February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Ebook Dilemma: Thoughts on Selecting the Right Ebook Model | Tech Tidbits

EH_141120_EbookModelsMy husband and I are both high school teacher librarians but in different districts. This is mostly awesome as we share ideas, innovations, and solutions. But sometimes there is also a bit of envy involved. For example, his district recently earned Race to the Top funds. There are lots of exciting things in store for the St. Vrain (CO) District, and the one that inspires the most envy in me is their expenditure of $200,000 to start a district-wide OverDrive ebook library.

I must frequently remind myself that it is futile to covet my husband’s resources. Every district, every school, and even every classroom has different demographics, tools, and human resources to draw from. Public education can never be a one size fits all paradigm. But I am still left wrestling with how to make ebooks available to my students.

I started my ebook journey three years ago by purchasing 198 FollettShelf titles. All of the books I purchased were one-student-at-a-time checkouts, but they were outright purchases which will remain in our collection forever. For example, I purchased The Hunger Games ($14.99), Catching Fire ($17.99), and Mockingjay ($17.99).  When I search the item number for these books now, I find that that Scholastic is no longer offering them. According to customer service at Follett, the pricing model for ebooks changed in November of last year; I will find the same pricing structure for most publishers.

Now, ebooks are available several ways: a 12- or 24-month rental for a single patron check out, an outright purchase for a single patron checkout, or an outright purchase for simultaneous use by multiple patrons. There are also books available for purchase which expire after a pre-defined number of checkouts. Most popular titles are sold with the rental model. For example, if I wanted to purchase “The Hunger Games” trilogy today, I could do so for a 24-month access, single patron checkout. Each book in the series would cost $12.99 each, but would disappear from my collection in two years.

These ebooks haven’t seen a lot of usage, as most of my students still prefer to have a paper copy in their hands, but I do believe it’s only a matter of time. Lacking a sudden influx of cash, I really need to make wise purchasing choices for my library and expanding my ebook collection by renting books seems wasteful. Maybe I’ll change my mind someday. After all, many of our books are popular for a year or two and then fall out of fashion as a new book or series is released, so the rental model would be an automatic weeding of my collection. But until more of my students start regularly using ebooks, I have found a model that meets my needs in a much more affordable format.

Brain Hive is an online ebook provider with 3,000-plus books in their collection. I have subscribed to their service and pay nothing until a patron checks out a book. So instead of purchasing a bunch of ebooks and hoping my students will like them and check them out before the rental period expires, I can encourage them to explore the Brain Hive collection and I only pay $1.00 for each book actually checked out. Recently, my student aide and I discovered that, for two dollars, we can each check out and read the same book at the same time! This is a model I can sell to my teachers who require students to read a novel each quarter. We often have students ask for multiple copies of a single title so they can read a book with their friend. The ability for several students to read the same book at the same time, allows me to encourage them to give the ebook format a try. The books are categorized by level: elementary, middle school, and high school, as well as genre. This is a wonderful opportunity for our struggling readers to access books at their reading and interest levels.

brain hive

It’s not all sunshine and roses, however. I can’t control what titles are in the Brain Hive collection, and some of the most popular books aren’t available. But they do have some award-winning titles, and their collection is growing all the time. For the time being, before I submit print orders, I’m going to first see if the wanted titles are available in the Brain Hive collection so I can avoid duplicating books and get the most for my limited budget.

I believe utilizing Brain Hive’s service will save me money because currently, very few of my students are checking out ebooks. For the month of October, our patrons checked out 487 print nonfiction books and 502 print fiction books. They checked out only six ebooks in total. Until the tipping point where students are using more ebooks than print, I feel that Brain Hive is a solid platform to introduce my students to the digital experience for a minimal investment.

See also: Ebooks Take Hold in Schools—Slowly

Krista Brakhage is a teacher librarian at Poudre High School, Fort Collins CO.




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  1. Patricia Womble says:

    How does billing for this work? My issue is how to budget for an unknown quantity.

    • You get to set a monthly budget which prevents checkouts once you reach the limit. Then you can pay by cc or are invoiced monthly. Super slick. Up the budget again and you’re good to go until you hit your new budget limit. PLUS you can buy several of the books outright if you know you’re going to have an entire class read a book. Then you have it forever!

  2. Cristofer Mattern says:

    Thanks for the article and the information in the comments. Very intrigued by the BrainHive format.

  3. Elizabeth Graham says:

    What platform do the students use to read the ebooks, a dedicated device from your library, their own ereader, or a laptop/tablet?

    • Krista Brakhage says:

      We are a 1-to-1 laptop school so our students use their laptops, but they also have a free app I’ve used on my iPad. I think they also have an Android app, but I haven’t used it myself.

  4. Kathi Rudko says:

    Krista- Can Brain Hive ebooks be added to your FollettShelf?? I have a FollettShelf of about 180 books, but would like to add ebooks from other publishers as well as more Follett titles. I believe Follett needs to make an “arrangement ” with publishers in order to list their collection on Titlewave. Do you have any ideas about this???