Selection Tool Critique

Library 266: Collection Management

Susan Lee

Social Studies School Service – Providing quality educational materials for over 40 years



Social Studies School Service: Overview, Description and Key Features

Social Studies School Service currently operates out of Los Angeles with a large retail space featuring thousands of high-quality educational titles from a variety of publishers. The company offers a catalog that consists primarily of supplemental materials such as maps, digital and traditional activities, books, and posters intended for classroom use. As suggested by their name, their focus is in the field of social studies. Specifically this includes the subjects of history (California, U.S. and World), geography, economics, psychology, the Holocaust, and government/ law. The catalog is routinely updated.

Formats available include print materials such as books and posters, digital materials such as digital books and presentations, multimedia such as DVDs, and audiovisuals like interactive games and lesson plans printed on transparency sheets. Their company welcomes teachers and school staff to their showroom five days a week, even providing meeting space, light refreshments, and discounts.

Social Studies School Service is a convenient and great resource, carrying over 15,000 social studies-related titles from over 1,000 publishers in one place. Some of their popular titles include the DVD “Freedom Riders: Educator’s Edition” about civil rights activists in the 1960s from PBS that comes with a teacher’s guide and optional paperback. The trailer for the program is available in their online catalog for viewing.

You can search their catalog by keyword or item #. You can also run an advanced search for title, subject matter, media (i.e. book, DVD, etc.) or grade level (up to 12) if you have something specific in mind. You can locate such titles as “California Gold Rush: An Interactive History Adventure” by Elizabeth Baum for students of low reading levels, or “California Gold Rush: Landmark Events in American History” by Michael V. Uschan for grades 4 to 9. They also carry such an illustrated version of the classic “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne for grades 4 to 9, alongside AP Test Guides and History Channel documentaries on DVD such as “The Men Who Built America” or a BBC DVD documentary about Henry Ford.

They have been in business for over 45 years, having first started in 1965 with the goal to “keeping the classroom challenging and engaging.” They continue to do so today, keeping up technologically by offering Power Points, streaming video, audio books, and eBooks. Materials are carefully reviewed by their experienced editorial staff and teacher consultants before they are added to one of their 30 catalogs. The materials must be “effective, balanced, easy to use, and reasonably priced.”

The company also publishes their own materials, releasing about 100 titles each year under their imprints Interact, Storypath, MindSparks, and Good Year Books. Other divisions of the company include The Writing Company, School Counselor Resources, Classroom Science Resources, and Classroom Health Resources. School Counselor Resources sells guidance materials for elementary school students, middle and high school students, and for college prep. They also carry general career education titles such as “Resume Magic,” and “Secrets: Landing and Keeping a Job.” Classroom Health Resources carries health materials on topics such as eating disorders, fitness, nutrition, the human body, and substance abuse. Classroom Science Resources carries materials on topics like biology, chemistry, earth science, and physics.

Interact focuses on “experiential learning” and creating memories. It carries titles in the subjects of math, science, language arts, business, and character education as well as history and geography titles. One of their notable titles is “Living the Past,” a competition that encourages active learning via electronic game boards that posits students into past civilizations such as Ancient Rome, making them players as they learn about things like Feudalism and Roman trade. The complete learning set with 7 CD-ROMs is available for purchase for $99.95 plus shipping costs.

Storypath seeks to make students active participants in their own learning by offering curriculum in narrative-based lessons plans. Using non-fiction content, students can “consider settings and characters and then role play and make critical decisions.” Lesson plans are developed with Common Core State Standards. For example, in “Democracy in Action: Communities Make Decisions,” students pretend to create their own town complete with history and brochures about local businesses, then pretend to be members of that town’s community to explore what that means. They discover what it means to be a citizen and to give back to your town.

MindSparks uses “well-crafted editorial cartoons, photos, paintings, poster art, and other visuals as well as written documents” to encourage student interactions as they learn about history, economic and language arts. Their popular titles History Unfolding and Debating the Documents are booklets with a CD-ROM containing the ImageXaminer, which allows “students to view the visual primary sources on a computer (or with an LCD projector), along with analysis questions and background information.” Other MindSparks lesson plans typically contain the booklets with overhead transparency sets.

The Writing Company focuses on language arts and literature, carrying titles on composition, grammar, and creative writing. They also feature titles on journalism, Shakespeare and other great literary authors such as Jane Austen and Mark Twain.

To keep connected with the education community and promote outreach, Social Studies School Service regularly attends education conferences around the year. They had booths at the National Council for History Education Conference in Richmond, Virginia and at the California State Council for Social Studies Conference last March. Social Studies School Service promoted their Active Classroom digital platform containing two sets of innovative curriculum programs that are positioned as an alternative to the traditional textbook.

Another thing Social Studies School Service does to remain a leader in the educational resources and to educational facilitators is offer professional development through training. They hold training workshops that are customized to fit changing standards, curriculum, and classroom needs. The training packages available are for Common Core State Standards, Literacy in the Social Studies, End-of-Course assessments, Historical Content, and Teaching Methods. The packages are available both on-site and online.

Audience/Library Description

The type of library that would be the focus audience for Social Studies School Service would be school libraries. Their catalog consists of K to 12 grade-level appropriate educational materials. Titles are grouped by reading levels via divisions of grade plus ‘high-interest, low reading availability’ and advanced reader.

Although series titles are assigned reading levels, if you click on each title in the series, the suggested age level is missing. For example, the “Real Juvenile Justice” DVD series is suggested for grades 6 and up but if you click on individual titles in the series such as

“Pendleton Juvenile Prison,” the suggested grade level does not appear. It becomes an issue if you are just browsing the catalog since individual series titles appear in catalog searches. People browsing the catalog online have to click back and forth to find the information.

Social Studies School Service offers Library Catalog kits with MARC records available for the majority of their titles. This feature would be helpful for school libraries who don’t process materials in-house. To order the MARC record, the customer fills out the MARC request form e.g. the MARC records profile sheet. The record maker, marc 4 media, will ship the MARC record directly to the customer, separately from the product. Customers can request MARC records, barcode labels and spine labels. They can choose to have the MARC record delivered via floppy disk, CD, or e-mail.

Charges for MARC records and labels are on a per title basis. They charge 75 cents per set/title for each barcode and spine label set, $5 for 3.5” disc preparation and mailing, and $2 per MARC record.

Critique and Analysis

The website features a searchable online database containing their entire catalog. If you don’t want to register online, you can request one of their 30 print catalogs online, spanning materials designed for grades K to 12, in social studies, guidance, health, and language arts. For example, you can order a catalog focusing solely on A.P. U.S. History materials, Government & Economics, or DVDs for Social Studies.

The search functions are useful. The keyword search on the main page often generates too many item requests so unless you know what you are looking for specifically or have the item #, it is best to use the advanced search. A general search for “World War I” items brings up 339 titles. A general search for “World War I” and “Nazi” brings up only 13 titles though. You can filter a ‘World War I’ search and narrow your results by grade level. A search for World War I materials aimed at grades K to 6 brings up 22 titles. You can also choose to search for items that include sample lessons and video previews.

It would be helpful if they emphasized the media of the content on their online catalog or added further descriptions to companion pieces. When you are browsing the catalog, you have to look at the end of the description carefully or look at the media/contents. For example, in the “Freedom Riders: Educator’s Edition,” the end of the item description 120 minutes and PBS. From the content, you can discern 120 minutes as the length time so it is a movie. The media/content line under the shopping cart function reads simply DVD, guide. There is a paperback you can add for $15.95 but the description under shopping cart simply reads 320 pages, 2011 abridged version. The item description identifies the DVD material as based on the book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. One can assume that is the paperback mentioned but if you do a search for that title in the catalog, it does not come up. Although you can purchase the book separately, if you were looking for that specific title, you’d have to click on the DVD and look at the companion piece to find it.

The item descriptions are intended to be “short, informative, and objective.” In short, they merely offer summaries of the content and suggested grade level but no objective review or critical analysis.

You can create a membership account for free, which makes ordering much easier. You can receive email updates about events and sales as well as new releases. You can also create a wish list, track new orders, and track past orders. They have an absolute guarantee customer satisfaction policy. If a customer is unsatisfied with their order, they can return the item in saleable condition for store credit or full refund.

Social Studies School Service not only sells eBooks by allowing purchasers to download the book directly from their website in PDF format by Adobe Acrobat Reader. The purchaser can store the files on their computer and print the lesson materials out as needed. They also offer an eBook help center to provide additional customer support.

The company prides itself on reasonable pricing. Their prices seem comparable to similar vendors for individual items although it seems inconsistent. Some downloadable items like e-Books or Power Points are priced less than their hard copy equivalents but sometimes they are the same price. If you want to add multiple copies or things like additional supplemental materials then the cost of course jumps. The paperback title “Introducing Capitalism: A Graphic Guide” by Dan Cryan and Sharron Shatil sells on the Social Studies School Service for $9.95 although it lowers to $8.95 if you buy 5 or more. The same title sells on Amazon for $8.96. It isn’t a great difference but can affect some school budgets in mass orders.

Their service is convenient for educators who can find titles in one place though their catalog isn’t always perfectly updated. Some titles remain in their catalog even though it will say ‘this product is no longer available’ without any reason given. The description and shopping cart function (although deactivated) will remain on their website, and come up during catalog searches. Although they are routinely adding new titles to their catalog, they are not as fast as removing old titles that are no longer available.

The website is fairly easy to navigate though. You can easily browse titles. The advanced search function online allows you to filter grade levels but the print catalogs only are filtered by subject.

Pages Reviewed (Links):

Home Page

Show Room

About Us

Catalog Search

Home Page

E-book help desk

About Us

Home Page

About Us

Home Page

Storypath & the Common Core State Standards

Catalog Item

Home Page

Home Page

Home Page

Home Page


Facebook Page

Active Classroom: Digital Toolkit

Information on how to order