glacierTraditionally, subject guides included print materials such as books, pamphlets, brochures, maps, photographs, and primary source documents. In the 70s and 80s, the word pathfinder became associated with bibliographies that included both print and nonprint materials such as audios, videos, filmstrips, transparencies, and kits. In the 90s, pathfinders began to include links to online resources such as websites, electronic database, and other outside resources.

Think of a pathfinder as a guide that leads the way to wonderful resources like the path in the photo leads to the beautiful Grinnell Glacier in Montana.

Today, a pathfinder includes all the resources that students or library patrons might find useful from primary source documents to the email addresses of local community members. It might contain Dewey Decimal numbers to locate materials in the library or URLs to find materials on the Internet. In addition, it could include phone numbers, addresses, and email contacts for experts who might be able to address specific questions related to a topic.

Pathfinders can be simple such as a one-page overview of the Guardians of GaHoole, Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Ramona and Beezus book pathfinders or the multiple tab exploration of the books, movies, and author of the Harry Potter series. Or, a pathfinder can be very detailed with multiple pages such as the Genealogy Research pathfinder.

eye means readRead Pathfinders: Helping Students Find Paths to Information by Kelly Kuntz from Information Today (May/June 2003).

Many schools, libraries, and organizations now maintain a collection of pathfinders on a wide range of topics.

Go to How Stuff Works. This was created by the people who produce HowStuffWorks website.
Go to Palo Alto Unified School Libraries. Notice their long list of pathfinders.
Go to Pathfinders from Indianapolis Public Library. Explore the topics listed in alphabetical order.
Go to Pathfinders at Methuen High School. Notice the variety of topics.

Great MigrationsIncreasingly, apps for mobile devices and social technologies are being woven into pathfinders. For instance, a pathfinder on the topic of migration might connect to the many resources related to the National Geographic special called Great Migrations. This program contained content that can be accessed through many different technologies including the National Geographic Website, Book, DVD, Game, Facebook Page, and iPad app.

All of these physical and virtual resources can be woven together for teaching and learning.

eye means readRead Fluid Environments for Teaching, Learning, and Technology by Annette Lamb.

This page contains information on pathfinders. Use the following links to help you explore this Pathfinder Options, Collaboration, Social Bookmarking, and Putting it All Together.

Pathfinder Options

Although originally designed for research, pathfinders can serve many audiences and functions. They may also contain a wide range of materials.


Pathfinders can be designed for a general or specific audience. Many public libraries design pathfinders for the general public. These are often written at the fourth or fifth grade reading level so they can be accessed by all patrons.

Go to Genealogy Pathfinder from Morton Grove Public Library. Notice that this pathfinder starts with lots of information to help patrons with their investigation.

Go to Mystery from VAPLD. Notice that this is written for the general public.

Schools often develop pathfinders for students and their teachers. These pathfinders sometimes are divided into sections for different grade levels or reading levels. Some pathfinders are designed for a local audience. While others are aimed at the general public.

Go to Gun Control from Morton Grove Public Library.

Go to Teen Volunteering Opportunities. Notice that this pathfinder is designed for a specific, local audience.


Pathfinders can be used for answering questions, conducting research, exploring thematic topics, or learning about a topic. For example, many public libraries develop pathfinders for commonly asked questions or areas of interests. For example, you might find a pathfinder on "finding a job" or "gourmet cooking".

Go to Cookbooks from Camden County Library. Notice the book and website resources. Check out their master list of subject guides.

Pathfinders can be designed for people conducting research on topics from genealogy to oceanography. They can also be used to explore a theme or issue such as poverty or the Westward movement. Some pathfinders are designed for educators and include links to lesson plans, activities, and assignment guidelines.


Many librarians design pathfinders to go with the materials in their specific library. In other words, they go through the library catalog and choose materials such as magazines, books, videos and maps found in their collection. They may also add outside resources that could be accessed through the library such as websites and databases.

Go to the Pathfinders from Newbery Elementary. Notice the resources they provide with their pathfinders.
Go to the Pathfinders from Conestoga High School. How are websites, books, and databases incorporated into these guides?

Use the following lists for ideas:

Site-based resources

Web-based resources

Go to Science Fairs from Exploratorium. Notice all the different types of resources provided.
Go to History from Loomis Chaffee School. Notice how microforms are even part of the resource list.
Go to European History-Explorers from Thacher School. Notice how primary sources are included.

The LibGuide website contains many examples that incorporate Web 2.0 type resources. Check out the college level LibGuides from Cornell University, Illinois, Michigan State, University of Michigan, and Duke. Explore the following K-12 LibGuides by selecting k-12 Libraries from the Browse Alphabetically options.



Some of the most effective pathfinders are developed as part of a collaborative effort with librarians, teachers, parents, community members, and even students. These people can help identify the characteristics of the audience and the pathfinder need. They can also make contributions or suggestions for resources or associated activities.

Teacher and librarian collaborations are essential for effective use of in and out of library resources. Many schools and libraries encourage this type of collaboration by providing a link on the library website to a "request for pathfinder." Librarians can then follow-up with the patron or teacher.

Go to Teacher: Request a Pathfinder from Lakewood Public Library. Notice their request page.

Get your students involved with pathfinder development. Projects can be guided with a traditional assignment or webquest format.

eye means readRead The Student Pathfinder from LearnNC. By creating pathfinders, students use 21st century learning skills to map their own route through the information wilderness.


Social Bookmarking

Collaborating on the creation of pathfinders can be time consuming. Use social networking tools to expedite the process. For instance, social bookmarks allow you to easily store, organize, tag, search, and share websites that might be used in a pathfinder. Teachers, students, and others can even make comments, suggest extensions, or add to your list.

Although there are many social bookmarking websites, Delicious is the most popular. It's easy to create an account and begin adding favorite websites.

eye means readWatch the Social Bookmarking in Plain English video to learn the basics of using Delicious for social bookmarking. Then, try creating your own.
For more help, watch the SCPL YouTube Tutorial.


eye means readRead School Library Learning 2.0: Learn About Tagging.

The keys to an effective social bookmarking project are selection, organization, tagging, and collaboration.

Selection. Rather than simply bookmarking everything you find, create your own selection criteria. How will you decide what to include and exclude from your project? Are you selecting materials for yourself, your students, or your teachers? Keep in mind that pathfinder projects are generally designed for easy student use, so you'll want to think about the reading level of your students and the curriculum needs.

Many bookmarking sites provide easy to use tools that can be added to your web browser. Also, many websites provide a quick way to bookmark their site.

Organization. Rather than an endless list of bookmarks, you'll want to think about how to organize these materials. Bookmarking sites vary in terms of the options for management. Some provide options for creating folders. Others provide various ways to list bookmarks. You can also include notes such as summaries, website contents, curriculum ideas, or activities. In some cases, you can make whether you want your bookmark to be public or private.

Tagging. The ability to tag is at the core of social bookmarking. These tags allow you to easily search for topics in a way that is useful for you and your students. Although you may use formal subject headings, you may also wish to use more common language. In Delicious these tags allow you to view topics together. You can even give friends the specific URL of a topic list such as

Explore the Parrsboro Regional High School's Library Delicious page. Then, explore specific tags such as African Heritage Month. New bookmarks are also organized by week such as Week 1208.

Collaboration. Explore the resources developed by others. Social bookmarking allows you to subscribe to the activities of particular users and keep track of popular tags used by others. Use the the Delicious Network tab to seek track of who is connected to who.

Invite your students and peers to view your resources. Consider the power of different viewpoints and resources. Use social bookmarking as a way to collect and organize materials that may later go into a more formal pathfinder.

Explore a few lists of places to find Delicious libraries: Delicious-libraries and SJLibraryLearning2.

Explore a few teacher and librarian pages:

It's also possible to embed Delicious elements into a blog or website. Check out Holdredge Public Library's Kid's Zone and Teen Space's use of the tag cloud function. The direct Delicious addresses are Kid's and Teen's.

Delicious is only one example of social bookmarking. There are many others that may be useful for educators and librarians such as Portaportal and Zigtag. Some librarians like the visual aspects of Weblist. Also consider different approaches such as shortened URLs and quick link pages. Explore Krunchd as an example. For a comparison of the options, go to Social Bookmarking from 21st Century Information Fluency.

Comparison of Pathfinders and Social Bookmarks

Pathfinders and Social Bookmarks both create a “path” or “subject guide” for the user. While there are similarities between the two, there are also major differences. The following table was created by C. Newton for this class:



Social Bookmarks

Saves time and frustration by leading patrons to quality resources.

Needs special software often difficult to use and costly, creating technical obstacles for some (Journal.lib)


Uses free tool with short learning curve


Useful tool for inquiry-based activities for children and young adults - Applies terminology and a writing style appropriate for the age of your audience. (Lamb)


Useful tool for inquiry-based activities for young adults and adults – Children could find the reading level and format difficult to follow.


Provides an opportunity for adults to help guide a child's exploration (Lamb)


Provides an opportunity for adults and students to add content to explorations offering different viewpoints and resources


Creates multiple guides at one time by categorizing from a list of everything


Creates one guide at a time addressing a particular need by being selective


Develops a "look and feel" for the particular audience through clipart, photographs, font styles


Includes information, Internet resources, serials, books, professional organizations, and ideas for searching (Lamb)


Includes mainly electronic resources – Web pages, bibliographic records in the library catalog, and articles from databases (Journal.lib)


Can be updated within a minute from any Internet connected computer


Updates take time, multiple steps, and special expertise on a specified computer


Subscribes to the activities of particular users and keep track of popular tags used by others (Lamb)


Corrado, Edward M. "Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research." Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research 3.2 (2008). 17 Jan. 2009 <>


Putting It All Together

Many people are designing web-based environments that apply features of pathfinders. For example, the 42eXplore project at eduScapes focuses on organized, annotated lists of web-based resources. However, it also contains definitions, background information, activities, and vocabulary. Rather than simply listing research topic information, the 42eXplore projects also provide educational materials such as webquests, lessons, and unit ideas.

Some pathfinders use a combination of approaches. For instance the Animal and Plant pathfinder, German Tourism pathfinder, incorporates delicious bookmarks, databases, print materials, and locally produced Powerpoint documents.

Some libraries are bundling materials together in backpacks or bags.

eye means readGo to Family Literacy Backpack Project from BUDDY. Explore their backpack project. Consider ways you could duplicate the idea.


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