E-books for your school library

Image: e-Book Readers Galore by Michael Porter

E-books bring opportunities and issues for your school, its library, and your students. Making sound decisions on e-books will require you to keep up-to-date with developments around copyright, devices, delivery, availability and sources.

Acquiring e-books (items created digitally or digital versions of print material) will require you and your team to consider and research a number of issues. Your decision about adding e-books to your collection should be in the context of a well thought out collection development strategy, documented by you and your school library team.


e-Reading – trends
e-Book buying – trends
e-Reading – benefits and concerns
e-Books in your school library – what to consider
Formats and devices
Bring your own device - BYOD
Selecting e-book titles
Providing access to your e-books
Keeping up-to-date

e-Reading - trends

According to the Pew Internet Project (Jan 2014) e-reading is on the rise while print reading is slightly in decline. But, the Pew Internet report on The rise of e-reading (April 2012) also states that people who enjoy e-reading are also more likely to enjoy print reading as well. So while there is a lot of emphasis on, and discussion about digital resources, print resources will continue to have an important place in your school library collection.

Other evidence for this trend comes in a report from the Digital Book World Conference. This report claims that children’s e-reading is growing at a fast pace with “two-thirds of children 13 and under now reading digital books—and with 92% of those kids doing so at least once a week.”

e-Book buying – trends

While big sellers such as the Hunger Games can skew trends in e-book buying, the Publishers weekly reports that e-book buying for teens at least is set to rise. Quoting research from Neilsen, PW further reports that:

teen readers who prefer to read e-books rose to 21% in the fall of 2013 compared to 19% in the fall of 2012. While most teens said they still would rather read print books, the increased interest in e-books, combined with the fact that more than 40% of teens already own or plan to buy an iPad, Kindle Fire, iPad Mini, iPhone, or iTouch, suggests that children’s e-book sales are certain to steadily rise.

Further predictions, reported in The Bookseller for the UK e-book market by accounting group PwC, suggest e-book sales will outstrip hardback and paperback by 2018.

e-Reading - benefits and concerns

Research on the effects of e-reading on children and reading comprehension is still in its infancy. Some research indicates that e-reading motivates children to read more. Other research suggests e-reading may have a detrimental effect on the ability to read more demanding linear texts.

Key findings from an e-books test project conducted in New South Wales included the following benefits:

  • 41% of students were reading more than usual
  • 47% of teachers indicated students were enjoying reading more, with 21% believing reading skills were much improved
  • Students believed using e-books improved their writing and creativity and reading independently
  • Teachers and teacher librarians say the greatest benefit was in reading comprehension

However, the New York Times referred to research by Schugar and Schugar of West Chester University, in which:

they asked middle school students to read either traditional printed books or e-books on iPads. The students’ reading comprehension, the researchers found, was higher when they read conventional books.

In a second study they looked at students’ use of e-books and found young readers often skipped text, engaging instead with the books’ interactive visual features. The writers emphasised the importance of teachers helping young readers, particularly in transferring print reading skills over to e-book reading.

On 6 April, 2014 the Washington Post published an interview with cognitive neuroscientist, Maryanne Wolf. She observed that online reading develops a very different and more superficial approach to reading, which might interfere with the skills needed for more in-depth processing. Rather than sacrifice one or other reading style, the article suggests there is a need for a bi-literate brain, which can use the best of print reading and online reading skills.

e-Books in your school library – what to consider

E-books are just another format you can use to encourage and support reading and research in your school community. However, you do need to be aware of and consider the following issues if you are considering adding them to your collection.

Digital rights management (DRM)

To prevent illegal lending and copying, publishers apply digital rights software to e-books. Usually if you buy an e-book from a supplier such as Amazon or Whitcoulls, it is for personal use only. For libraries worldwide this has meant that it has not been legally possible to buy e-books and add them to their catalogues for patrons to borrow.

To legally lend e-books libraries must buy e-books through companies that have negotiated the DRM with publishers and can pass that right onto the libraries - unless the e-book is legitimately available without DRM.

At present (August 2014) New Zealand school libraries can use a small number of companies to legally add e-books to their collections:

Non-DRM sources

Some e-books are in the public domain. This means they are freely available for lending. Websites that provide access to free e-books include:

Your local public library may also provide access to e-books and e-magazines. You could consider these resources as an extension of your own collection and suggest that students and teachers try these. This may give you an idea of:

  • the extent of titles available
  • how much they interest your community
  • a sense of the interest in using e-books.

Formats and devices

The relevance of an e-book collection to your school community will depend to some extent on your community's access to devices to read them on. Interaction with, and surveys of your students can help you gain insight into their access to, level and type of device ownership.

It pays to research content compatibility across platforms carefully, as some e-readers will only read e-books in specific formats. 

In the Stuff article, E-readers make easy reading on the move, Claire Rogers suggests you investigate the formats an e-reader supports and the range of books available in that format.

[E-books] come in a range of file formats and e-readers support different formats. PDF, HTML and ePub are the most common file formats, while Amazon uses a proprietary file format called AZW for its hugely popular Kindle. You can download software to convert AZW e-books to other formats so other e-readers will recognise them, while software such as Calibre can convert ePub books so they can be read on a Kindle.

Other e-book providers such as Kobo also have apps for reading their e-books on smartphones and tablets. Many devices that support the ePub and PDF formats, including Kobo e-readers, use Adobe's e-book management software, Adobe Digital Editions 

For more information on e-book formats and the differences between them, check out this Guiding Tech article.

Devices - single purpose or multi-purpose

As with e-books there is debate about what kind of device is best for e-reading. Many people like dedicated e-readers such as the Kindle and Kobo.They are light to hold, use e-ink technology which makes reading more comfortable on eyesight, and have a long battery life.

However, the purchase of e-readers is rapidly decreasing. More people are opting for tablets and smartphones, which they can use to read e-books as well as use for other purposes.

Bring your own device (BYOD)

A growing number of schools are implementing BYOD policies. One advantage is that BYOD saves the school money. The cost of devices is spread among the school population, but it does raise issues of equity for schools where students can’t afford their own devices. The Manaiakalani Trust is one school community that has developed an alternative approach. Nine decile 1a Auckland schools in Glen Innes, Panmure and Pt England have developed a programme to help parents buy netbooks for their children.

It is important to get infrastructure right when considering BYOD. One of the very first things to think about is whether your school has a decent internet connection, and whether you're on Ultra-fast Broadband.

Selecting e-book titles

Well thought out collection development policies should guide your selection of e-book titles. The same principles apply to purchasing or subscribing to e-books as they do to any item that you acquire for your collection.

Your students’ literacy and learning needs should always be central to any collection development decisions.

Providing access to your e-books

Ideally your e-books should be catalogued to the same standards as any print item and made available through your online library catalogue. This allows students and teachers to find your ebooks along with any other relevant items.

e-Books purchased through Wheelers, Overdrive, World Books and BorrowBox have catalogue records you can download into your catalogue. Other freely available e-books and online resources can be catalogued using the item’s url.

Some sites will provide cataloguing details. For example, you can link from your catalogue to an item from the International Children’s Digital Library

Keeping up-to-date

Developments in e-books, DRM and reader/tablet technology move quickly so you will need to be up-to-date if you decide to add e-books to your collection. You can stay abreast of issues in this area through blogs and online magazines such as: