by Lynn Winkworth, Head Librarian

I first started to consider developing an online library at Headington School in 2006 as more and more high quality educational resources were becoming available online.

However, it became clear in 2007 an online library would be essential as Headington School had now decided to apply for authorisation to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma alongside ‘A’ levels.

As part of the rigorous assessment process to become an IB School, Headington School had to demonstrate it could offer effective support for independent learning and research – a requirement for the IB Diploma. So, in addition to ensuring teaching and library staff were trained in delivering the IB, Headington School invested in new printed and electronic resources for the school library.

Resources would now need to be accessed 24 hours a day, all year round, and from any part of the world; especially as students taking the IB Diploma had to research and write a 4,000-word, fully referenced “Extended Essay” using a wide range of resources.  This essay would be written during the summer holidays when the school was closed – so the online library at Headington School was born.

From the beginning, it was important to ensure the online library provided support for teaching and learning, was easily accessible and met the needs of an ever-changing school curriculum.

So my starting point was to explore how it could be effectively integrated into Moodle, our virtual learning environment. I began by adding links to library catalogues (including our own), links to a few websites, and to research guides focusing on particular topics that I had previously put together.

Through conversations with other School Librarians, I discovered that online resources were now available to schools through companies such as JCS Online Resources.

From little acorns great oak trees grow!  Following trials, we decided to subscribe to a range of databases through JCS Online Resources, (for example: History, Literary and Science Reference Centres and more recently JSTOR and Digital Theatre Plus) and the online library at Headington School started to grow in earnest. Before long, it had sections for online journals, online databases, online news, online catalogues, and links to museums.

But students were asking “what do you have on the online library to help me research X?” Although I could easily point them to the right places, it was vital to make it as quick and easy as possible for them and the teaching staff to find the information they needed independently.  As they were finding this hard to do, it was clear the structure of the online library had to change.

I decided to divide the online library into two parts. The first part now has sections headed as follows:
•    Library Catalogues
•    Academic Search Engines and Databases (links to these are also under each appropriate subject)
•    Author Websites
•    “How to Do” guides
•    Museums and Galleries
•    Online News

The second part is divided into subjects. Under each subject area there are links to subject-related resources in addition to the databases we subscribe to.

This new format has proved a success.  It took many hours of work to pull apart the original format and then to rebuild it into an online library that is easy to navigate and rewarding to use.  But it was time well spent – it is now user friendly and I have received many positive comments.

Our online library also has an important second purpose. In a world where we access more and more information online, it is important students learn the skills to successfully interrogate, navigate and think critically about the online resources they are using. These are skills they will need at University and, almost certainly, in the world of work.  So, I use the online library to teach these much-needed research skills.

The online library complements and extends the printed resources we hold – it does not negate them. They fit together like a microwave and an oven, as students still need a range of printed resources for research. It is often from printed sources the ability to search and filter on online database is effectively realised.

The online library at Headington School has become an integral and an essential part of the School Library. It can be accessed 24 hours a day, from any part of the world, and will continue to grow and develop as Headington School moves forward into the future.

About Lynn Winkworth
I had my first experience of working in a library whilst I was still a student at school, and I still enjoy it as much now as I did then.  I have worked in two university libraries, an architectural library and two school libraries.  I am currently Head Librarian at Headington School in Oxford, a top girls’ independent school offering day and boarding experience.