Library expert answers the question: ‘What comes first? eBook content or device?’

ebooks-schoolseBook implementation is becoming crucial for schools and districts as part of the digital content movement. As mobile devices become a classroom staple, printed books are becoming a staple of the past. But as more schools begin to consider eBooks, many administrators are asking “Where do we start?”

According to Carl Harvey, school librarian at North Elementary School in Noblesville, IN, and past president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), the first question most administrators ask is “What should we focus on? The content or the device?”

Sometimes it’s hard to consider because you’re wondering ‘do we get devices that are eBook-specific, like Kindles or Nooks, or do we want iPads and use iTunes U? mused Harvey. Or then you ask ‘well, should we focus on a massive platform for content and use whatever devices are compatible for that platform?’

(Next page: 14 things to consider first)

“With devices you can preload content on it, kids check it out for immediate access, and using eBooks definitely engages kids. These are the pros,” he explained. “The cons are how you control and protect the purchasing, for example, large orders and the use of credit cards, and making sure devices go back to the library.”

“With content,” he continued, “the pros are that there’s one large platform and students can access this with their own device. A large platform also provides a commonality across grades, classrooms, and schools. The con is access: if a student doesn’t have a device, how will he or she access these eBooks? Also, not every eBook is always available on just one platform.”

However, Harvey’s district was spared making that decision when it was decided that a one-to-one program would be rolled out to every school; meaning that Harvey’s district decided to focus on content, not device.

“What we knew after that announcement was made was that we’d need to start talking to vendors soon because our adoption cycle was coming for English/Language Arts and then many subjects after that, so I wanted to choose a platform that could cater to all subjects.”

Harvey’s middle school was also going one-to-one the following year, so he made sure they would be on the content plan beforehand. The elementary schools will join this year, as their one-to-one program will be coming soon. Harvey noted that it’s “good to stay ahead as much as possible.”

Things to do first

According to Harvey, who also worked in conjunction with many of his districts’ departments, such as administrative staff and IT, there are 14 things to consider when deciding to implement eBooks:

1. Purpose

2. Devices/Portal

3. Content Decisions

4. Funding (long term/short term)

5. Pricing

6. Ownership of content

7. Formats

8. Number of circulations

9. Number of access at one time

10. Enhancements

11. Instruction

12. Roll out plan

13. Professional Development

14. Publicize it!

“The purpose is crucial,” explained Harvey, “because it’s not just ‘eBooks,’ it’s ‘Is it recreational reading, research and nonfiction materials, or both?” With Common Core implementation, Harvey also noted that more eBook material would probably focus more on nonfiction materials.

(Next page: Choosing the eBook platform and knowing the fine print)

Next, Harvey and his team focused on what platform to use to provide content.

“We realized the content was going to come from a lot of different sources over a long period of time, slowly building a collection every year and keeping in mind from year to year what resonated best with students,” he said.

Ultimately, Harvey’s district chose Axis 360, an eBook platform that caters to many school districts across the country, mainly because the platform allows for both eTextbook and library eBook access, and integrates will with the district’s Destiny library automation software from Follett.

Axis 360:

 

“You also have to think about funding, since many eBook providers have a subscription cost, as well as a startup cost and an annual cost. We have to budget for this, as well as for future additions to the eBook library. And we’re still trying to figure out how to budget for eBooks versus print books,” said Harvey.

Other things to consider, explained Harvey, are publishers, circulation numbers, pricing structures, and owning content.

“For example, HarperCollins only allows 26 of an eBook to be in circulation at one time and then they require another purchase license…It’s also important to think about ‘Who owns the content?’ For instance, if we moved platforms, where would our content go? We had been in talks with one provider for a while but ultimately decided not to go with them because if we switched platforms we’d lose everything. It’s so important to talk with administrators and lawyers and have them read all the fine print,” he noted.

Format considerations include whether the eBooks are content agnostic and can be accessed at multiple times, as well as whether or not the content is interactive.

However, Harvey said one of the biggest considerations was how the eBooks would be used in instruction and what kind of educator professional development would be needed.

“Questions like ‘How do we integrate these texts into the classroom efficiently and seamlessly?’ and ‘What will teachers need to know to make that happen?’ need to be addressed in order for anything to work,” he said.

“Of course, the most important decision is to just jump in!” Harvey concluded. “We could have sat there for a long time debating the pros and cons, but at some point you have to just start something and see what happens. It’s really all about getting those resources into student and teacher hands.”

For more information on eBook implementation:

The eBook community at edweb.net, where you can also watch Harvey’s webinar on this topic, as well as view his recommended resources

School Library Journal on eBooks

A resource for why you should use eBooks in K-6 classroom