May 24, 2022

With Ebooks, Students Come First


Anytime, anywhere, any device. That’s the motto of school librarian Michelle Luhtala as she develops the digital media program at New Canaan (CT) High School to serve her 1,350 students.

Luhtala’s primary goal? Making sure her students can access digital materials easily—and from one location. Make it hard for them and the materials don’t get used. Moreover, students’ needs wouldn’t be served.

“If their first stop is comprehensive, they will use it,” says Luhtala, the school’s library department chair and co-winner of the 2011 I Love My Librarian Award. “If they have to go here for one thing and there for another, you’ll lose clients along the way.”

In an appearance with Larry Jacobs on his EduTalk webcast, Luhtala suggested educators consider carefully before leaping into ebook programs and make sure the solutions they’re considering make sense for their patrons or students. New Canaan uses Follett Destiny and will be adding its Destiny Quest app this month, which will aggregate content from multiple sources, store the materials in Destiny, and allow students to log in and access all content.

While Luhtala notes that Kindles and Nooks may make sense for some schools, she’s concerned that they tie librarians to a specific device. But she admits that her school is unusual in that students are allowed to bring their own mobile devices, use them in class and access any content, save pornography, from free WiFi available across the campus. Students that don’t have devices can borrow one of 10 iPods or 12 iPads from the school.

With this set up, it’s crucial that the content she purchases be device agnostic, says Luhtala. More importantly, material should be available from one easy-to-find source and not force students to log on through different distributors or be only able to use materials from just one. Instead, students need a true virtual library, which they can access from any location, find what they need, and be on their way. To Luhtala, a student who can find materials quickly is a productive one.

“If I want a book about Napoleon and have to go to five different containers for information, that’s a huge waste of time and undermines the value of digital content,” she says. “We have to streamline the process for learning. Once you understand your patrons’ needs, those of your instructional partners, and what you need to teach, you can make some decisions. But who distributes the product shouldn’t be part of the decision,” says Luhtala.


Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at


  1. I am so happy someone else believes in digital for the school library. A former teacher, I recently had my debut novella published. The Phantom Pilot is the kind of MG/YA my own students begged for in my classes–I taught reading. But in our small Texas community, digital isn’t widely accepted yet. Thanks for giving me hope!