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Pathfinders, Subject Guides, & Curation Tools

As long as there have been libraries, people have been pulling resources together to produce effective research and learning environments. Once organized, librarians often created lists to distribute to children, parents, and teachers.

With the introduction of electronic materials, many more resources are now available both inside and outside the walls of the library. Librarians are still helping users by organized materials.


Let's say young people are reading novels related to weather. One group might be reading Blizzard by Jim Murphy, Blizzard's Wake by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, or Blizzard Disaster by Peg Kehret. Another group might be reading books about tornadoes, drought, floods, fires, or hurricanes. You might want to create a set of web resources related to weather such as Scholastic Weather WatchNOAA Weather, and 42explore: Weather.

Librarians may create subject guides and thematic resource lists to organize these materials. In addition to resource lists, some guides also contain information and assistance that go beyond simply listing materials. Known as pathfinders, these subject guides help direct users to resources, but they also provide guidance in how these materials might be used, ideas for locating additional information, and ways to apply the resources in learning.

Let's say your students are exploring the life of a person, place or thing within a specific context and also the greater context of a time period or event.

Anne FrankFor instance, you might connect Anne Frank to the larger context of World War II You might begin by exploring her life through a graphic novel or video production.

Once youth have a context for their inquiry, they're ready to begin asking questions about the time period. Explore Common Questions About the Holocaust.

Use Investigating the Holocaust: A Collaborative Inquiry Project to help students investigate resources and share experiences related to the Holocaust.

Pathfinders Defined

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. Today, they also include mobile apps and social media 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 Diary of a Wimpy Kid 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.

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

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Go to Teen Resources at Arcadia Public Library. Notice their subject guides.
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 at Methuen High School. Notice the variety of topics.

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

Read Fluid Environments for Teaching, Learning, and Technology by Annette Lamb. Notice how many different resources can be woven together to design an information experience for youth.

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 Mystery from VAPLD. Notice that this is written for the general public.
Go to TIGS Library. Notice the web resources for each level.

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 Online Resources by Subject from Morton Grove Public Library. This area is designed for general audiences.
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 Environment from Camden County Library. Notice the 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 Resources by Subject from St George's School Library. Notice the mix of resources.

Use the following lists for ideas:

Physical Library Resources

Virtual Library Resources

Go to Loomis Chaffee School. Notice how many different resources are included from electronic databases and books to microfilm!
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 UniversityIllinoisMichigan StateUniversity of Michigan, and Duke. Explore the following K-12 LibGuides by selecting k-12 Libraries from the Browse Alphabetically options.

Pathfinder Collections

As you explore the following collections, you'll notice libraries using different terms such as homework guides, infoguides, libguides, and pathfinders. While some have the elements of a complete pathfinder, most are just lists of resources and lack key features required for an effective pathfinder.

Pathfinders and Subject Guides

Public Libraries

School Libraries

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Explore some of the Best of the Best LibGuides.
Select three guides in your area of interest related to school or public library youth services.

Pathfinder Collaboration

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 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.

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

Pathfinder Tools

Pathfinders have become increasingly sophisticated with the introduction of online development tools for creating web pages. Although you may wish to host your pathfinders on our own library web server, you can also use free tools such as Weebly and Google Sites or any other web service to house your pathfinders.

Many tools can be used to create pathfinders. Let's explore four options:

Word Processing Tools

First, you start with what you have. A word processor can be used to create an effective pathfinder. Remember to use the link feature to create hotlinks in your document. Also, it's important to export as a PDF file so you retain your formatting. These documents can then be uploaded to a local or remote server to share. Google Docs is a great online word processor that allows online publishing.

Web Development Tools

Second, you can web development tools to create pathfinders. You may wish to use software such as Adobe Dreamweaver to make pages. Or, consider using one of the many online tools such as Weebly, Webs, Wordpress, and Google Sites to create pages.

Wiki Tools

Third, consider wiki tools such as WikispacesPB Works, and Zoho. These tools allow end users to collaborate, comment, and discuss your pathfinder.


Fourth, use subscription services such as LibGuides. These services provide tools to assist in the creation of pathfinders. Go to Mythology to see an example.

The subscription service LibGuides provides many tools for creating pathfinders that incorporate RSS feeds, widgets, and multimedia elements.

LibGuides is a subscription service offered through SpringShare. It is a popular Content Management System used by librarians to curate knowledge and share information. Librarians create online guides by topic, subject, course, or theme.

Read Thomas, Jennifer (Sept/Oct 2011). Fostering Information Literacy. Learning and Leading with Technology, 30-31. Also available online.

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Explore Just for Teens from East Baton Rouge Library, Bishop Stang High School LibraryCreekview High School LibGuides for many examples. Also, check out the master list of LibGuides from elementary through college level.

Watch Buffy Hamilton's video Touring an Unquiet Library Research Pathfinder for the research guide Roman Empire and Julius Caesar.

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Read LibGuides Basics for an overview of how to use this service. Also explore the LibGuides Help area. Keep in mind that this is a subscription service. A trial version is available.

Pathfinder Design

historicalPathfinders are a particularly useful tool for inquiry-based activities for children and young adults. They save time and frustration by leading students to quality resources. They also provide an opportunity for librarians, teachers, parents, and other adults to help guide a child's exploration.

Let's say that a group of children visit a re-enactment of a Revolutionary War battle. A pathfinder could lead to books, videos, apps, websites, and other materials related to this topic.

readRead Connecting the Classroom and the Library: How One School Used Web-based Library Projects to Build Information-Literacy Skills by Mike Terry and Diane Spear in Information Today.

When designing pathfinders for children and young adults, there are a number of factors that should be considered.


Before jumping into resource collection, consider your audience. Are you developing this resource for children and/or young adults? What are the characteristics and experiences of these people? What are their reading level? Consider your local community. Is it rural or urban? Is English their first language? What are they studying in school? What do they do for fun? The more you know your audience, the better you can make quality selections.


Your pathfinder should address a particular need. It should explore on a subject, topic, or theme. But, it should also focus on specific questions, issues, or information needs. Pathfinders often contain background information, definitions, and essential ideas in addition to connections with other resources. The pathfinder should be of interest to others and help guide researchers.

When you're developing pathfinders for K12 students, consider resources that address state and national standards.


Develop a "look and feel" for the particular age of the children or young adults. The design should be appropriate and interesting to the audience including clipart, photographs, font styles, and terminology. What would appeal to this age group? Will you ask interesting questions and use resources to answer those questions? Or, will you list popular topics and encourage readers to develop questions and explore each topic?

The web page should be clear and easy-to-read. You'll also want to design pages that can easily be printed. Some web developers even include a link to a "printer-friendly" version.

Navigation should be provided to assist users in scrolling through the materials in the pathfinder. For example, you might develop a title bar with links such as introduction, background information, books, databases, websites, organization, audio and video, search strategies, and contact information.

The web pages should be free from spelling and grammatical errors.


Pathfinders can serve many purposes. They can be used as research guides, learning tools, or simply lists of resources. Consider how your pathfinders will be used. Then, identify a specific goal for your pathfinder. Be sure that this goal(s) is clear in the introduction so users will know it's purpose.

The goal can be specific or general. For example, a teacher may request resources assistance for a particular assignment. In this case, the materials could be aimed at a particular high school social studies course and contain materials to help users with a research project.

Or, a pathfinder might be developed for a local scout group focusing on local trees. This pathfinder might contain materials for identifying plants.

General pathfinders might be developed on topics that are commonly requested such as Oregon Trail, jokes and riddles, or cooking for kids.


Materials must be structured in a logical way. Will resources be organized by media type? Will they be alphabetized? What headings and subheadings will help users find resources? In the 42explore project, all topics are organized into definitions, 4 starter sites, activities, website by kids, other resources, teaching materials, and vocabulary. You'll want to develop your own scheme, but be consistent so regular users will become familiar with your format.

Resource Selection

Rather than a list of everything, you'll want to be selective. Choose the best resources to address the needs of your patrons and goal of your project.

As you select materials, consider the collection development policy you use in your library. Would you select this material if it were a book or video rather than a website? If not, maybe it shouldn't be on your pathfinder. You can use a search tool like Google to find materials on any topic. The skill comes in selecting accurate, timely, and relevant materials for your patrons.

Use caution when linking to resources. For instance, electronic databases may require login access. Think about the most efficient way to provide users access. You may wish to provide a mini-tutorial or series of screen shots to help users through the login process.

Go to United States History from St. George's School Library. Notice the many databases incorporated into the pathfinder.

When providing access to mobile apps, provide direct links to the official website such as iTunes App Store or the publisher website such as NASA Apps page rather than a third party website or app service. For instance, if you want to share the Star Walk app which provides a stargazing experience with gyroscope, you could link to the Star Walk iTunes Preview. Or, if you want the World Book Encyclopedia This Day in History app go to the MacKiev software website and it will provide directions for download.

If the app is available for check-out on the library mobile device such as a Kindle or iPad, but sure to provide information about how to reserve this device.

If you're exploring a topic that contains many different perspectives, consider the developmental level of your children. Will they be able to distinguish fact, theory, opinion, and perspective? How will you help students organize their thinking? What "scaffolding" will you provide to assist students in organizing ideas? For example,

As you select resources for your pathfinder, consider each of the following areas:


Look for a wide range of materials including both print and electronic resources that are aimed at children and young adults. Think about materials including books, documents, websites, databases, audio, and videos.

Consider other types of resources such as local contacts, experts, and organizations.

Go to the Internet Public Library Pathfinders such as Nutrition. Notice how it lists the American Dietetic Association and the Food and Nutrition Information Center as contacts.
Go to Breast Cancer Awareness Month from Morton Grove Public Library. Notice the inclusion of local support groups and organizations and foundations.

As you select materials, consider your audience. What's developmentally appropriate? What types of materials will best answer their questions?

Consider including relevant tools related to the topic such as timeliner builders, graph makers, or notetaking tools. Check out Noodletools and 4teachers NoteStar for note tools for two examples.

Unique Materials

Are there local materials that could be included? From local experts to area museums, what new information could you generate and disseminate? Consider collecting data in the form of polls and surveys. Organize a group of history buffs and create your own local history database of photos.

Reading Level

If users can't read your introduction, they won't be successful in using your pathfinder. Apply terminology and a writing style appropriate for the age of your audience. For example, the materials should be written directly to children using words like "have you ever wondered" or "you'll find" rather than "the reader will notice" or "students will find".

In addition to the pathfinder itself, it's important to select materials that will address the reading needs of the wide range of reading levels. When possible, group materials in categories such as "the basics", "more information", and "indepth" rather than grade level. Some people also like to include the specific reading level of materials such as books.

There are many ways to measure the difficulty of a tex known as readability. Grade level, LexileFry ReadabilityFlesch-KincaidGunning Fog, DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) Dale-Chall, and QRI are just a few examples. In each case, a continuum is used to judge the difficulty of text. If you'd like more information about approaches to text difficulty, check out the following resources:

The Flesch-Kincaid Reading tool has been used for over 50 years and is built into Microsoft Word. It analyzes writing by examining the number of words, syllables, and sentences in text. You must "turn on" this feature in the preferences of Microsoft Word. Choose Grammar and Spell Check within Preferences and check the Readability Statistics option. Then after completing a Grammar or Spell Check, the Readability Statistics will appear including the Flesch Reading Ease score and the grade level.

For over thirty years, teachers and librarians have used Fry Readability Graph to measure the readability of text. Developed by Edward Fry and published in the McGraw-Hill Elementary Reading Instruction text, it continues to be popular. The chart provides a grade level or age result. 

The Lexile Framework for Reading is an approach to reading and text measurement intended to match text materials with reading abilities. Texts are evaluated for difficulty based on word complexity and frequency, and sentence length. The scores range from 200L to 1700L. A beginning reader such as the Arthur books would be around 400L while a high school classic would be around 1500L. Some databases provide reading level information. For example, EBSCO's Primary Search database provides Lexile information for its listing onCobblestone magazine for children. The article on Ancient Mound Builders is scored at 1070.

lexile chart

Go to the Lexile Book Search to find the Lexile score for a popular book such as the Harry Potter series. This scale has increased in popularity with the standardized testing movement. It is also used by some library automation systems such as Alexandria. Go to the The Lexile Framework for Reading official site to learn more.

Skim the article Readability or Reading Levels of Children's Books: How Can You Tell? by Carolyn K.

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Go to the Readbility website to see a free tool that can help make web-based reading much easier.

Channels of Communication

People have a wide range of strengths, weaknesses, and preferences in terms of their use of materials. Some people enjoy lots of photographs, while others prefer to read. Sometimes visuals are needed to understand the topic.

Go to American Revolution. Notice the list of images sites on the left side.
Go to Biomes. Notice the use of the TeacherTube video instructions.

Some nonreaders are successful with audio or video materials. Be sure to include resources from different "channels of communication" such as auditory, visual, and tactile. These may include text, graphics, animation, audio, and video. It's helpful to provide notes about these elements in the annotations. For example, you might write that a particular website contains quality photographs or audio narration. It's also important to indicate if special software or plugins are needed to access these features.

Go to It's ELEMENTary! Notice how audio is part of the Element Podcast at the bottom of the entry page.
Go to Animals Guide from Rumsey Hall Library. Notice the links to shark videos on the left.
Go to Environmental Science from Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. Notice the embedded video. 
Go to Grapes of Graphic. Notice how video is embedded.


Consider embedding widgets into your pathfinder. These are small applications that can be embedded on a web page. In most cases, the embed code is provided. You simply need to copy and paste the code into your web page. Google Sites has a tool that will search for widgets.

Examine the The Very Hungry Caterpillar widget. It provides a short video along with images from the book. This would provide a nice springboard for a writing activity.

Google Books are an easy thing to embed into a pathfinder.

Go to Math Applications. Notice the book called She Does Math! is an embedded Google Book.
Go to American Revolutionary War. Notice how the YouTube videos are embedded.
Go to Olathe Northwest Library. Notice that the page is full of embedded tools for searching.

RSS Feeds

Increasingly, librarians are incorporating RSS feeds into their pathfinders to share news and current information from blogs, media sources, and websites.

Go to Health. Notice the RSS feed in the left column.

Special Needs

Do you have uses who are visually impaired or have other special needs? Consider this in developing your materials. For example, use alternative descriptions for your graphics.

Pathfinder Elements

Pathfinders can contain a wide range of elements. Consider each of the following ideas when selecting components to include in your pathfinder.


Your pathfinder should start with a motivating introduction that will draw in your audience.

Go to Cold War. Notice how the Duck and Cover video is used to jumpstart the topic.
Go to Columbian Exchange. Notice how a painting is used as a springboard to exploration.
Go to Maps. Notice how a definition is used to start the pathfinder.
Go to the 1930s. Notice the use of the image.
Go to Native American Cultures. Notice how historical images are used.
Go to Modern China. Notice how a political cartoon is used.

Define the scope or purpose of the project. You may even want to list standards or highlight goals. However if the project is aimed at children and young adults, you'll want to put them in "child "

Many pathfinders also include topic definitions, background information, or project overviews.

Some pathfinders start with general advice or a couple of the best starting points that shouldn't be missed. For example, if you're doing a project on "how stuff works", you'd probably put the How Stuff Works website somewhere in your introduction or "best starters" list.


Citations are an important part of your pathfinder. When developing a list of books, you normally including the title, author, publisher, date, and an annotation. Many pathfinders include the local Dewey number or a link to Amazon or Barnes and Noble for reviews and additional information. Be sure that your annotation accurately describes the resource. Include helpful information such as reading level, illustrations, ease of use, contents, and reasons why it will be useful.

Go to Earth Science. Notice the short descriptions for each resource. Also notice how resources are organized using tabs.

For websites, you'll want to provide the title, location/agency/sponsor, URL, and a description. Many people include the title of the website, the URL itself, as well as a link. This way, people can print the pathfinder and still have the web addresses.

Some developers like to include their links in sentences the describe and activity or how a link could be used.

You may also want to list special features or needs such as plugins.


Sometimes you want to include directions for using particular websites or resources. For example, you might take users step-by-step through searching a reference resource or database.

Some electronic resources are restricted to local users. In many cases a password or local library card is needed.

Go to CLIP Template. Check out the tabs for some great instructions and tutorials you can incorporate into your projects.

Search Strategies and Key Words

Your pathfinder is simply a starting point for student exploration. Many times students will need to go beyond your materials to find answers to their questions. Provide users with strategies for a successful search. For example, you might provide a list of vocabulary, key words, or related topics.

Go to the Internet Public Library Pathfinders such as Greek Mythology. They provide ideas for search searching for additional information. For example, instead of just searching for Greek god, look for a specific name such as Zeus.
Go to Controversial issues. Notice how databases are defined and suggestions are provided for searching.

In some cases, you might even suggest ways for users to organize their ideas in the form of charts or diagrams. For example, you might link to a trial version of the Inspiration software for making

Pathfinder Activity Ideas

Think about ways to incorporate or encourage effective use of the resources in the pathfinder. For example, you might suggest activities, projects, or link to WebQuests that might contribute to the learning experience. Or, list essential questions associated with the material or pose interesting dilemmas.

Go to Huck Finn Research Paper. Explore the tabs and notice the guidance provided throughout the pathfinder.
Go to Ernie's Anmal Phyla Project. Notice the tabs that include Assignments and Writing & Citing.
Go to History Day. Notice the list of project options and requirements.
Go to Math of Finance. Notice how assignments are listed with website resources.
Got to Reading Anthology. Notice the requirements in the left column.

When possible link or direct students to specific resources to address particular problems or issues. For instance in a social issues pathfinder, you might suggest a number of specific searches


Plan a series of events or promotions around a pathfinder. Consider including photographs from special events or promotions in your pathfinder. For example, you might include a photograph of a display of books or a volunteer who is dressed in historic clothing.

Interactive Elements

How can you get users more involved with the pathfinder resources? For example, could you include a participatory element? Use the pathfinder to help children and young adults connect with each other. Maybe you could develop a library book club, science fair study group, or nature club. Use pathfinders to guide their activities. The clubs wouldn't have to meet face-to-face. They could use virtual gathering places including threaded discussions, forums, and chats. Incorporate a blog into the experience.

Go to Modern China Graphic Novel. Notice that tabs lead students to assignment sheets and a Google Doc for collaboration.

Consider generative projects where people could add their own ideas to the pathfinder. Children could contribute their drawings or teens could send in their essays. You could link to these projects and begin building your own collection of materials that would grow over time.

Go to Civil War Scrapblog. Notice that users will be creating a scrapblog. Go to the Technology Resources to see the tools uses in the project.

Interactive projects could also be built into the pathfinder such as questions and answers, quizzes, games, and other fun activities. To find these online, do a search for your topic and add the word "quiz" or "game".


What advice would you give to people doing research in this area? Are there specific areas of focus you'd suggest or things to avoid? Also, think about information about copyright and citing sources.

Go to How to Research Oceanography. Notice the information about copyright on the entry page.
Go to AP Psychology. Notice how Citation Information is incorporated into the pathfinder.

Consider adding information about website evaluation.

Go to Ursula le Guin pathfinder. Notice how information is provided about website evaluation.
Go to The Alchemist. Notice the resources on website evaluation.

If young people will be doing a particular type of project such as a presentation or report, consider providing ideas and guidance.

Go to Presentation Tips. Notice how this page is part of a pathfinder focusing on U.S. Policy.

Also consider materials that might be useful for teachers. You might even call it the "teacher corner" or "parent connections." Search for your topic and add the world "WebQuest," "lesson," or "parent" to see if you can locate associated materials on your topic.

Contact Information

Be sure to include your contact information so people can email you with ideas and suggestions for improvement!

Go to Butterflies from Newbery Public Library. Notice the email link at the bottom of the page.

Go to Biology 580 - Evolution and Ecology. Notice the contact information in the right column.

Aggregation and Curation Tools

Librarians are often involved in activities that involve aggregation. This activity involves collecting or gathering resources together. This activity involves a surface level evaluation of the materials.

Aggregators are often automated tools that provide information based on key words. For instance, Google News provides information based on topics and news sources selected. Google Alerts provides notifications based on keywords. For instance, it can notify you every time your name is used online.

Content Curation goes one step further by organizing the best resources related to a particular topic or theme. Materials are closely examined for accuracy, authenticity, and value before being included in the collection. The resources are then organized, annotated, and presented in a user-friendly way.

Curation Tools

Many online tools can be used for curation. Create content for two different curation tools. Compare their approach.

Related Tools

Seek tools that organize resources, but are flexible enough to update easily. For instance, Pearltrees is an online tool that allows users to collect, organize and share resources using a "tree" approach to organization.

Watch the Curation video created by teens.

Read Valenza, Joyce Kasman (2012). Curation. School Library Monthly, 24(1).
Read Robertson, Nikki D. (2012). Content Curation and the School Librarian. Knowledge Quest.

Social Bookmarking

Collaborating on the creation of pathfinders can be time consuming. Use social networking tools to expedite the process. 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.

Social bookmarking is a type of content curation. Resources are selected, then tagged for easy access. Tagging is an informal, open type of categorizing that used keywords to identify content. Unlike Library of Congress Subject Headings that use a formal system for subject descriptions, tagging is unstructured allowing individuals to use the terms they feel are most useful.

Although there are many social bookmarking websites, Delicious is the most popular. It's easy to create an account and begin adding favorite websites. This bookmarking manager allows users to bookmark a web page and add tags to categorize the bookmarks.

Keys to Social Bookmarking

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, youth programs, 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

Go to the Parrsboro Regional High School's Library Delicious page. Then, explore specific tags such as African Heritage Month.

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 teacher and librarian pages:

Delicious is only one example of social bookmarking. There are many others that may be useful for educators and librarians such as Sqworl. Some librarians like the visual aspects of Weblist.

Also, consider different approaches such as shortened URLs and quick link pages such as Google URL Shortener, Bitly, and TinyURL when sharing links.

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 <>

Note-taking and Highlighting

Traditionally, word processors have been used for note-taking activities. However consider other tools that are specifically designed for this activity. 

Evernote is by far the most popular, but must be installed on computers or mobile devices. On the other hand, by installing it on all computers notes are kept in the cloud and available anywhere, anytime.

Use tools that help youth record thoughts related to readings. Rather than using a word processor for notes, consider highlighting and annotating online resources. Many websites will take a screen shot of a website and let you write or post stickynotes on the page. Look for tools that are easy to use for younger students. Older students may benefit from the addition of forums and other social tools found in Diigo.

Basic highlighting and annotating tools.

Go to Twiddla and create notes and highlights on a web page. Share it with a peer. Ask them to add to the notes.

Advanced tools are more complex. Start slow, use Diigo for a specific assignment focusing on bookmarking and annotations for an individual project. Next, add the highlight and sticknote features. Finally, develop a collaborative project using the forums and peer features.

Go to Diigo. Think about how it might be used as the focus of a semester-long project. Use the forums to post assignments and hold discussions. Share bookmarks and annotations. Form teams and involve students in peer comments.

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. The Reading Rockets Reading Adventure Packs from Families is a great example. These reading packs could work alongside a pathfinder.


Kuntz, Kelly (May/June 2003). Pathfinders: Helping Students Find Paths to Information. Information Today.

Thibault, Melissa. The Student Pathfinder. LEARN NC.

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