IFLA SL Newsletter

– a commentsblog

Supporting Science in the School Library

Marcia A. Mardis, MILS, EdD
Wayne State University
Detroit, Michigan USA


Reports like the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)[1] highlight lagging student science literacy and achievement worldwide. For many school librarians, supporting science learning can be challenging. Rapid developments in scientific discovery demand responsive collection development and in-depth content knowledge and skill. But, many school librarians are at a disadvantage in providing this support because they lack the financial resources and subject-matter expertise to engage with science teachers and to build exemplary science collections. But, as practitioners of library science, we can help kids gain many key skills for science learning.

An important inroad into a discussion with the science teacher may be to explain the overlap between the processes of science and research. Table 1 (below) compares the phases of the scientific inquiry model ( “The Scientific Method”) to those of the information inquiry model (“Inquiry-Based Learning[2]”).

Table 1.

Comparison of Inquiry Models for Science and Information.

The Scientific Method

Inquiry-Based Learning

  1. Question
  1. Ask
  1. Hypothesis
  1. Investigate
  1. Experimental Plan and Predicted Result
  1. Create
  1. Experiment
  1. Discuss
  1. Comparison of Predicted and Actual Results
  1. Reflect
  1. Conclusions (Hypothesis Correct or Incorrect)


Both models begin with questioning, move investigating the question, employing a strategy for collecting evidence, and then, synthesizing and analyzing results. The school librarian has skills in many of these phases that the science teacher may not realize. Since “the librarian has the knowledge and skills regarding the provision of information and solution of information problems as well as the expertise in the use of all sources, both printed and electronic,[3]” school librarians are able to help kids to ask good questions, direct them to find high quality and relevant resources, and to facilitate discussions of how well the information meets the demands of the question.

In Internet-connected environments, digital libraries offer support for instructional innovation, curriculum, and equitable access to learning resources; they offer especially rich sources of support for science in schools. The United States’ National Science Foundation (NSF) has developed the National Science Digital Library (NSDL) (http://nsdl.org) that offers school libraries interactive simulations, research articles, data sets, video, and still images. Not only are these resources impossible to include in an traditional print-based school library collection, but also their expert sources and current creation dates can allow school libraries to facilitate the types of innovative learning that promote science literacy and support a variety of learning styles. Visit the NSDL and click on the Resources For K-12 Teachers link.

School librarians can use their skills in questioning, research, and analysis to help all students learn science better and to internalize replicable personal models for learning. Flexing your library science expertise in resources and processes is also a way to entice science teachers to help you build a good science collection. You’ll get the help you need and let them know that you value their content knowledge.

[1] The results of this study are available at http://nces.ed.gov/timss/

[2] As articulated by Bruce, B.C., & Davidson, J. (1996). An inquiry model for literacy across the curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 28, 281–300.

[3] The IFLA/UNESCO School Library Guidelines 2002, p.12.


January 14, 2007 - Posted by | 4. Issue 43, 5. Theme 43: Information Literacy, USA

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