Researching the Relaxing Way

Nov 03, 2016 | Posted by Danielle Olander

The library has always been my happy place. The smell of books. The neatly organized stacks. The access to anything I could ever possibly want to know. Our little branch library is only about two miles from our house, and it is a regular stop when running errands. However, when one of my children needs a resource, I may not be able to drop everything and go to the library. Neither do I trust the Internet to bring them safe and reliable sources. So what’s a busy mom to do? Thankfully, we have a state electronic library. In fact, while doing research for this post, I learned that all fifty states have some form of electronic library.

So what is a state electronic library? It is a service that usually gives library card holders access to other member libraries―both public and university—as well as sometimes other organizations. Patrons can borrow books from around the state and can also access state historical archives. Most importantly, it provides access to research databases and other subscription-based services that I can’t access on my own. For example, through our electronic library I have access to Encyclopedia Britannica. When my children needed articles about the country of Wales for our co-op’s Geography Expo, we were able to download articles with a choice of reading levels, allowing all of them to research at their individual ability.

My son is completing the Excellence in Literature: American Literature* course, and he uses the Literature Resource Center by Gale Research for all his author background research. He can also locate current events and technology articles from the New York Times and many other publications that limit the number of articles you can read, simply by accessing their website directly.

Another favorite database of mine is InfoTrac, which is available at elementary, middle, and high school reading levels. Through this I can access articles in Boy’s Life, Science Reader, Cobblestone, Calliope, and many others. The best part is, you don’t just receive an issue and page number so that you still have to go to the library to locate the article. As long as you ask the database to give you results that are “full text,” you will receive the full article right on your computer screen. When my children research on this site, I don’t have to worry about inappropriate content or advertising. And because it is subscription-based, it is ad-free.

Each state library will vary in its subscriptions to these databases, so you’ll need to check with your local branch library for more information. Our librarian even gave a workshop at our local branch for our co-op on the variety of materials we would be able to access from the warmth and comfort of our homes (an important benefit as the Michigan winter bears down on us).

In addition to your state library, be sure to investigate what the Library of Congress has to offer online. Because they are the repository for the history and culture of our country, you can find just about anything that relates to history, culture, geography, government, and, of course, books. I recently taught a Unit 3 class and needed to bring in some fables for it. There are many sources available online, but the Library of Congress has a beautiful interactive version of the classic Aesop’s Fables book by Milo Winter.  You can view them on your screen, or print them out.  The font and illustrations made it much more enjoyable for my young students.

I’ve used the Library of Congress to find political cartoons for a government assignment, posters of past elections, and songs from World War I.  They have collections of materials available online like you would find in a museum. Need to research Dr.  Martin Luther King, Jr.?  They have a collection for that.  How about science facts and figures?  They are there, too.   Searching for a recording of a famous speech or the transcript of a famous interview? It’s probably in their files.

So whether the north wind blows or you are miles from a library, there is more than just Wikipedia available online.  Give one of these sites a try the next time your student says, “Mom, I need something about ... by tomorrow morning.”


Other sites that we use often for research in our homeschool:

National Geographic Map Maker

Scholastic Publications I’ve used their Art History section for learning about the periods of art.  They also have printable activities for many books.

Pro-con A website dedicated to giving both sides of the issue for students completing research reports and persuasive/argumentative essays.

How Stuff Works A website that explores—you guessed it—how stuff works. It covers a large spectrum of topics and even includes some fun quizzes.

Discovery Education A subscription educational website that offers some free educational content as well. It has a supportive homework help section under the students tab.


*Discontinued in November 2020

Danielle Olander, an IEW® Accomplished Instructor, is the author of Rockets, Radar, and Robotics. Married to her college sweetheart, Ray, and a homeschooling mom of five amazing children, she coaches writing via email for students from Michigan to Papua New Guinea. After graduating from her parents’ homeschool in the pioneer days of homeschooling, Danielle graduated summa cum laude with her B.A. in English/History Education from Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, MI.

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