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Sunday, March 20, 2011

eBooks and eReaders: The School Library Solution

Remember going to the library as a kid?  I was never a big reader but I liked the library.  It was a powerful place to step into to.  Granted I love a Google search, but I still like sifting through books for answers or delving into a good story that launches me onto an amazing adventure.  Libraries in schools and in communities are very important places.  They make books accessible to students and communities.  Something we often take for granted, but shouldn't.  There are many places in this world that still limit what is accessible to people.  

Libraries face a lot of barriers in terms of keeping a selection available.  Budgets don't always allow for space to house the books, replacing worn out copies, providing multiple copies, so forth and so on.  eBooks and eReaders are opening up amazing new avenues to break many of those barriers down.  Schools are starting to see this, but unfortunately a model of what that really looks like is not always available right now.  It's more like a puzzle where all the pieces are there . . . we just need to put the puzzle together.  Some schools are approaching this in great ways though and libraries are the best place to start.  The best approach in my opinion is  . . . "Lend the library" by lending preloaded ereaders. It's actually pretty simple to do today with huge advantages.  Let's take a look:
    • Create "blocks" of 6 ereaders to an account
    • Use a generic designated email address for each "block" of 6 which will serve as the username on the service
    • Purchase ebooks on one and "sync" to the rest easily or simply sign onto the account for each "block" and make the purchase online and "sync" out to each device.
    • "Syncing" doesn't require hooking up to a computer either.  It's done right over the air using a WiFi connection.
  • Security and required credit cards are protected by enabling purchase password protection.  In fact, the credit card information is not accessible at all on the ereaders themselves.
  • Lending and tracking devices can be easily done through the serial numbers on the devices.
  • Access to even more books is expanded a great deal.  There are tons of 'public domain' ebooks which are often free.  PDF versions of ebooks can be manually loaded on to the ereaders.  So forth and so on.  
  • Students do not have to worry about internet access at home.  Once the ebooks are downloaded, they are on the device and do not require a signal to read them.  
  • eBooks don't wear out.  Yes, ereaders can break but since backups are always kept through companies like Barnes and Noble, once you replace the ereader and sign onto the account . . . all the ebooks come right back.  (Any manually loaded PDF's would have to be manually put back on which is often simple enough to do).
  • Schools could also create designated sets of ereaders for professional development books for educators to borrow using the same methods.  
  • Students can customize the text with resizeable text.  Students with vision impairments that need larger print . . . they got it in every ebook.
  • Libraries get more for less.  Even with the classics any library would be hard-pressed to find 6 exact copies of any title for free.  In the ebook world they can find pretty much every classic and easily get 6 copies exactly the same for free.  When it comes to regular books, the savings is huge and here's why:
    • We'll use a popular Young Reader's author, Mike Lupica, and his title "Travelling Team".  
    • As a paperback (which often wear out much quicker) the cost would be about $7.91 for each copy.  If you purchased 12, that would equal $94.92
    • As an ebook with 2 "blocks" of 6 ereaders, you purchase 2 copies at $6.99 each which becomes 12 copies.  So your total cost now for 12 copies of that title is $13.98 for a savings of $80.94.  And that's just one title.  
Note I didn't speak to textbooks here.  eTextbooks for schools really isn't there yet.  It's an entirely different publishing world and the books are much more complex to create the best educational reading experience.  eInk style ereaders can not accomodate these type of publications adequately.  Emerging tablets will be the way to go eventually with textbooks in my opinion.  

These are exciting new avenues, but they are difficult for many to "see" because they are vastly different from what we are used to.  Packaging up a library of books and lending that out to someone has never been a rational thought before.  In the ebook and ereader world it is possible and with huge benefits.  Buying one book and getting 5 additional copies never existed.  Now it does.  A library suffering physical damage that destroys the books is extremely difficult to rebuild and restock.  An ereader that is damaged and replaced can easily have all the books back on it in a matter of minutes by simply signing back onto the account.  Now if someone could just make that car that folds up into a briefcase like the Jetsons . . . 

What are your questions or thoughts?
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