Here Be Fiction

Posted Monday, July 15, 2013 - 11:34
500+ ebooks for school librarians to read, review
Screenshot of the Here be Fiction website

In medieval times, so the story goes, uncharted areas of maps were marked with the ominous notation “here be dragons.” While satellites have allowed precise mapping of the Earth, there are still plenty of non-geographic unknowns to be explored—like reasonably priced fiction ebooks with library-friendly terms. And thus was born Here be Fiction, a discovery platform to help school librarians find fiction ebooks with terms to meet our unique needs.

Over the past few months, my MPOW team and I have worked with Mackin and School Library Journal to create a summer reading program that will allow school librarians to read, rate, and review ebooks. Today, the School Library System of the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership, a New York Board of Cooperative Educational Services, is pleased to announce the opening of Here be Fiction

With more than 500 ebooks from 17 participating publishers, the website provides a comprehensive “summer reading style” program where registered school librarians will read and review books. The site will remain open to all visitors to help even more schools and libraries with book selection using a wish-list feature. Looking ahead, Here Be Fiction will again allow librarian reviewers to access books for free during future school vacation times.

For school libraries, nonfiction ebooks have become quite civilized. Nothing wild or mysterious about most of them, though new types of interactivity do continue to push the boundaries. But fiction? Librarians are still in the first stages of exploration. Early adopters have made some trips into the uncharted waters with varying degrees of success. Nobody seems sure of which way the wind blows when it comes to ebook fiction, and the maps are still heavily marked with dragons.

Those uncharted waters are both the problem and the solution. The core issue isn't a lack of high-quality fiction ebooks for school and public libraries serving school-aged children). The problem is that we don’t really know what we already have available to us right now. We need to go explore those collection-development realms marked as “here be dragons.”

Thanks to Mackin’s strong connections with K–12 focused publishers, many have agreed to provide free access to the ebooks for registered readers and reviewers. The books will be delivered through MackinVIA with online reading and offline apps for iOS and Android. School Library Journal is providing additional press support and editorial content on the use of ebooks in schools and libraries.

Publishers have been incredibly positive about this new venture. Many of these companies have been publishing fiction for decades with little notice. As is often noted on the internet, attention truly is a most valuable commodity. Here be Fiction connects an audience of potential customers who are actively seeking fiction ebooks with publishers who are already selling the desired product.

The site is open for any publisher who agrees to three simple terms for licensing:

  1. Ebooks can be multiuser or single-user, but single-user ebooks must have a method for easy purchasing for bulk groups of simultaneous readers (e.g., for a class novel or book club book) at some sort of discount.
  2. Ebooks must be made available for offline reading on a secure platform such as MackinVIA to help us provide access for students without Wi-Fi at home.
  3. Whenever possible according to platform capabilities and author contracts, books should have text-to-speech capabilities enabled to support students with special needs.

Other than those requirements, this is an open marketplace for discovery. There is no fee for registered readers, and the reviews will be open for public access without even having to create an account. The website is being hosted by the School Library System of the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership at cost. Mackin and SLJ have given support in staff time and resources to make this a success without any direct monetization.

In short, we are working together across our different roles and even with publishers for the good of the profession. We all want to find an answer to the ebook question, and with Here be Fiction we might just find some great new reads along the way.