An unusual new library at a Houston-area school district allows teachers and students to access hundreds of titles from anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Aldine Independent School District’s electronic book (eBook) library opened its virtual “doors” for lending at the close of the 2000-2001 school year, and school officials say the level of use has grown as more titles have been added to the collection.

Aldine’s eBook library currently consists of 375 titles—both fiction and nonfiction—published in electronic format.

“Some titles are for professional use, [but] most are for student use,” said Christine Van Hamersveld, the district’s program director for library media services.

Currently, the majority of titles are available for secondary students in grades seven to 12, but there are also titles for elementary-aged children. The program is open to all students, employees, or parents in the district.

eBooks are essentially complete books put into electronic format.

“If you were to compare the eBook collection to a print collection, it includes everything a standard school library print collection would have,” Van Hamersveld said. That includes picture books, fiction, nonfiction, reference books, and professional titles.

The benefits of accessing books online rather than checking them out physically are numerous, she explained. An eBook is searchable by keyword, and a dictionary is built into the eBook reader software to help with unfamiliar words.

In addition, eBooks are checked in and out automatically, so no extra staffing is required.

“eBooks give students with home computers access to reference materials and curriculum-related materials without requiring them to leave home,” said Van Hamersveld. And, because students can get the same texts at home on the internet, they don’t have to lug heavy books home on their backs.

The eBook titles Aldine currently has were purchased during the previous school year, after a group of Aldine librarians submitted recommendations from the list of available titles. Van Hamersveld compiled these recommendations, added her input, and put together the current list based on the district’s curriculum and the professional needs of the Aldine employees.

There are currently no textbooks on the list, because the district’s library media services department is not in charge of textbook purchases.

“I am aware that various publishers offer textbooks in eBook format,” said Van Hamersveld. “However, this type of purchase would not come under the Aldine Library Media Services’ umbrella, based on our selection policy.”

eBooks often are sold to schools as proprietary software that only works with one of the portable, paperback-sized eBook readers on the market, such as the Gemstar eBook reader or the Rocket eBook.

But eBooks also can be purchased off the internet and downloaded to a library’s online collection for viewing right on a computer screen or handheld device, and that’s the option Aldine officials have chosen. They purchase eBook texts from netLibrary, a division of Online Computer Library Center Inc. of Dublin, Ohio.

At Aldine, the existing computer equipment has been sufficient to support the new eBook library. “We did not need to add any hardware,” said Van Hamersveld. All Aldine computers are networked and have internet access.

First-time users of the eBook library just download the free netLibrary eBook reader software when they set up an account, which enables them to view the titles from any internet-connected machine, whether at home or school. The only “library card” users need is a valid password.

NetLibrary is one of several companies that work out deals with traditional book publishers to convert their titles to electronic format and then lease these titles on the web. Traditionally, companies that want to put material online have met with resistance from publishing houses, which fear the internet will support copyright infringement and encourage piracy of copyrighted works.

The eBook library operates almost exactly like a traditional library in terms of copyright protection regulations, Van Hamersveld told the Houston Chronicle.

“It is a single-user [service], just like if you were to go to the library and check out a book,” she said. “One person checks out that book, and until that book is checked back in no one else can access it. That makes the issues of copyright and profit margins … a little easier to swallow for the publishers.”

Training is an ongoing process at Aldine, as library media staff continue to make more people aware of the resource and to increase overall use of the eBook library, explained Van Hamersveld.

“We offer training at the district level, the campus level, and our librarians work with individual students and teachers whenever the opportunity arises,” she said

Though the procedure used to access the eBook collection is not difficult to learn, library officials believe formal training is the best way to ensure that everyone knows how to search the collection and use an individual eBook.

“Students and teachers who have used the eBook library are very excited about this addition to our district library program,” Van Hamersveld said. “As they become more comfortable with electronic resources in general, usage of our eBook collection will increase.”

Links:

Aldine Independent School District
http://www.aldine.k12.tx.us

netLibrary
http://www.netlibrary.com