National Geographic Virtual Library - a review

Caroline Fielding, a school librarian, reviews National Geographic Virtual Library - "a really user friendly resource".

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"It is a really user friendly resource, with a variety of methods for narrowing a search and saving the information you find for use later"

I liked that you can view a search history to rediscover things found earlier, as well as putting personal 'tags' on articles and bookmarking or saving them.  Each document includes a proper citation, or you can export citations to a variety of programmes, such as EndNote or ProCite, if you use one. It is easy to share things you have found with a group of people under the same subscription by saving them, while the email function sends only the citation and a link to the password protected file so has limited use. 

The 'search assist' on the basic search home page is very useful, bringing up possible key words as you type in your search term, as are the options to limit the search once you have a list of results. They include an extremely useful graph of the publication date of the sources, a list of the types of source, and an opportunity to narrow the search further by choosing a related subject or looking at 'term clusters'.

The 'term frequency' charts are really interesting.  I looked to see how often the term 'HIV' has appeared in the National Geographic and the graph produced shows how much more has been written about it in recent years, and allows you to click through to the articles from a certain year.  You can add more than one term to have a number of lines and one can easily infer from this the international importance of topics at certain points in time.

Every document is presented as the page of the magazine.  It is possible to make it full screen and zoom in on the text and I like the magazine layout.  There is a button to print the item you are looking at (or certain pages of the magazine it came from – make sure you don’t print the whole thing!) but no means of downloading it so, as wonderful as the images and maps are, it isn’t possible to integrate them into classroom resources or projects.  Understandable from a copyright perspective, and obviously they can still be cited, but it does limit their usefulness in schools.

I think it is a very attractive website with some features that make it a wonderful tool.  The range of topics covered is huge and the browsing and 'related subject' functions make it very easy to get lost exploring, but it is easy to get back to where you need to be and keep track of your research.  Pupils doing independent projects will find it easy to use and the variety of brief and in depth articles mean that it could be suitable for research from KS3 upwards.  Teachers could pull out individual articles or even adverts to print and analyse with a class, or have a shared folder of useful resources for a topic for pupils to access outside of the lesson) depending on a group subscription).

You can find out more about the National Geographic Virtual Library here.


Caroline Fielding is a school librarian in London, UK.