The opportunity to dramatically and cost-efficiently expand a district’s library resources doesn’t come around every year, says Houston Independent School District (HISD) Superintendent Dr. Abe Saavedra. “We adopted [the Questia] program two years ago and it has proved much more economically efficient than buying a hardcover book for each student,” he says, “and the system also extends library services to all our students. This program democratizes information across multiple schools, offering an extensive academic library to all students, not just those able to afford their own books, or those quick enough to get the library’s hardcover copies of a particular book.”
The program the HISD approved for use throughout its 301-square-mile district—the largest public school system in Texas and the seventh- largest in the United States—is Questia, the world’s largest online academic library with a growing collection of more than 50,000 books and 400,000 journal, magazine, and newspaper articles.
The online library provides 24/7 access to its collection of copyrighted and public domain books (other similar programs typically only offer books in the public domain, or only provide excerpts from copyrighted material) and journal, magazine and newspaper articles. Users can instantly search 20 million pages by keyword, phrase, topic, author, or title and, thanks to sophisticated and cross-platform Web browser technology, the system allows an unlimited number of students to access, read and take notes on the same title simultaneously.
“The truth is very few schools have the money to build and to maintain a first-rate library of books,” adds Questia President and CEO Troy Williams. “Questia enables schools to have a massive online library affordably. No book is ever checked out. Every student has access to every book in the library all the time. I regularly receive feedback from users who view Questia as a new model for research and study. They see Questia as an education tool that helps integrate technology into the classroom and provides schools with a cost-effective solution that helps them achieve their teaching and learning goals.”
The HISD, with its 307 schools and 211,000 students, is an aggressive, decentralized urban system with an intensive core curriculum that specializes in challenging instructional and career programs. HISD is constantly improving and refining instruction and management to make them as effective, productive, and economical as possible. It appears to be working: In 2002, the Broad Foundation declared HISD to be the topperforming urban school district in the nation.
“This online tool benefi ts educators and librarians,” says Dr. Saavedra. “Educators can plan out classroom activities from anywhere at any time. And librarians see [Questia] as a cost-efficient and easy way to expand their collections.”
For good reason. Questia improves how students formulate topics, conduct research, and write papers. The online library contains the full text of all books in the collection, including the front and back matter.
For example, Questia provides students with 21st century research tools and a customizable research environment allowing users to quickly and easily set their own workspace and reading preferences; create project folders and personal bookshelves; and automatically develop formatted footnotes and bibliographies in seven citation styles.
“We’ve had the Questia Online Library for just two years,” adds Dr. Saavedra, “and based on our experience we’ll continue to use the system. It’s a great example of how to effectively use our powerful IT system to its best advantage.”
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