May 5, 2021

Q&A: Follett Library Resources Director of Digital Products John A. Williams on Ebooks in preK-12

On Wednesday, October 17, Library Journal and School Library Journal will host “The Digital Shift: Libraries, Ebooks and Beyond,” our 3rd annual ebook summit. This online, all-day program will explore how libraries are navigating the transition from print to digital and integrating “e” into collections, catalogs and classrooms.

Follett Library Resources, the nation’s largest supplier of books, reference materials, digital resources, ebooks and audiovisual materials to preK-12 schools, is a gold sponsor of the event, and LJ asked Director of Digital Products John A. Williams to discuss the growing role that ebooks are playing in preK-12 education, as well as the recent expansion of the Follett Challenge and the doubling of its prize money.

LJ: Through Destiny Library Manager or FollettShelf your company is the major supplier of ebooks to the PreK-12 market. Can you talk a little bit about the challenges schools have been facing recently when it comes to integrating ebooks into their curriculum and aligning to their CCSS goals?

Williams: With common core, educators are being challenged by the need to shift their teaching methods and approaches to align with these new skills-based standards. Much of their curriculum used to be centered on teaching specific content, but now they’re working on building the higher order critical thinking skills necessary for College and Career Readiness.

The shift toward integrating nonfiction texts is a challenge as well.  For so many social studies and science teachers who are used to having a single-textbook based curriculum, they now need to find the appropriate nonfiction texts and then figure out how to incorporate them into their lesson plans.

The challenge schools have with using ebooks to address these new curriculum needs revolves around providing access to all students, acquiring enough quality eContent, finding the appropriate management systems to track usage and support accountability, and delivering enough professional development to educators on the use of ebooks in their classrooms.

Follett ebooks have embedded tools to build the key connections to Common Core skills while being immersed in content-specific resources. Additionally Destiny and FollettShelf provide powerful yet easy-to-use management solutions designed to drive usage.

This year you’ve doubled the prize of the Follett Challenge to $200,000. Why’d you open it up to all educators, and where do you see school librarians fitting into the mix?

Due to the success of the Follett Challenge last year, Follett wanted to expand the scope of this program beyond the library and involve the entire school. We feel this approach more closely aligns the goals of the Follett Challenge with the goals of the Common Core Standards. We want to reward schools where educators of all types — librarians, teachers, technology coordinators, reading specialists, administrators — implement innovative programs that encourage critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration.

We continue to believe that school librarians play a critical role in student success and anticipate that many of the entries we receive for this year’s Follett Challenge will showcase this fact.

In addition, Follett Library Resources continues to promote the importance of high-quality school library programs through our ongoing sponsorship of AASL’s National School Library Program of the Year Award.

As you trendwatch, what do you expect for ebook adoption in the preK-12 market and how can we address the tech divide?

We’ve seen tremendous growth in the number of schools adopting ebooks over the last 24 months.  This high adoption rate has been driven by the availability of hardware within the schools. Whether it was a laptop, netbook, Interactive WhiteBoard, or iPad, the purchasing of these devices leads to a need for quality content. Ebooks began to fill that role and continue to fill it today.

The latest trends of BYOD and CCSS have shifted the point of learning from a computer in a classroom to a student’s back pocket. Now there is a requirement to deliver standards-based eContent (mostly ebooks) to the student’s personal device. The BYOD movement will significantly reduce the digital divide since an ever-increasing number of students will have smartphone access.

Given the rising trend of BYOD (bring your own device) in schools, what’s the next phase of innovation for K-12 digital content on mobile platforms?

Companies are developing cloud-based solutions to deliver eContent to mobile devices being used by both teachers and students. Whether using HTML5 or other browser-based technologies, cloud access allows companies to reach the widest array of mobile device models. These cloud-based systems will evolve to allow offline access to content when no persistent Internet access is available.

Follett is focused on changing the ebook experience from a more traditional searching and reading experience to digital learning experience. New features will be released throughout the upcoming months to support studying as well as reading, with capabilities that are useful for project-based learning in the classroom.


With a full day of programming, including tracks designed specifically for public, academic and school libraries, professionals from administrative to administrators will find a wealth of new information, innovative ideas and best practices to put to use in their own libraries at The Digital Shift: Libraries, Ebooks and Beyond. Register at