A few months ago, Marie D’Onofrio, one of the school librarians I work with, told me she was going to buy some fiction ebooks. D’Onofrio, who works at Livonia (NY) High School, purchased four ebooks from Lerner’s Carolrhoda imprint. She wasn’t familiar with the titles, but took a chance anyway.
The students loved the books. That wasn’t surprising, since Carolrhoda has been producing award-winning books for more than 30 years. Still, for D’Onofrio, as for so many other school librarians, exploring fiction ebooks was a voyage into the unknown.
Why? Because the status of digital fiction in school libraries is still relatively undefined, compared with nonfiction, whose traction in schools is pretty established by now. Public libraries’ evolution toward incorporating fiction ebooks has received a lot of attention, but schools are still catching up.
Right now, K–12 offerings in fiction ebooks are largely restricted to titles from the big trade publishers offered on services such as OverDrive or packages of pre-selected titles like TumbleBooks. Our knowledge of authors and ebook titles from other fiction publishers is still foggy.
This summer, the haze will lift with the introduction of a new program called “Here Be Fiction” (HereBeFiction.org). The endeavor is a collaboration between my system, the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership, Mackin, and School Library Journal.
This is how it works. School librarians who use Here Be Fiction will be able to identify quality ebooks available from a wide variety of publishers such as Lerner, August House, and more. Users can browse ebook previews and reviews posted at HereBeFiction.org, enabling them to discover fiction from established sources. The site also offers school library-friendly licensing terms, with titles readily available for licensing by school libraries for both individual and multi-user access.
During the project’s first active phase, from July 15 to September 15, selected school librarians around the country will have free access during their summer vacations to read and review ebook fiction from participating publishers, using the secure Mackin VIA platform. Looking ahead, Here Be Fiction will again allow teachers to sample books for free during future school vacation times—and active reading phases—in the winter and spring.
Throughout the year, the website will be available to everyone, with open access to lists of titles, short previews, and reviews, all of which will help librarians and teachers find and select new content. Here Be Fiction will also feature author biographies, publisher overviews, and editorial content focusing on ways to use ebooks in classrooms and school libraries.
Active site visitors will find it easy to highlight and share books they discover via Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. They will also be able to create wish lists of featured books that can then be downloaded or sent directly to Mackin for a price quote.
The need for a program like Here Be Fiction has become more urgent this past year, as school librarians have faced increasing pressure to deliver ebook fiction for both student-selected reading and teacher-directed class use.
To meet school librarians’ unique needs, participating publishers must agree to three requirements:
1) They must provide either multi-user or individual access plans, with a discount for licensing multiple simultaneous readers. This way, ebooks can be used for class novels, book clubs, reading groups, and other group purposes.
2) Publishers must make ebooks available for offline access through a secure platform like Mackin VIA or a download with appropriate security. This enables the participation of students and schools with limited WiFi access.
3) They must, when possible, enable the use of text-to-speech functionality through the reading platform to support struggling readers or those with special needs.
The site launches this summer in limited beta format. Access will be made available to additional school librarian reviewers as quickly as possible.