It is said that “once a teacher, always a teacher.”
The same can be said about a school librarian. Both are on point in the case of Dr. Michael and Carole Bell.
Mike taught Spanish and history, including a three-year stint at Edinburg High School, the Hockaday School in Dallas and Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD. He earned one master’s in education and another in library science before claiming the ultimate educational achievement, a Ph.D.
Mike served as director of libraries for school districts in McAllen and La Joya. He was also dean of library resources at Collin County Community College (now Collin College) in McKinney, Texas, and director of learning resources at South Texas Community College (now South Texas College) in McAllen.
Carole taught biology and science for school districts in Dallas, Irving and McAllen. Administrators in McAllen discovered she was certified in French and added classes in that language to her schedule. Carole earned a master’s in library science. This led her to become a school librarian and later the administrator of libraries for the McAllen school district.
Mike and Carole retired in 2002, though not exactly. They worked as a sales-executive team for Scholastic for six years, visiting schools in Texas Education Service Centers in Regions 1, 2 and 3 to sell books. When that gig ended, Carole returned to the role of school librarian, this time at Cathey Middle School in McAllen. She stayed there for four years. For the past eight years, Carole has managed the McAllen Public Library bookstore.
Mike and Carole’s paths originally crossed in Austin and the rest is definitely history. They will soon celebrate 50 years of marriage. Creating a teacher/librarian/sales-executive team appears to have only been the warm-up.
Back in the mid-1990s, Mike created his first website, the Virtual Learning Resource Center, which was designed not just for use by STCC students but also by high-school students.
“Mike actually taught himself to code to create that site,” Carole said. “He taught himself HTML,” the code web developers use when building websites.
For Mike, it showed the value of self-learning.
“I wanted to learn something by doing it myself,” Mike added. “That’s the best way to learn.”
Nearly 15 years later, Mike and Carole began a journey to create a family of customized search engines which are free for all users. Their sites are now being used worldwide and the couple, who also happen to be world travelers, are fascinated by the real-time map that shows them exactly where in the world their sites are being used at any given time.
“We wanted to provide students with a good way to find reliable information on the internet,” Mike said. “We only index pages that are age-appropriate and recommended by teachers, librarians and educational consortia.”
Mike and Carole use Google Safe Search so nothing inappropriate for the intended age level appears in the search results.
Their search-engine family includes:
- Infotopia for students in grades 5-12.
- Kidtopia for students in elementary school.
- TeacherTopia for teachers in all grade levels.
- Infotrek for advanced high-school students and college students.
VirtualLRC.com is still in use by those searching for the best academic websites. It has over 10,000 web pages indexed and includes full-text magazines, newspapers and electronic text archives.
Developing their sites has been a labor of love for learning. Mike spends an average of five hours a day, five days a week keeping the sites relevant, functioning well and attractive. TeacherTopia is Carole’s baby, as is the monthly newsletter she writes to share fun facts and tips on how to get the most out of their sites.
“Things are constantly changing,” Carole said, and the couple’s commitment to guiding their users through those changes, as they travel and visit libraries around the world and share information about their search engines and websites.
Through this family of websites, Mike and Carole are still able to communicate with people globally, even when they can’t travel. And now that a new school year is well underway, there’s much to explore, thanks to lifelong teachers, librarians and world travelers Mike and Carole.