society, 2017. National Geographic Kids, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5tEWMX. Accessed 1 Feb. 2018.

Riedling, A. (2013). Reference skills for the school library media specialist. 3rd ed. Worthington, Ohio: Linworth Books.

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