EBooks—Has Their Time Come?
The ongoing dilemma over eBooks continues to bring more questions than answers. While eBook sales have increased exponentially in the last five years, nobody has them quite figured out. We have now reached a tipping point where eBooks are beginning to outsell print books; and yet despite eBooks’ growing popularity, librarians continue to grapple with the issue of how best to integrate them into library collections. Ebooks elicit mixed reactions because they are still in many ways a mixed bag. As the debate over eBooks rages on, school librarians are coming together to establish best practices and support each other’s initiatives.
The need for this was crystallized in Dawn Nelson’s American Association of School Librarians (AASL) program, “EBooks—Has Their Time Come?” Nelson began by posing the question “Why hasn’t their time come?” and shared lessons learned from her numerous eBook pilot projects in Independent School District 279, Osseo Area Schools in Maple Grove, Minnesota. In terms of the major challenges, purchasing questions persist, as do concerns about equipment maintenance and sustainability. Nelson spoke to the need for a paradigm shift related to how eBooks are thought of and allocated into school and library budgets. This will require school librarians to advocate and communicate differently for their collection development needs. She also shared tips about e-reader purchasing decisions (Kindles, Nooks, iPads, etc.) and maximizing spending decisions in light of budget constraints. The lack of standardization related to cataloging eBooks is also a challenge, as are internet access and safety issues for schools with open networks.
Nelson presented to a large crowd, and the number of people in attendance is indicative of the growing interest in offering eBook access in K–12 settings. Given the ambiguity that surrounds eBooks’ implementation, she encouraged audience members to share successful models and pose their questions to the group. What followed was an interactive program focused on creatively addressing the key obstacles that hinder eBook adoption in school libraries. Participants left with a myriad of ideas of how libraries across the country are acquiring and managing eBooks, as well as a list of suggested resources for further exploration.
The question of “How do we deal with these things?” continued to surface throughout the discussion. Nelson concluded the program with the message “Stay tuned, and keep in touch—we are all in this together,” which is a perfect way to characterize the ongoing nature of this dialogue. Much remains unclear, but as more school libraries take the “eBook plunge,” AASL will surely convene similar programs in years to come.
Jessica Hernandez is a librarian at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s FDA Biosciences Library. She is a 2009 graduate of the University of Arizona’s Knowledge River Program and is currently pursuing a M.S. in Educational Technology.