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EdTech Update




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What do I do with 5 Kindles?


At workshops I've given this spring and summer, a number of librarians have told me they've received a handful of Kindles, Nooks or other e-book readers for use in their libraries and now don't really know what to do with them.

My first response is always a fudge. "Go read all the good stuff Buffy Hamilton has written about her e-book project. She's the real pioneer in this area." Buffy has really done a great job maximizing the benefit of her 10 Kindles in her "Unquiet" library and her project can be replicated. 

But my second response is this:


  1. Unless you already have the e-reading devices* in hand, cancel the order. Spend your money instead on e-books that can be read on as wide a range of students' own devices as possible. Take a hard look at Adobe Overdrive or FollettShelf. (I have no stock in either company.) The BYOD - bring your own device - are gaining footholds in a lot of districts where personally owned technologies that can be used to read e-books were previously forbidden.
  2. Have a purpose for any e-readers you purchase. Hopefully your readers weren't acquired just because somebody thought every library should have some. My basic technology rule is that any new technology must help one to achieve a result less expensively or efficiently or to achieve results that could not be done without technology. At this point in time if a school has to factor in the cost of providing hardware, it doesn't look like providing students Twilight on the Kindle is less expensive than in print. So the question has to be: what can the e-book do that print can't? Increase reading interest? Help developing readers? Enhance the reading experience with multi-media, social networking opportunities, increased access? Think hard about the "why" of such devices in your setting.
  3. Have a target audience for any e-readers you purchase. Select a group of readers within your school to test your e-book readers out with at any one time. Kids who are enthusiastic readers. Kids who are reluctant readers. Kids who are learning English as a second language. Kids taking a course with significant reading requirements. One can always rotate through these groups, but I'd focus on one group at a time for say an entire quarter or semester rather than just checking the devices out for a few day to anyone who asks.
  4. Collect data about your project. Buffy conducts surveys asking students about their reaction to the Kindles in her library. This might be the only kind of data collection one can do. Unless the readers were purchased specifically to do a specific research project with a control group measuring specific skills, I find it unlikely one would be able to do a study on whether kids read more or better because of having access to an e-book reader.


Don't get me wrong. I love my Kindle - I am on my third one. I now resent having to read a book in paper. I don't even have to spray the cover with "Classic Musty" fragrance anymore. (The LWW says I exude that odor naturally having been a librarian for so long.) But I don't know that providing e-book readers to students is either practical or wise.

Prove me wrong. What's your better plan?

See also: The E-Book Non-Plan

* I am consciously trying to clarify my terms: e-books are the content files themselves; e-book readers are dedicated devices (Kindle, Nook, etc); e-book reader apps are the programs that allow e-books to be read on tablets, smart phones, computers, etc.

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Reader Comments (13)

We just received word that our ebook (Nook) grant was declined. While I was disappointed a little at the rejection, inside I was glad too, as I didn't know how we would spread the love to 2300+ students with just ten or so devices. Instead, this fall we are implementing Overdrive as a portal for ebooks, and encouraging the BYOD format. I'm more excited about Overdrive (even though we are paying a whopping sum) so our kids can use whatever device they like. My admin has said if the stats warrant it, he will ask our district to pick up the tab next year and make it a district wide purchase.

I've sat back on the sidelines watching to see what would be the front runner in the ebook explosion. Sorry to say it is still undecided, which makes our investment into Overdrive absolutely the smartest move as we gravitate towards offering our students and staff a method to the madness we are going to experience with ebooks.

I personally can't wait to say we offer ebooks (more so than the free ones and ones available via computer and databases.) I cant wait to say we allow checkouts of ebooks from the pop culture our teens want to read. So I'm glad to see you have the same feelings I do regarding ebooks and devices. It just makes good sense, and what better way to show you are a good steward with district and state money?

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Jo Nelson

We have 5 Kindles, a few ipods with ereaders, a few iPads with ereaders and one new Color Nook. I am in an elementary school and having these tools available in the library is letting our youngest students know what is possible. I guess our bigger goal is to add these as opportunities for our students--so that they can see the many tools for reading. They are becoming part of the conversation in the school little by little. Our younges students are realizing that people can read books on their phone. Many can try out different tools to see which work for them. Younger kids can access great picture books on the color Nook. For me, it is about opening up possibilities for kids. Since we can't afford many, we have a few for kids to explore. We've also worked with our public library to work out helping our students borrow library ebooks on their own readers. We are finding with just a few, it is opening up what is possible for our kids--getting them experience reading in a variety of ways over time and noticing others doing the same.

Some of our students are doing their own research on which tool they prefer when it comes to reading. We are also hoping to use the Kindles with some book clubs to see how the highlighting and notetaking features add to the experience. Many are going home and trying out ereaders that their parents use. Some are finding they love reading with a kindle/nook. Others don't enjoy it once the novelty wears off.

I agree completely with what you said above in terms of ebooks, purpose, etc. We are just trying to put lots of opportunities in place and with limited funds, we would rather our students have options and see possibilities than to not have any tools available. I feel like our elementary library is a place to explore possibilities as learners so these 5 Kindles are helping us meet that goal, along with many other tools we have for our students.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFranki

Are any districts/schools exploring the use of the Kindle as a device for students to use in their required reading? I'm thinking of history/social studies/English classes, but any document can be transferred to a Kindle quite easily.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

For what it's worth, I'd say wait it out until someone comes up with an ebook solution that is actually flexible AND integrates with your current system seamlessly. I have experience with follett shelf and I'm immensely disappointed. It doesn't even integrate with the regular follett system yet! Our librarians that have it are having to maintain two different databases of user while using two products from the same company. Until one of thaws companies can get it together and provide a truly integrated system, I would forgo ebooks entirely.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterScott

Thank you so much for this post. Like many school librarians with shrinking or non existent budget, I am also at the cusp of deciding how to bring eBooks to my school library. While I admire Buffy Hamilton, Wendy Stephens and others who have forged ahead in this arena, I have questioned their approach for many of the same reasons stated in your post. I am tweeting this out via the Alabama School Library Association twitter account...perhaps it will be the topic of discussion at our next Twitter chat session #aslachat!

July 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNikki Robertson

I agree with all of Doug's points except for the first one---I am an advocate of ebook content that will work on many devices that may be owned by students, but remember that not all students will have a device of their own, so libraries should consider furnishing devices to students (and I would advocate choice in device based on the purpose--is it for a curricular project, independent reading?) If the library can provide students access to the device, then that is just another way to bridge the participation gap. In addition, Overdrive may be appropriate for older readers, but I doubt it is going to be the best choice developmentally for younger readers. At the end of the day, I think it is about offering choices and options in as thoughtful of a way as we can based on the needs of those we serve. What may be right for the students in one person's library may not be the best fit for students in another school.

Whatever model of e-book content delivery you are using and whatever devices you choose, know that there is no perfect fit---each and every option has its pros and cons. I'd also say be prepared that a decision that seems wise today may seem less than perfect in six to twelve months--this is a moving target for everyone as we try to determine the most effective choices and sometimes, failure or missteps are a vital part of that learning process. I am grateful for those who are pioneering this brave new world and sharing their practices to help the rest of us grow and learn.


July 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Hamilton

HI Cathy,

My sense is that in the long-run, you'll see that the declined grant is a blessing. And you already have a more impactful plan in place.


Hi Franki,

If you are dealing with a population of students who do not have access to personal devices, this sounds like a great approach to e-book readers. I'm glad a part of your efforts includes helping kids get access on their own tools.

Thanks for the comment,


Hi J,

But why single out the Kindle? Shouldn't we be exploring these new ways of accessing reading materials on each student's own reading device of choice?


Hi Scott,

This is certainly still an area of development and flux. I always try to be on the leading edge, not the bleeding edge. Thanks for your observation.


Thanks, Nikki. I too admire the work of Buffy and others. I think we learn something to every approach taken when new resources are developed.


Hi Buffy,

Wonderful points from a practicing librarian who has real experience. As you say, we learn from every approach and none will be perfect. I hope you noticed my little tribute to your work in this area in the post itself!


July 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Just because I've played only with the Kindle and not other readers, but I'm more interested in the concept than the specific hardware.

July 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

I am just about to launch a 12-Kindle pilot at an International school. There are no English bookstores in this country, and the ability to push copies of a current title across 6 machines for the same price as a single has my pulse racing. Also, I am hoping that the Gizmo Factor draws in as many girls as boys to book club. Recent titles. Choice. Electronics. Coolness. = Geekreadingfreedom. I like it.

August 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Lindsay

Awesome! Please let us know how that works out...

August 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

Hi Karen,

I've worked with enough international librarians to see how e-books may help overcome some customs and shipping problems. Very best of luck with your project.

What percentage of students served does 12 devices represent? Do you have plans to expand if this works out?

And yes, please let us know how this works.



August 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

This is just a pilot. I only drew 6 kids into a book club last year - my first year in this school - and thought I could do better. the issue was getting my hands on multiple copies of current titles, and letting the kids determine what those titles should be. My turn-around time on orders here is 12-15 months! If I can draw 12 kids in each 6-week cycle of After School Activity, I'll be dancing on air! After Christmas, I'll start circulating the Kindles, with a priority for non-fiction titles that I can't get in a timely manner.

Now to answer your question, my library program serves about 300 students, so what's that? Four percent?

August 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Lindsay

Thanks for the reply, Karen. You have this well thought-out and I am sure it will be very successful. Please keep me informed on what works and doesn't work for you and your library with your Kindles.

All the very best,


August 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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