Despite disagreeing with the title (suggesting we are in an adversorial role “fighting” technology) I had an enjoyable afternoon at the networking meeting of the South West Region of the School Library Association. Everyone was very friendly!
I’d been asked to share Kingswood School’s experience of developing a library e-collection through Overdrive which I did and the lively discussion that followed was really informative. The were two main questions that we considered:
Should we loan e-book readers?
There were about 20 school librarians present and I discovered 3 of them had bought multiple Kindles which they were loaning out to students using the ability to archive one title on 6 Kindles. I am personally unsure about the legality of this see Buffy Hamilton’s post from last July : Why we won’t purchase more Kindles at the Unquiet Library Also research into young peoples mobile reading habits suggests they choose to use their own multifunctional devices (ipads, ipads, android phones ) rather than a dedicated e-reader.
Should we be managing digital textbooks?
Some of the librarians asked me about information titles/textbooks available through Overdrive. I have discovered Raintree KS3 titles but these are available in pdf format only which I believe is more suitable for desktop PC viewing rather than on a mobile device. There are also a number of academic publishers like Elsevier (with 11,000 titles available) but these are more suitable for third level organisations.
From the discussion it seemed to me that some librarians are trying to validate their existence by attempting to take on the role of managing digital textbooks for their school. Although someone needs to co-ordinate textbook provision I personally would be wary of pursuing this direction. I think school libraries should be there to support the curriculum, provide resources that enable students to go “off piste” and pursue their independent passsions and most important of all encourage reading for pleasure. These activities have been shown to raise attainment levels in education and we don’t need to justify our existence by venturing into the world of textbooks.
Please feel free to agree or disagree with my strong opinions by adding your comments to this post!
Today we completed our first order for e-books. 37 Young Adult interest fiction titles mostly from Walker, Bloomsbury and Random House publishers. Here they are:
We were pleased with the range of genres we were able to find considering no Penguin, HarperCollins, Hodder or Macmillan titles were available to select. See earlier posts for details why this is the case.
It was hard to know where to begin with series titles like Rachel Caine’s hugely popular Morganville Vampires which has reached volume 11! Should we start at the beginning or go for the latest one? After much mulling over between myself and my library assitant we decided to start with number 1. This will allow us to save our budget for student requests which is the way we normally acquire new titles in a series. If a series is popular students know when the next one is coming out and that I will order it from Amazon for them as soon as it is published. As Overdrive release newly purchased titles quickly it will be easy to buy the next title in a series, as and when, a student wants it. Well that’s the theory -we shall see how it works in practice.
With this order we have spent nearly 30% of our content budget (set by Overdrive) for the year so it will be interesting to see how big the demand is and whether we can keep our customers happy!
An hour long conference call with Overdrive last week helped us to get a clear idea of how we will go about developing our download service of e-books and audiobooks and we have now begun the business of finding content for our customised website.
We have been allocated a schools collection development specialist to answer any of our queries and she has been very friendly but her introductory email was a bit puzzling! She taught sophomore students for a number of years at a certain high school and she met LeBron James even though she never actually taught him. So who exactly is LeBron James? Sarah was kind enough to explain that he is a famous basketball player and that sophomores are 15-16 year olds.
What this anecdote does highlight is how USA focussed Overdrive is at the moment for UK customers. A great training session online helped me understand the logistics of finding my way around the “marketplace” but didn’t prepare me for the content of the homepage which featured e-books on the New York Times bestseller lists, showed a tab leading to “Christian Romance” and provided shortcuts to publishers like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (never heard of them!)
The good news is, once you find it, there are some great titles available to add to a school library collection. After a hit-and- miss browsing session I found Anthony Horowitz’s Stormbreaker and by clicking on the link to Walker books within the bibliographic data of that title found all the Walker books available. In a similar way I found Bloomsbury Publishing and Egmont titles. It would help a lot if Overdrive’s advanced search had an option to search by publisher but it doesn’t!
Sadly many titles that can be purchased by the ordinary customer, in either Kindle format from Amazon or ePub format through online bookshops like Waterstones, are just not available for libraries to buy to loan. This is not Overdrive’s fault, as far as I can see, but due to the well documented disarray in the publishing world (with companies like Penguin not allowing any of their titles to be acquired by libraries and HarperCollins who insist a copy of a title may only be loaned 26 times and then another etext purchased)! I feel Bloomsbury have got the sensible idea by selling their titles to libraries at about 3 times the cost of the paperback version.
The facts are that I cannot currently purchase any books from the top 10 authors borrowed from Kingswood Library last year. Only one of these authors (Jeff Kinney) has not been published in electronic form. The infographic below tells it own sad story!
When I was growing up the name Penguin was synonymous with the democratisation of reading. There was something noble and good about enabling working class people like me to develop a passion for books. All those Puffins I devoured – Worzel Gummidge, The Family From One End Street, What Katy Did, Little Women. I still have my battered copy of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe on my bookshelves today. Some titles my parents bought for me. Others I borrowed from the local library. When I left school I was the first person in my family to go to university. And guess what- somehow I ended up as a Librarian. Now thirty years on I’m responsible for instilling that same love of reading in teenagers and I’m very good at my job. The trouble is Penguin isn’t helping me any more.
The reason I am writing to you is because I am trying to start an e-book service in my school library. I want to engage with young people where they like reading best – on computers and mobile devices. I was so disappointed to discover that I can’t buy any of your titles to loan to those who need to develop their literacy, their imagination and their creativity. What should I do about those boys who sit playing games on their smart phones? I can’t tempt them with a download of Charlie Higson’s Zombies, Chris Bradford’s Samurai or Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid. How has this terrible situation come about?
I appeal to you to allow us to continue to promote a passion for reading by supplying your novels to libraries in digital form. We are creating your customers of the future. We really are partners in a cause that will ensure a healthy UK society with active and educated young people equipped for the rest of the 21st century. Please sort this matter out swiftly so that our children are not disadvataged.
Our school has just signed with Overdrive to provide an e-book and audio-book download service for our students and staff. It is a service which will be fully integrated with our Library Management System Eclipse.net (hosted) from MicroLibrarian. As we are one of the first schools in the UK to start a digital download service I want to blog what happens (as it happens) to share the joys and pitfalls of the experience. This will be a “warts and all” account but one which I hope other schools will find helpful.
Many school librarians have spent the last couple of years lost in a “digital text” labyrinth trying to determine the best route through the e-book confusion which has been mostly created, in my opinion, by the publishing industry. (SHAME ON YOU BOOK PUBLISHERS) See my earlier post here. However today I am feeling very excited and optimistic. But it has been a daunting process so far. I first watched an hour long webinar from Overdrive in July 2011. There were only a few participants and most of these seemed to be ICT technicians from schools who knew little about the business of promoting reading for pleasure. I surmise someone from their SMT had said – can we get rid of print textbooks by getting digital versions and will this save us money? However that said, I was very impressed with the presentation and the patience of Jon From Overdrive who emailed me regularly over the next 6 months answering all my questions in great detail. During that time I was thinking and pondering about a number of issues which I will try to summarise here. I asked myself:
How do e-books fit into the purpose of our Library?
The main thrust of our “excellent” library (ISI Inspection Dec 2011) is to promote a reading culture in our school. Helping students develop digital information skills and complete assignments comes a very close second but reading for pleasure and enabling students to pursue independent interests (with passion) comes first. This is in line with our school ethos which aims for an education of the whole person. The Schools raison-d’etre for its library is very important when considering the kind of e-book service to provide. Subscribing to a collection of academic digital texts downloadable in pdf format for study purposes just doesn’t have the focus that we need. Hence the choice of Overdrive -a service that is mobile device friendly and is used by 70% of UK public libraries.
What will the future developments in digital formats be like?
Looking around at how other digital formats have developed over the years is very salutory. I remember Betamax video! Who could have foreseen the swift passing of tape for compact disc and now digital download? And what about propriety v open formats e.g iTunes v MP3 or Kindle v ePUb? What if we dramatically choose the wrong format? Or what if we choose the right format that isn’t quite good enough yet in providing a satisfying customer experience? Contemplating the current situation and understanding the trends is hard. My thoughts become quite obsessive when I think about this issue! Although some UK Library suppliers are now starting to provide e-book collections it seems to me that they do have not the depth of experience that Overdrive has in managing the complex digital rights imposed by publishers on the purchase to loan e-versions of their best sellers (SHAME ON YOU PUBLISHERS) On the other hand, Overdrive is very USA focussed- what if, in a years time say, the main UK players have established good relationships with UK publishers and have persuaded them to allow libraries to buy to loan a reasonable range of material?
Can I get an integrated service?
One of the other things that worries me about e-book download services is the fact that they are separate entities – downloadable from websites of either publishers or library suppliers. I like everything to be managed through the library catalogue where students can find and compare all resources regardless of format. Past experience has shown me that packages of resources all over the place just aren’t discoverable however hard I try. So imagine my delight when just after Christmas I got a email From Microlibraian saying they were launching a partnership with Overdrive at this years BETT show. All e-books and audio-books would be viewable in the Eclipse catalogue with a direct link through to the download page on an OverDrive website created for our school. Hooray -one of the problems sorted.
Will publishers EVER get it?
Listen up publishers – get your act together. Just because you can now control what libraries do with your books doesn’t mean you should. You are more dispensible than we are (see Amazon’s recent healthy self-publishing figures) In fact as bookshops have discovered over the last 20 years we can be great partners! We are busy creating the reading habit in your future customers. Did you hear that Penguin?
Despite these questions having unclear answers Kingswood school is taking the plunge. To be continued….