A loud librarian's take on libraries and all things books.

Where’s my dictionary? July 29, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — liane23 @ 3:24 am

The idea of reference material needs to evolve as I’m sure it did when books began to be categorised. There was surely a time when Religion and Philosophy didn’t provide all of the answers and information literature had to be identified in print. Historically we may be at that point again.

  • We need to identify and utilise web resources which can be categorized as “reference material” which were in the past “encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, biographical works, directories and bibliographies” (Coombes, 2012)
  • It seems reference is the exact opposite of what we have with the web’s plethora of information, neither concise or reliable at times. How do we get to that point again? As teacher librarians we can create a practice of investigating reliable resources.
  • We need to redefine the term “reference” and identify appropriate material. As Barbara says we may label web resources as ‘general sources’ and ‘quick reference’ and steer our students away from Wikipedia as their reference library.
  • How many times when your students search do they end up on Wikipedia? I think this is why. When I was at school it was Encyclopaedia Britannica and World Book. The beauty and also the danger of Wikipedia is in its succinct nature. It usually provides exactly what we are after – a quick definition with examples, links and simple explanations. Yet, students need to be taught the premise behind the site (what a wiki is – collaborative, public) and given cross-referencing websites to be sure the information there is reliable. Maybe this is why Wikipedia is so popular and useful. It continues to fulfil that need for reference material. In the giant scope of the web we are all after somewhere to begin and it successfully provides that.
  • I would not encourage the use of Wikipedia as a stand alone source because it does not have academic merit, but… maybe it is paving the way. Should academics in their field utilise Wikipedia, take it over and make it their own? Rather than seeing it as the enemy, embrace it and let it fulfill the need it is so obviously being used for.
  • As TLs we should habitually make the place to begin in our topic searches somewhere to find reliable definitions, key terms, glossaries, maps etc in order to provide a reference point to continue the learning. In a constructivist classroom this is where we find the knowledge before we can apply, synthesise and evaluate it in other ways. Some students in our classes will only ever be able to cope with the knowledge part of higher order thinking skills so we need to ensure this is correct and accessible to all our students.
  • Maybe we need to value expertise more than we do as culturally the internet has provided a forum for anyone to sound like an expert. Teach our children to be discerning.

Web search, online atlas, dictionary, biographical guide:

Fact Monster– dictionary and encyclopedia – easy to search; Upper Stage 2 or above – language more difficult, only competent readers

Word Smyth – Children’s option, I like the audio feature for each word (American accent – watch with ES1), Need to turn off top ad bar

Yahoo Kids –  Looks good visually; Language difficult for infants, primary only; World Factbook feature about countries of the world I liked

Word Net – Simple, fast, no fuss, a good starting point

Print based dictionaries:

Pros – comprehensive or concise, clearly structured and alphabetised, quick find
Cons– expensive to update and purchase, not relevant to increasing digital terminology

I’m not leaning either way with this and I’m not sure if it’s because I grew up with dictionaries as essential reference tools. In saying that I haven’t seen an online one that has fully captured my attention, although that could be from my lack of use of online dictionaries. What do others think?


ETL501 modules – Topic 2: Print and electronic information resources


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