Raise your hand if you are experiencing ebook fatigue. In the past few years, the percentage of school libraries providing ebooks seems to be settling around 50–60 percent, according to a 2015 Survey of Ebook Usage in U.S. School Libraries from Library Journal and School Library Journal.
I’ve noticed a change in the conversations I have about providing ebooks. Questions about how we can provide ebooks have shifted to should we supply them. In the midst of these growing pains, let’s take a step back and consider the ways in which ebooks enrich the reading experience students have at school. Sometimes an ebook is the best book. Here are some benefits to ebooks and situations in which they’re the preferred choice.
If your space is outfitted with a projector and screen, consider using an ebook for some interactive read alouds. Projected on screen, the text and illustrations are large enough for every student to see clearly, and the bigger image allows students to identify details in complex illustrations. Ebook reader platforms allow the teacher (or student) to highlight text for emphasis and add notes or questions. Using ebooks for your read-aloud will also provide a chance for you to model ebook features and concepts for your students, giving them the foundation to be effective readers of digital content.
An ebook might be the best book if you are looking for engaging non-fiction materials. Major textbook publishers, including McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Pearson, sell multimedia-enhanced ebook editions of their textbooks. Newspapers such as the New York Times have infused their text with interactive graphics and video. In addition, subscription-based ebook vendors, such as Scholastic’s Bookflix and Trueflix, combine non-fiction ebooks with video and web resources. Teaching with ebooks that incorporate multimedia engages readers and provides students with a forum in which to practice visual and digital literacies.
1:1 And BYOD environments
When the high school in my district first rolled out its 1:1 iPad program, ebook use in the building, unsurprisingly, went through the roof, as it did when we rolled out the program in the middle and elementary schools. In buildings where everyone has their own device, whether through a Bring Your Own Device or a one-to-one program, the availability of ebooks puts book selection at students’ fingertips. Opening more avenues for students to choose reading materials that interest them will help foster pleasure reading and remove barriers for students who don’t have time to visit the library.
When everyone needs a copy
Ebooks that are available for simultaneous access allow multiple students to check out the same title at the same time. Purchasing these titles can cost more than a typical ebook—but significantly less than buying a classroom set of print books. Often, the titles available for simultaneous access are non-fiction, such as the Lightbox series of interactive non-fiction books from Follett. Seeking out and utilizing one of these titles for a whole class book study can significantly cut back on costs. Plus, since ereader devices and apps allow for highlighting and note taking, students can mark up the texts without damaging them for the next group of readers.
When reading is a struggle
My favorite thing about ebooks is how great they are for struggling and reluctant readers. Reading on a device alleviates students’ worry about what others will think of the material they are reading. It also allows students to manipulate print size, font, and margins to make large blocks of text more manageable and less intimidating. Since ereader programs come equipped with dictionaries, the definition and pronunciation of tough words is just a finger tap away.
The conversation about ebooks in school libraries is far from over. As we consider the costs, logistics, and barriers of starting and maintaining our ebook collections, let’s not forget the ways in which digital access to books can transform teaching and learning.
Addie Matteson (@queenaddie), a library media specialist at White River Elementary in Noblesville, IN,