If schools want their students to become readers for life, then school libraries should be sure to include fiction ebooks as they build their digital collections, Debbie Swartz, Library Technology Facilitator, Mesquite (TX) Independent School District (ISD), noted during her “Meeting Students Where THEY Learn,” presentation during The Digital Shift: Reinventing Libraries, hosted by Library Journal and School Library Journal.
In 2009, Mesquite ISD Director of Library Services Mary Woodard had encouraged the district’s staff and the librarians at its 45 campuses to think about how to best serve students where they were learning.
“We started to think, ‘What does this mean for us, and how can we make that happen?” Swartz said. “So in 2009, we had our librarians look at updating our vision for our libraries here in Mesquite. And we asked the question ‘What does a 21st century library look like and sound like?’”
A key conclusion was that the district’s library system needed more of a digital presence, Swartz said. One of Mesquite’s goals with its physical branches is to present a friendly, inviting atmosphere. The library’s existing online presence was strictly business, however, with websites and databases set up exclusively to help students access school-related resources.
“We really weren’t offering anything for pleasure reading…. We gave ourselves a big pat on the back in the area of nonfiction. We had ebooks that had been selected to support our curriculum from Gale, Britannica, and ABC-CLIO. And we had a lot of other reference materials, online encyclopedias, and other things students could use 24/7.” Swartz said. “But what hit us was that we weren’t offering anything to users in the way of fiction. We weren’t where they were. They had to come to our physical libraries to get fiction.”
Quoting The Read-Aloud Handbook author Jim Trelease, she said “A school’s objective should be to create lifetime readers—graduates who continue to read and educate themselves throughout their adult lives.” Unfortunately, failing to encourage reading for pleasure can lead to students graduating as “school readers” who view reading only as work, and who rarely pick up books after finishing high school or college, Swartz said.
To combat that, Mesquite began looking at vendors who could offer popular fiction ebooks for their students. Ultimately, OverDrive was chosen, both for its selection of titles, and because the local public libraries used OverDrive. Mesquite’s librarians could help students become familiar with the platform, and they could continue to use it through their public library after graduating, Swartz explained. After dedicating a portion of the district’s library budget to popular fiction ebooks, the library debuted the service in November 2010.
The launch wasn’t entirely smooth. Librarians promoted the new service at their schools, but it was difficult to demo for students. At the time, students weren’t allowed to bring ereaders or tablets to school, and weren’t allowed to use their school’s wireless connection. And, school computers weren’t set up with Adobe IDs that would enable them to accept content with Adobe DRM. So, in effect, students could only access the new content off-campus.
But the program ultimately began gaining traction. OverDrive brought its digital bookmobile to the school to help students sign up and check out ebooks. Swartz also credits the initial 2011 launch of OverDrive’s first app, and the launch this year of the OverDrive Read in-browser reader, with boosting usage thank to a simplified platform and the ability to demo the software in the library. Disney ebook titles were brought in to appeal to elementary school students. Other factors contributing to dramatically increased usage include ubiquitous device access: in 2011, the district began a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program, and last year it began allowing high school students to use on-campus wifi. This year, those permissions will be extended to the district’s middle schools.
Swartz said that Mesquite considers the popular fiction program, now in its third year, a success. The collection includes 6,895 ebooks and 4,070 audiobooks for all K–12 grades. Swartz said the library adds new titles to each grade level collection on a monthly basis, generally purchasing five copies of each on a one-copy, one-user model. Checkouts are now growing rapidly, rising from 12,490 in 2012, to more than 22,000 so far in 2013.
“We do feel more comfortable and confident that we are offering choices in our physical and virtual spaces now. Choices for school assignments, and choices for pleasure reading and enjoyment,” Swartz said.
These kids and their devices
Ebooks for young adults and children was also a theme of “ECollections: Beyond Novelty,” a presentation by three librarians from Utah’s Salt Lake County Library Services (SLCL): Kent Dean, manager of SLCL’s Whitmore Library, Leisel Seborg, senior librarian for adult outreach and programming, and Lyndi Hatch, youth services librarian.
There are significant differences between selecting and purchasing items for children, teens, and adults, Hatch noted, and existing differences are now being pressured by new variations in format preference by age group. Citing a June 2013 survey by warranty protection company SquareTrade, published last month by the San Francisco Gate. Hatch’s presentation noted that teens are now using mobile devices and tablets an average of 4.9 hours per day, and even toddlers two and under are using these devices for an average of 1.5 hours per day.
“It makes it obvious why the libraries need to be offering these age groups materials that work with their electronic devices,” Hatch said.
Knowing the difference between formats is also important, she added. “It’s essential to understand your population in regard to how many of them have Kindles, Android [devices], iPhones, NOOKs, etc., and what plays MP3s, Blio, Kindle, EPUB, etc.”
This can be difficult to keep track of, since consumer electronics change rapidly, and there are always new devices on the market, but patrons expect librarians to know these things when they come to the library, Hatch said.
Hatch also singled out Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 ebook platform and its compatibility with the Blio e-reader platform, which is especially good for rendering children’s picture books.
“We decided to start purchasing all of our picture books in the Blio format because of how nice they looked,” she said. “We also now purchase fiction books such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid in the same format because of the illustrations.”