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« Before we take the e-book plunge - redux | Main | Question of the week »

Before we take the e-book plunge

There must be something in the water lately since two of my corporate friends (yes, I have friends) called to pick my brain about what our district's plan is for adding e-books to our library/curriculum resources.

The plan is that there is no plan.

I've been wondering why I've dragging my feet even thinking about how our district should be using e-books, let alone creating any pilot projects or a long-term implementation. The only e-books that I see that are currently practical/useful are non-fiction books (mostly reference) that are accessed on research stations or from home computers. Relatively small bits of information extraction are their primary use - not extended reading.

My hesitation stems from a tremendous amount of uncertainity about e-books in general. Although I am a personal e-book reader and Kindle owner, I recognize this is a technology in churn. I hesitate as a public employee/educator to make a choice that results in someone having choosen BetaMax or 8-track look brilliant in comparison.

In order to avoid the ready-fire-aim approach to any technology implementation, I always look for two possible reasons we might decide to invest time, effort, credibility and money in a new thing:

  • Can I do the same thing I've been doing, but a significant cost savings?
  • Can I substantially improve learning opportunities for students and staff? (If Race for the Money Top gets implemented, the question may only be "Can I increase test scores?")

So these are the persistant questions I have about instituting e-books in my district that I would have of any vendor who wants me to buy them:

  1. What kind of device is required to read your e-books? What does it cost and how would you suggest I provide ready equipment access to all my students ? Can more than one reader access an e-book at a time? Can they put the e-book on a personally owned device, on portable devices, and can your e-books be accessed outside of school? Is there a time limit on how long a student can use one of your e-books?
  2. Will your e-books work with many different devices or just one proprietary device? Can your e-books be read on a device that also allows productivity software (word processing, multimedia production, etc.) to be used and that had a good webbrowser? Can text from your e-books be copy/pasted into student documents?
  3. How might your e-book collection be a better value than a print collection? Let's use these numbers as a starting point. Print collection of 10,000 volumes = $200,000 investment. Book life-span 20 years.  Used by 500 students. Cost of print collection per year per student: $20 (at 5% annual replacement rate.) Remember to factor in the cost of the equipment needed to read your e-books.
  4. Do your electronic texts offer any features that would help beginning/struggling readers? Text to speech, built in glossary or dictionary, video or animation, artificial intelligence? Do your e-books actually help kids read or just keep non-readers entertained? Do your e-books promote group discussions, reviews, commentary?
  5. If the collection is actually a subscription, not a purchase, how do I know that your company won't increase the price to a point we can't afford it? Or modify the collection so that teachers can't rely on having individual titles when building curriculum? Or that you won't align with a single publisher or three and limit the access to titles by other publsihers? How do I know the titles you are offering are high quality, aligned to the curriculum, developmentally appropriate?
  6. How can I evaluate the use of your e-books?

Any e-book implementation plan we have must INCREASE access to books to more students for more of the time. And save the district money as well. At the present time, I believe schools are adding e-books to be trendy, cuttin' edge - not to improve education.

I'm looking forward to hearing from librarians and teacher willing to prove me wrong. Really!


There is a SIGMS event tomorrow evening. Maybe Dr. Farmer has some answers for me! NOTE THIS HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED FROM FEB 18!

Tapped In Event - "Using E-Books in Your Library Program: An International Perspective"

Thursday, March 18 at 8pm ET/7pm CT/6pm MT/5pm PT

Facilitator: Lesley Farmer


Description: In this day, we must be mindful of preparing our students to function as global citizens. Attend this live chat event to discuss opportunities for developing international project-based learning in your school or district.


Directions to join the SIGMS Tapped In event:

1. In advance, go to and click on the link at the top left to sign up for free membership. Complete the short online form to join.

2. Receive your email confirmation to complete the registration.

3. Next, log in as a member at the welcome screen.

4. Scroll down on the top frame and click on the "Tapped In After School Online Event Calendar" link 5. Click on today's event "NEW!! ISTE International Media Specialists - eBook Collections" link 6. On the next page, click on the "Cybrarians" chat room. We will meet in this room.

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Reader Comments (11)

Hmm, points 1 and 2 sound a bit like a stand against DRM.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

I think libraries should advocate for open source ebook reader software and no DRM management on content!

February 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGreig

Well, we have reference e-books from Gale which are never used. Don't know why I spent the money. We have reference books on the shelves rarely used, so I guess I can justify the money? As I write, a faculty member asks if we have a dictionary.

Everything here is "Google it" so I have a hard time justifying much expense for reference/non-fiction, yet feel inferior when we have a student who needs a book on Moghikistan that we don't have. It seems we need basic reference/non-fiction in print for those occasions, but not a lot. However, e-books and e-book readers are a problem. We never get flash drives back because students use them as prized possessions ("I'll get it to you at the end of the year, I promise. I really, really, need it.") let alone an expensive reader that would never come back (fines don't matter much here). How would we ever get a plan or grant that would allow a librarian to buy a single copy of a book, upload it to all devices, and when it's checked out it disappears when it's overdue? There's no way we could ever pay for multiple copies, even if we could buy the devices. Our new fiction books are the only place in town (town library poorly funded) our kids can find something they want to read.

Then there's the firewall...

February 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob

I really like the questions you bring up here, Doug.

Money quote: "Any e-book implementation plan we have must INCREASE access to books to more students for more of the time. And save the district money as well. At the present time, I believe schools are adding e-books to be trendy, cuttin' edge - not to improve education."

In our district, the only vendor I have looked into prices the ebooks at a significantly higher price than their library rebound titles. Here is one example where the ebook is almost double the cost of a paperback:

eBooks should cost much less than physical books, and they should be accessible to multiple students easily.

February 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJethro

Asking critical questions about any and all new (or old) technologies is completely valid. A great quote I heard once related to edtech was, "when you get a new hammer, everything looks like a nail".

The things that intrigue me about ebooks, however, are:
- The potential to send content updates versus having to purchase a new textbook
- The potential to include multimedia in ebooks including audio/video, links, etc. versus just text/photos
- The potential to re-organize etext based on a user's experience; for example, if a student digitally highlights several pieces, those pieces could potentially be brought together along with other contexually relevant new material to help the student
- The potential to include a social networking/learning component. Imagine students being able to comment or annotate elements of an ebook and being able to see what other learners have commented on or dicsussed. Imagine seeing the different things everyone in a class has highlighted. Imagine comparing test scores to information about what areas or elements of an ebook students have spent the most time on. Imagine being able to embed quick assessments as you go through an ebook so the teacher can instantly see where students are at with specific concepts so she/he knows whether more time or additonal focus is needed.

February 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDanny Maas

Hi Doug,

I am exploring ebooks as well. I am opening a new high school in Texas that we are hoping will be a trendsetter in the electronic library world, and ebooks are going to be a piece of that puzzle. I have several of the same questions you did about the process, and I think we may have addressed many of them. While we still do not have all of the answers, I feel like we might be on the right track. Or vendor's reader is not perfect, but it is browser-based (no special devices), it has a dictionary, it times out after 15 minutes of inactivity, and it it a one-to-one license. The cost is low (about the same as a paperback) and we will pay no subscription fees; we own the book, but it sits on their server. I am ordering a mix of nonfiction and reference titles in addition to a few fiction titles. I'm not advertising here, so please email me if you have specific questions about what we're doing down here.



February 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLen

Hi Peter,

Oh, I think we're more in agreement on DRM that you think. My sense is that I dislike it for practical reasons, you are more politically/philosophically opposed.

Certainly make no sense for libraries!


Hi Greg,

It is certainly looking that way for practicalities sake!



Thanks for the report from the field. I agree there are some stupednous management hurdles!


Hi Jethro,

I agree. Unless the "book" has a lot additional features that are actually useful that a print book does not, companies should pass the savings on printing, shipping, storing, remaindering on to the customer.


Hi Danny,

I agree 100% - the potential of ebooks is enormous, especially for struggling readers or for learning difficult concepts. Thanks for the reminder.


Hi Len,

If you feel like, I am sure Blue Skunk readers who love to hear more about your experiences. I don't mind calling out vendors who provide good solutions in real schools.

Thanks for considering it,


February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

I think there's a disconnect with some teachers and Kindles/ebooks. We just fielded a request from an ELL teacher who wanted to purchase Kindles as a way of "motivating" kids to read. Terrible rationale for buying something that is $250 plus. I'm sure kids will think its a neat new toy they want get their hands on, but enthusiasm wanes. They need to be motivated to read for intrinsic purposes, not because you get to use the newest piece of hardware in the district.


February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNathan

Hi Nathan,

I agree with you completely. Kindle tries hard to make the experience reading it as close to reading on paper as possible. I don't think it will turn non-readers into readers. You don't even get decent pictures. I like mine, but for the convenience on long trip more than any reading pleasure it gives me specifically.

All the best,


February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

My district has jumped into the ebook market primarily for non-fiction for secondary students and both non fiction and a taste of fiction for lower grades. Are we doing this to be trendy? Absolutely not. We're trying to provide quality resources around the clock in hopes of luring some from getting everything from google etc. We know that our students rarely will sit in the library after school and spread reference books around a table and dig for information. That is so not this century! We feel it's our responsibility to provide vetted academic resources to our students at the point of need. Simultaneous unlimited access to materials seems to be the answer for us. I'm diligently keeping usage stats and will be able to tell over time whether or not we have hit the mark.

February 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVicki Fisher

HI Vicki,

I hope your stats prove this to be a success! Thanks for sharing your view.


February 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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