May 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Ebooks Take Hold in Schools—Slowly

THinkstock_ebook_imageSixty-six percent of schools nationwide offer ebooks, up from 54 percent in 2013, and overall, the figure is steadily growing, according to School Library Journal’s fifth annual “Ebook Usage in U.S. School (K–12) Libraries” report.

While ebook collections in school libraries have grown between 2010 and 2014, with growth projected to continue, the median number of ebooks per school remains low at 189 titles in comparison to 11,300  print books in a school collection.

The slow growth of ebook adoption in typical school libraries is attributed to limited access to ereading devices and cost of ebooks, according to the report, released in October 2014 and sponsored by Follett. Low ebook usage is also due to user preference for print books, lack of student awareness of ebook availability, and lack of training about the downloading process.

School-owned devices are most often used to read library ebooks, reported at 92 percent (same as last year’s figure), with the school desktop computer as the favored platform at 68 percent and student-owned tablet at 52 percent (up from 39 percent last year). Dedicated ereaders jumped in use from 30 percent in 2013 to 50 percent this year.

The iPad/iPad Mini is the top-circulated device, especially for younger readers, at 54 percent (ever increasing in popularity since 2010), with the Kindle a distant second at 28 percent, and the Nook at 24 percent. (Both the Kindle and Nook are decreasing in circulation.) IPads are tops for reading in schools that have implemented a 1:1 device program at 64 percent. (Seventeen percent of survey respondents say their schools currently have a 1:1 program in place.)

“There is no denying this is the future of libraries,” says one survey respondent. “We still have many, many students and teachers who prefer to have print books, but because of cost and maintenance, constant care, and a never increasing budget, it makes more sense to purchase digital books that can’t be lost, destroyed, or held hostage by the patron.”

Elementary schools demonstrate the highest increases in ebook usage, with one ebook use per every three elementary students. In middle schools, the ratio is 1:7, and in high schools, 1:13. Ebook circulation spiked in 2014 with a median of 100 ebooks circulated, up from 25 the previous year (with increases reported every year since 2011).

Click image to view survey.

Click image to view survey.

Library media centers estimate they spent a median of $402 (mean $1,199) on ebooks in 2013−2014, however 20 percent of libraries reported spending no money on ebooks, acquiring  them instead through state, district, or consortium membership. (Only 13 percent of school libraries currently participate in consortium licensing.) Twenty-four percent purchased a subscription to licensed ebooks, up from 20 percent last year. School librarians don’t like paying for a one-year license, because the survey cites, schools are only open for 10 months.

The percentage of materials budgets spent on ebooks has declined slightly from 2013 (4 percent) to 2014 (3.4 percent). The largest dip is in elementary schools—3.6 percent in 2013 to 1.9 percent in 2014. While the materials budget remains the biggest source of funding for ebooks, schools have turned to alternate sources such as book fairs (18 percent) and donations or other types of fundraising efforts (14 percent). Schools also rely on the public library to provide popular ebooks and focus school library ebook spending on titles related to the curriculum. School libraries expect ebook spending as a percentage of their total materials budget to quadruple—from 3.4 percent to 13 percent—in the next five years.

This report consists of responses from 835 U.S. school libraries fielded in late Spring 2014. The complete 125-page report is available for free in PDF format, courtesy of Follett. A companion survey and report was created for U.S. public libraries by Library Journal.

Carolyn Sun About Carolyn Sun

Carolyn Sun was a news editor at School Library Journal. Find her on Twitter @CarolynSSun.



  1. Cynthia Lewis-Jessup says:

    Maybe it’s not so bad to keep the kids on print.

  2. b vasilakis says:

    I was ready to go full force into ebook purchasing. Then the publishers started “renting” by the year. If there is a reason why there has been a drop between 2013 and 2014 maybe they should look at that. I won’t by an ebook for one year or even two any more than I would buy a print copy for a year. Shame on those publishers that think this is a good idea for school libraries. Change this policy and I am ready to buy.