The 2002 PEW Internet & American Life Project report, The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap Between Internet-Savvy Students and their Schools confirms that today's middle and high school students use the Internet heavily, stating that "Virtually all use the Internet to do research to help them write papers or complete class work or homework assignments ... as virtual textbook and reference library. ... For the most part, students' educational use of the Internet occurs outside of the school day, outside of the school building, outside the direction of their teachers."
Audrey Church in his article Virtual school libraries-the time is now (2005) states
“If we are to help students become information-literate-critical assessors, evaluators, and users of information-we have to meet them on the Web and provide library service and instruction online, at the point of need.” He provides us with two scenarios of students, one of which has access to a virtual school library.
Scenario 1: Brandon realizes that his biology research project on genetics is due tomorrow. It is Sunday evening, 6 p.m. No problem! He logs on to the Internet, opens his Web browser, does a quick Google search on genetics, prints out information from a few dot-com sites, and he is good to go.
Scenario 2: Brandon realizes that his biology research project on genetics is due tomorrow. It is Sunday evening, 6 p.m. No problem! He logs on to the Internet, opens his Web browser, goes to his school library Web site, and clicks on the pathfinder created collaboratively by his library media specialist and classroom teacher. Using their suggestions, he finds basic information in an encyclopedia through Grolier Online, and journal articles and newsletters from the SIRS Knowledge Source and Infotrac Student Edition. Through the library's online catalog, he reads portions of a few Follett e-books on genetics. To finish off his research, he visits a couple of the Web sites suggested in the pathfinder. Works cited? Referring to the works cited section of the school library Web site, he soon has his references listed in complete MLA format.
If we want students to use the school library as Brandon does in Scenario 2, we need to make it available to them when and where they need it (which is often at home, outside library hours) and we need to provide the resources they are looking for. A well constructed virtual school library will compete with the convenience of search engines like Google and what’s more, it will offer guidance to students, facilitating the educational goal of information literacy.