January 15, 2018

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School Libraries Are Evolving and Expanding with Ebooks

K-12 Librarians Are Embracing Digital to Promote 21st Century Learning

Every district and school is unique. Each faces unique challenges, strives to serve their students’ unique needs, and have access to unique sets of resources.

But, what they all have in common is a shared mission to connect students with as many reading opportunities as possible. That’s why school libraries of all shapes and sizes are continuing to embrace digital content as a vital—and growing—component of their service.

“A key to engaging more students in more reading is providing choice in format,” OverDrive Education Director Herb Miller, Ed. M., said. “Districts and schools are finding great success offering students the titles they want to read as eBooks and audiobooks.”

Let’s take a look at how three school libraries are evolving and expanding with digital:

Mesquite Independent School District (TX)

When the Mesquite Independent School District’s Library Services department set about updating its vision statement in 2009, the team determined it was time to expand the libraries’ digital footprint.

“We were saying ‘We want to offer more ways to get kids to read’,” Library Technology Facilitator Debbie Swartz said.

A large district serving 40,000 preK-12 students across 46 campuses in suburban Dallas, Mesquite did offer extensive nonfiction digital resources to support research and other curriculum-based needs at the time. However, students still had to visit the physical libraries for access to popular fiction.

By doing more to promote pleasure reading, Mesquite looked to create lifetime readers, not “school readers” who read only for academic purposes and largely ignore books after graduation.

“We believe that the 21st century library is about learning. Since reading is a fundamental skill for learning, we want to provide reading materials in every format that is available for our students,” Director of Library Services Mary Woodard noted.

Usage of Mesquite’s OverDrive Education digital library has grown steadily, reaching more than 83,000 checkouts during the 2016-2017 school year. The service has been particular valuable for:

ELL—Mesquite serves a large Hispanic population, with almost every elementary campus bilingual. To meet the reading and learning needs of these students, Swartz maintains a strong Spanish-language digital offering, which she can curate into a special collection for convenient discovery. The district also takes advantage of the multilingual interface available for their OverDrive-powered website, which allows the digital library to be navigated in Spanish.

Additional resources such as Read-Alongs are available to aid Mesquite’s ELL students. Read-Alongs are ebooks for developing learners that feature professionally-recorded narration that plays while students read highlighted text.

“It really helps to be able to hear it,” Swartz said of Mesquite’s growing collection of hundreds of Read-Alongs.

Supporting the youngest readers—Mesquite is currently undertaking an initiative that aims to have all students reading at grade level by third grade. Swartz has supported this effort by bolstering the district’s preK-2 digital collection, which has been featured prominently in a curated collection on the website.

“We really want to get reading in the hands of the little ones, in every format and every way we can,” she said.

Heim Middle School (NY)

Students at Heim Middle School (HMS) begin each day with a 20-minute independent reading session using ebooks on their 1:1 devices, a classroom program spearheaded by Library Media Specialist David Sala.

Sala said eBooks quickly became the preferred reading method for their convenience—students are never without their iPad or Chromebook—and the privacy they afford students who, for example, may be reading a title below grade level or that deals with a sensitive, personal issue.

“There isn’t a lot of time where students are out of the classroom looking for a book, and they don’t have to worry about being embarrassed about what they’re reading,” he said.

HMS is part of the Williamsville Central School District, which serves more than 10,000 K-12 students across 13 schools and has consistently been ranked as one of the top districts in western New York. Sala and other district leaders began considering ereading options several years ago as ebooks and audiobooks grew in popularity.

“We knew that we wanted to continue to offer library services to our school community that they would find useful and relevant,” he said.

Sala noted that making the shift to digital with OverDrive Education has also proven beneficial for the school library itself. He said librarians have become the go-to resource for questions about accessing ebooks and audiobooks and are the primary drivers behind what has become an extremely successful initiative.

“It’s really helped us be more relevant in the school community,” he said. “They’re thinking technology and the library together, which was exactly what we wanted to see happen.”

Lenoir County Public Schools (NC)

Located in the coastal plains of North Carolina, the Lenoir County Public Schools (LCPS) serve more than 9,000 K-13 (early college) students across 17 schools. A high-poverty district with 70 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, LCPS has a proud history of partnering with families and the community to achieve its mission—educating all students to be successful in an ever-changing world.

To that end, LCPS in 2012 partnered with OverDrive Education on launching a digital reading platform.

“Our primary goal has always been to offer our students and staff diverse and quality reading materials across all grade levels, available both at home and at school at any time,” Media and Technology Coordinator Charles White said.

While the district was BYOD at the time of its digital library adoption, it’s since undertaken a 1:1 iPad program for all students K-13. OverDrive’s universal device compatibility has allowed for uninterrupted access to the digital collection, with usage increasing at an even higher rate.

“I’m super excited about it,” White said about the reading and learning opportunities presented by the 1:1.

The 1:1 also opened the door to the introduction of digital class sets across all grade levels. As the name suggests, digital class sets are ebook versions of the titles that serve as a cornerstone of the ELA curriculum, and they’re growing in popularity for the advantages they present over traditional print texts.

“Our teachers just love them,” White said.

Fourth-grade teacher Nikki Sasser went digital for her classes’ study of Louis Sachar’s There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, which included projecting passages for group read-alouds.

“I believe my students are more engaged due to having it in digital form,” she said. “They seem to pay attention more and enjoy the digital experience of a book. It’s different and fun.”


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