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Frequently Asked Questions

What is NSDL?

NSDL is an online portal to web-based (digital) open educational resources focused on the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. 

The acronym NSDL refers to National Science Digital Library—where Science is shorthand for STEM (thus, NSDL can also be referred to as the National STEM Digital Library).

The library's scope has expanded somewhat, with addition (2012-2013) of resources supporting the teaching of English language arts and literacy, and history/social studies (in addition to science and technical subjects) through the recommendations issued via the Common Core State Standards.

What is a digital library?

A digital library is a coherent, organized collection of resources, usually accessible via the Internet. A digital library may appear to be a single entity, but often links to other libraries or information services in an effort to present a unified view of a topic or collection to the end user. Despite the strong connotation with printed resources that the term library carries, digital libraries usual contain far more than electronic versions of textual documents, and can include any type of information that is "born digital" or can be converted into an electronic format.

What kinds of resources can I find at NSDL?

Resources available through NSDL include images, video, audio, animations, software, simulations, datasets, games; text documents such as assessments, lesson plans, activities, case studies, journal articles, tutorials, and more. In addition, NSDL provides search and browse ability, user help, and a range of technical tools and services, and metadata and collection creation and management services. 

Is there a cost for using NSDL?

Use of the NSDL.org website and related search services is completely free, as are a large portion of the resources discoverable through NSDL. However, some resource providers who make their materials accessible through NSDL do require a login, or a fee-based membership, or in some cases, require users to purchase the complete version of a resource.

It is not necessary to create a user account to use the NSDL. Specialized or customized client services for technical infrastructure provision and collaboration do have fees associated with them. See NSDL Technical Documentation for more information about special services. Use the Contact us form to send inquiries or find out more. 

Who operates NSDL?

Library development, management, and daily operations are located at the NSDL program, hosted at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), in Boulder, Colorado.

The NSDL community of resource builders and contributors is composed of a diverse range of institutions including universities, museums, libraries, research labs, federal agencies, professional societies, and commercial content providers.

How is NSDL funded?

NSDL receives the majority of its support from the National Science Foundation. Individual NSDL collections and services contributors receive funding from a wide variety of public and private sources.

How big is the Library?

As of January 1, 2013, NSDL contains 141 collections (123 resource collections, 9 annotation collections, and 9 paradata collections), with over 110,000 records. New resources are added to the Library every week.

How are items in the Library selected?

NSDL relies on specialists in STEM disciplinary fields to select exemplary resources or collections of resources for inclusion in NSDL. Reviews for quality and appropriateness are made by specialist(s) in appropriate fields of science, education, and educational research. The qualifications of specialists and their selection processes are documented by individual resource providers. Common mechanisms for selection include peer review boards, content creation committees, and user recommendations.

Quality guidelines for NSDL resources are contained within the NSDL Collection Policy and are adhered to in reviewing resources submitted to NSDL. These criteria focus on quality, accuracy, reliability, and appropriateness. The NSDL Accessioning Board (NAB) reviews selected resources from collections submitted to NSDL for adherence to these quality guidelines, makes recommendations to collection developers for remediation of any issues, and approves collections for accessioning into NSDL

How do I contribute resources that I have developed into NSDL?

To suggest an existing resource for inclusion in NSDL, use the Recommend a Resource form (best for 10 or less items). For information about contributing a collection of materials to NSDL, review the information about metadata and collections at the Technical Documentation wiki, and use the Contact Us form to ask questions and learn more.

How is using NSDL different from doing a Google search?

NSDL collections and services are selected from high quality providers of scientific and technical materials that are accurate and appropriate for educational settings. NSDL's search results are drawn only from this body of pre-selected materials. In contrast to a single term Google search which will often produce search results numbering in the millions, many of which are likely not relevant, NSDL allows for efficient discovery by only searching resources that are useful for science, mathematics, engineering, and technology teaching, and learning.

What does the Classroom Ready icon mean next to a resource in Search Results?

Some resources appearing in search results may have a "Classroom Ready" icon classroom ready associated with them. This icon indicates that the resource's creator/provider has used NSDL's most rigorous metadata format—lar—to describe a resource having greater utility for classroom teaching and learning. Lar is an acronym for Learning Application Readiness. The lar format was designed to effectively describe highly curated, classroom-ready materials, using more descriptive fields and with greater precision, and rendering them more amenable to interoperability and exchange within learning systems and platforms.

What age/grade level does NSDL target?

NSDL has resources addressing learning at all levels including preK-12, K12, post-secondary, graduate study, professional education, and lifelong learning. NSDL's Browse by StandardsNSDL Science Literacy Maps, and Science Refreshers are all services focusing on K12 teaching and learning.

Using NSDL's faceted search capability offers extensive refinement (further filter your search by selecting additional criteria from the categories of education level, resource type, and subject). NSDL's Browse features enable users to Browse by Standards; Browse by Category (ed level, resource type, subject), or Browse by Collection (alphabetical list of all collections in NSDL). 

What are the copyright policies governing the reuse of images, graphics, animations, and other resources available through NSDL?

Because NSDL aggregates materials developed by a wide range of content providers, each resource carries its own policy for reproduction and/or reuse of content. In many cases, the content authors anticipate "fair use" for educational purposes with proper attribution; however, it is always best to contact the author before reusing any text, animation, image, or other content. Rights information can often be determined by clicking Learn more about this resource where it appears below a resource on NSDL search results.