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A librarian's extra effort

As a high school librarian, Ann Kouatly is on a mission. She takes every opportunity to remind students that not everything they read online is true. "Everybody is so manipulated by misinformation on the Internet," says Kouatly, the librarian at Windham High School in Willimantic, Conn. "We're trying to teach evaluation of websites."

It's a skill that students today need more than ever. Kouatly says that research has become increasingly complex since she first came to Windham 20 years ago. Students learned firsthand why Internet sources are not always credible during a recent class visit to the library. While researching Wilhelm Wundt, a famous psychologist, the students found false and malicious information on his Wikipedia entry, information that has since been removed. It was "such a teachable moment for the kids to learn why Wikipedia is not an allowed source at the college level," Kouatly says.

Despite budget cuts (the library's materials budget is a quarter of what it was four years ago), Kouatly has found ways to get resources. She partners with regional libraries, such as the Willimantic Library Service Center, to order subscription databases and other materials that Windham can't afford. For instance, she recently ordered boxes of print materials on Native American tribes for a history class. "I'm going to pick them up today," she says excitedly.

The librarian also has partnered with a local synagogue that has generously made primary sources on the Holocaust available to students. And she has established a program where parents and school staff can donate books in honor of a child's birthday or in memory of a loved one.

Kouatly has not confined her work to the library. When students were studying the Middle East in a geography class, she demonstrated how to cook dishes such as tabouli; Kouatly's husband is a native of Syria, so she knows a great deal about food from that region. Kouatly also publishes a monthly newsletter in which she highlights research projects that teachers have assigned, so faculty members can learn from one another. For example, when she noted that a social science teacher asked students to write modern-day resumés of famous historical figures, a math teacher liked the idea so much that he assigned a similar project asking students to find appropriate jobs for famous mathematicians.

Tammy Laferriere, a health teacher, says that although Kouatly is not a classroom teacher, she knows teachers and students well. At faculty meetings, "she's always there and offering advice." And she is determined to get them the resources her colleagues need. Three years ago, Kouatly subscribed to a teen health and wellness database for Laferriere's classes and provided passwords so students could access it on their home computers. The database features information on nutrition, and topics such as teen pregnancy and STDs, which Laferriere says many students do not feel comfortable discussing in school. "For her to find this [database] and keep the subscription going, especially with the budget the way it is, has been a real help."