Thing 17: DIY, How to Add Student Reviews to Your Catalog

I was struggling to pick out my last Cool Tools topic for this year. I wasn’t really inspired by the news literacy option (and with only one week of classes left, I didn’t really have time to test out any of the lesson ideas either). It’s also my third year doing Cool Tools so I’d already done a lot of the other options. So, after reading Polly’s post about how to finish up Cool Tools in a flash, I decided to DIY another post.

At the beginning of May, I went to the NYLA/SSL conference in Albany. One of the sessions I attended was Rev Up Reading with Digital Student Reviews. Right now, I have a book review program but it’s mostly aimed at and utilized by my K-2 students. Every month, we have two new book of the months (as picked by my dogs and cat). I have a display outside the library and inside the library. The inside the library display is where they actually find the books.Publication1.jpgThe outside the library display is where we post the student reviews when they complete them.


The review process is simple. I created a stack of custom book review post-its (using a tutorial I found here) and we put one inside each book’s cover before we put it on display.


When a student checks the book out, we point out and explain how to use the book review post-it. When they bring the book back, we have them help us hang their review in the hallway.


It’s been going fairly well with the K-2’s this year. However, the books of the month really don’t appeal to my older students and I’ve been struggling to come up with ideas to engage the 3rd-6th graders in the book review idea and that’s where this session came in!

The presenter, Tara Phethean,walked us through the process she took to teach her 3rd-5th graders how to create reviews in the OPAC. She had tons of great ideas for digital student reviews so definitely check out her presentation (linked above) but, the thing I was most excited about, was how similar the digital review process in the catalog was to what I’m already doing with the post-it system! It will make for a natural and almost seamless transition from the primary grade reviews to the intermediate grade reviews. So, I couldn’t wait to activate the student review option in my OPAC. And that, is where my troubles began….

You see, the presenter has Follett Destiny for her OPAC system (so if you do too, check out her presentation for the details) but I have OPALS. For some reason, it took me FOREVER to find the option I needed! The OPALS user guide I have is super out of date and I tried searching on the online OPALS help page but couldn’t find the directions on how to activate, much less use, the reviews feature. If you have OPALS like I do, let me try to save you some trouble…

First, go to your OPALS page:

Then, you’ll need to log in.

After logging in, you’ll want to select the Preferences option under the Administration tab. Select your first option, System Preferences.  

You’ll see all the difference system preferences you can set.

Scroll down to section 5, OPAC Display Preference Settings and look for one ¾ of the way down the page that says rating. Click the edit button.

Select what you want the rating  option to be. I couldn’t find a difference between “Enable the reader rating item in expanded record page” and “Enable the reader rating item in search result and expand record pages”. I thought maybe the second option would show up in the initial search results page but I made and approved one comment and didn’t see it there. Then I thought maybe that meant keywords from your review would be picked up by the search and affect what books show up in a keyword search but that didn’t seem to be the case either. So, I stuck with “Enable the reader rating item in expanded record page”. No matter what option you pick, don’t forget to hit “Save” when you’re done!

After you set your system preferences for Reader Ratings, your readers should be able to look up books, select the title to go to expanded record view, and then click “Submit a Comment or Rating”.

I found that while a teacher name wasn’t required, a student name is in order to submit a review. I also found during my trial runs that students do not have to be logged into OPALS to submit a review.

After creating their review and hitting “send” your student should see a message letting them know their review has been submitted for teacher approval.

To see what Ratings and Reviews you have pending approval, click on Reports/Tools in the Administration menu.

Then, under the Tools option, select Review User Comments/Ratings.

Now, you can see all the books that have been reviewed and which ones are still pending your final approval.

Clicking on #User Comments allows you to edit or delete a review but not actually approve it.

However, clicking on the #Comments to review field gives you the option to edit, delete or approve a comment.

After deciding which reviews are approved and which need to be removed, your overview screen will automatically update.

Now, when someone looks up a book and clicks on the expanded record, they will see how many reviews a book has, it’s average rating, and will have the option to read the reviews.

Fun right? Once I figured it all out, I was happy with how simple it really was-I love that students don’t have to log in to submit a review! I can’t wait to teach my students how to write reviews and submit them next year. Another idea related to book reviews I’m excited about trying next year is the student curated book picks. One of my colleagues went to a session at NYLA/SSL called Social Readers and one of the ideas she got from that session was the idea of picking a different student each month to do their own book pick section. I thought I could put the names of students who have submitted approved book reviews in a hat each month and at the end of the month, draw a name and that person would get to be the next month’s curator!
Oh man, I almost can’t wait for September already!

P.S. I took screenshots of each of the OPALS steps and had put them into a Google Doc where I store all my Cool Tools notes and thoughts for later write ups and I CAN NOT figure out how to get them out of that Google Doc and into WordPress so they look nice and large and useful. Every method I’ve used has resulted in crappy, grainy pictures and honestly, an hour was more than enough time spent trying to fix this. Sorry, I tried to have something for my more visual learners-hopefully my written directions are clear enough!

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