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by Jessie Bach
In one of my very favourite bookish movies, You’ve Got Mail, Joe Fox writes to Kathleen Kelly: “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” Fall here on the prairies evokes the same feelings for me. My last first day of school may have been nearly fifteen years ago, but every year, as September approaches, I feel an urge to get back to class. For those who really do get to head back to school this fall, Alberta’s public libraries offer a wide range of online and in-person services to set students up for success.
Most Alberta libraries offer access to the eResource, Solaro. Solaro, developed by the makers of the popular THE KEY Study Guides, provides online study help and exam preparation for math, English/language arts, and sciences for grades three through twelve. The content is aligned with the Alberta curriculum and is available online 24/7. With Solaro, students can create an account where their activities, reports, and progress can be saved and tracked. If you’re a member of Calgary Public Library, you can access Solaro here!
Some Alberta libraries provide free tutoring and homework help, either online or in person. For example, at Edmonton Public Library, students in grades four through twelve can book online sessions with volunteer mentors for free, one-on-one homework help, tutoring, and academic guidance through the DISCOVER Free Online Tutoring program. Mentors for this program come from a broad range of fields, including medicine, dentistry, law, engineering, education, and more, and are trained to help students “learn how to learn.” This program is available Monday to Friday between 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Students can visit the program page to select the subject they are interested in and book a session.
Finding a quiet place to study can be a challenge—chores may beckon at home, coffee shops are noisy, and the outdoors is only an option for a few months a year. Luckily, the library has you covered! While libraries are no longer the sombre, hushed places of yore, students will likely still be able to find a quiet corner to study. Many libraries, depending on their size, provide a quiet zone (or even a whole floor) to make sure that those who need to focus can find a place to do so. Your library may even provide private study rooms that can be booked for quiet study or group projects. At the St. Albert Public Library downtown branch, for example, there are two bookable study rooms located on the second floor that can be claimed for two hours at a time.
World Book Online
The WorldBook Encyclopedia of my youth was a set of large, blue, cloth-bound tomes that took up significant real estate on the library shelves. Kids these days have it a lot easier with access to World Book Online, available at many Alberta libraries. World Book Online contains resources for kids from pre-kindergarten all the way through high school, as well as resources in French and Spanish. The content is also enhanced by a suite of extra tools to facilitate and guide your student’s research. These include a citation builder, interactive maps, a built-in dictionary, and comparison tools. One especially cool feature is called “Behind the Headlines,” which provides news articles about current events chock-full of hyperlinked text to let students take a deep dive into the context of the topic.
Brainfuse is a powerful two-in-one resource for both students and job-seekers alike. For the student set, Brainfuse’s HelpNow is a tutoring and online study suite for all ages. Brainfuse tutors, trained in the Alberta curriculum, are available to assist students in an online classroom or to provide live one-on-one tutoring. There is also a 24-hour writing lab where students can submit papers for review by a writing expert and receive feedback with respect to voice, word choice, content, sentence fluency, and more, as well as suggestions for improvement and further practice. And did I mention the homework tools? HelpNow also provides video tutorials, practice tests, digital flashcards, a foreign language centre, technology skills builder, and much more. Brainfuse also provides JobNow, a resource similarly stuffed with tools to help users in every step of their job hunt. This includes live career coaching, resume review, interview prep, and writing assistance. Several Alberta libraries offer access to Brainfuse, with more likely to add the resource soon.
Alberta Research Portal
The Alberta Research Portal provides access to an extensive collection of primary source materials—perfect for a research paper or history assignment. Powered by the Gale Primary Sources database, students can access dozens of primary source collections, including the Archives of Human Sexuality and Gender, the Smithsonian Collection Online, Sabin Americana, and extensive resources related to First Nations and Indigenous Peoples. Not only is the Alberta Research Portal brimming with fascinating historical information, but it also allows students to hone their search skills in an online database environment, preparing them for future university research papers.
Books, of Course!
I’d be remiss as a library blogger if I didn’t take a moment to mention books. While online resources provide a wealth of information and myriad services that can be used anytime, anywhere—sometimes only a book will do. At the local public library or through the magic of interlibrary loans, students can access study guides aligned with the Alberta curriculum, readers geared toward their grade or reading level, books and articles to support their research projects, and novels for that book report due next week.
For a curated selection of local content for students, check out Alberta Books for Schools – a collection of Alberta-published books matched to the Alberta curriculum. It consists of a printed annual catalogue as well as a convenient, continually updated digital database. All titles include curriculum connections and grade levels provided by curriculum mappers from The Alberta Library, as well as a brief description of how the book can be used in the classroom to support curriculum objectives. Accessible audiobooks and eBooks with enhanced accessibility features are clearly indicated, to allow educators to easily find the right formats for their students. Alberta Books for Schools makes it easier to find great, local resources!
And So Much More…
The resources highlighted above are only a small selection of public library services for students. Ancestry Library Edition, the Calgary Herald Archive, Consume Reports, Creativebug, DigitalLearn.org, Frontier Life historical database, LinkedIn Learning, Novelist, Pronunciator Language Learning, Read Alberta eBooks & eMagazines, and Tumblebook Library, just to name a few, are available at select libraries in Alberta.
About the Author:
Beyond the Stacks is a column about libraries in Alberta and the useful and necessary services they provide.
Jessie Bach grew up on a family farm in Southern Alberta and is a lifelong library user and book lover. She has a degree in history from the University of Saskatchewan, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. Jessie has worked in archives, academic libraries, corporate records management, and now public libraries. Her current role is Communications & Engagement Manager at Marigold Library System. She currently lives in Calgary with her partner and, in true librarian fashion, three cats. Jessie likes to read (of course), knit, consume way too many true crime podcasts, and lift weights in the gym.
Feature image credit: Oleksandr P. through Pexels.