Over the past year, there has been a lot of talk in school library circles about the best ways to provide books in digital format for students. In the Mesquite Independent School District, we’d been following with interest news stories of schools like Cushing Academy, where the majority of the print books were replaced with eBooks. This past summer when Amazon reported that eBooks had outsold hardcover books, it was clear that this was no flash in the pan, but an indicator that eBooks were now becoming mainstream.
Our library listservs are now full of conversation trying to figure out how to offer eBooks for students. Some schools have chosen to purchase sets of eReaders and pre-load content on them for circulation. Others are subscribing to eBook content though various vendors and allowing students to access them via computer. In Mesquite ISD, we opted to take the OverDrive approach, which gives our users 24/7 access to a digital library of approximately 4,000 eBooks and audiobooks via their own desktop/laptop computers, smartphones, eBook readers, and mp3 players.
Mesquite ISD is in a suburb of Dallas and has an enrollment of about 37,000 students. Each of our 44 campuses has a certified librarian who teaches information and technology skills using library resources. We believe that the 21st century library is about learning. Since reading is a fundamental skill for learning, we want to provide reading materials in every format that is available for our students.
As we began researching the best way to deliver eBooks, we found it was helpful to think of digital books in the same way that we think of other non-print formats. Libraries have been circulating VHS tapes, DVDs, cassettes, etc. for years, but not the equipment on which to play the content. We decided that we would follow this same model for delivery of digital content to our students, teachers, and parents.
On November 1, we were proud to launch the Mesquite ISD Digital Library in partnership with OverDrive, and proud to be the first school district in North Texas to offer such a service. Our library features material for students in grades K-12. The collection was selected by district librarians – one for each level (elementary, middle school and high school). While the focus of this collection is on pleasure reading, there is also a selection of professional titles available as well.
We were able to connect the Digital Library with our library management system so that every student and district employee has an account. Parents who would like an account can request one from their school librarian.
At the district level, we have promoted the Digital Library with our principals’ group, district PTA leaders, and Curriculum Council. Campus librarians have done demonstrations of the service for faculty, staff and students. Although more and more of our users have mobile devices and are interested in taking their books “to go”, we emphasize that this is not a requirement for using the Digital Library. All of the eBooks and audiobooks can be downloaded and enjoyed on a desktop or laptop computer. We were even able to have OverDrive’s Digital Bookmobile in the district right before the Winter Break. Over 400 students and teachers came through to learn about the Digital Library and how to use it.
All of our promotion seems to be working – we’ve had over 4,000 checkouts since the beginning of November. The digital library is a definite hit with Mesquite ISD library users!