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!

Mary Woodard is Director of Library Services at Mesquite Independent School District in Texas.

17 Responses to “School libraries go digital”

  1. Mary Woodard

    We identify an appropriate grade level range for items that we purchase. The Overdrive server connects with our ILS server to determine the grade level of the user. Elementary students only have access to materials that have been identified as elementary level. Middle school students can access middle school materials, plus elementary materials. High school students/adults have access to the whole collection.

    • Dan Stasiewski

      Hi Robb, the entire service is Web-based, including content purchasing and digital collection site hosting. No need to worry about storing anything additional on a school’s network or servers.

  2. Saima

    What has been the response like from students, parents and teachers? Do digital textbooks/ebooks enhance learning and exploring research? Have you noticed any changes in reading levels? Thanks.

  3. Mary Woodard

    There has been a lot of excitement about the Digital Library from students, parents and teachers, with a tremendous number of checkouts. It’s still relatively new, however, so we don’t have any data regarding improvement in reading levels at this time.

    We do expect to see enhanced learning, though. Research cited by Stephen Krashen in his book The Power of Reading indicates that students with access to more reading materials do, in fact, read more and do better on standardized tests. By providing reading materials in print AND digital format, we are increasing students’ access, during school hours and beyond.

  4. Lynda

    Are there different size title packages available, or do you have access to all e-books in the database and then just assign to various campuses based on grade levels and interests?

  5. Keri

    I am trying to get access to more e & audio books for my h.s. students. However I am running into roadblocks by our district’s tech. dept. They are afraid of viruses from student devices. I bought my own devices for students to use, but they are afraid of students downloading onto these as well & then infecting the system. They are also afraid of what the students might do with them.I am at my wits end because our exceptional learners really love & need them. Any of these issues with your program and if so, what was the solution?

  6. Debbie Norton

    The reading levels of my elementary greatly overlap with the reading levels of my middle school. For example, I can see your elementary range from .1 to 6.0 and your middle school range from 3.0 to 10
    What are the ranges of your campuses?

  7. Belinda Cashwell

    Are the e-books/audio books purchased for life with multi-user capability or is this a subscription based only type service? If subscription based, how much does it cost per pupil? Will the downloads support AR Enterprise and Reading Counts?

  8. Stephanie Harris

    Can students read the books from your school computers or do they have to have their own personal devices?

    • Brianne Carlon

      Hello Stephanie, eBooks provided by OverDrive can be used by students on their own personal computers or devices or on school-issued computers or devices that are assigned for the exclusive use by a single student. You can visit OverDrive’s Device Resource Center (http://overdrive.com/resources/drc/) to find devices that have been tested for compatibility. For more specifics, please contact sales@overdrive.com. Thank you! -Brianne

  9. Kathy Poulton

    I know Overdrive works with Amazon. Do they work with other vendors? Does each student need an Amazon account to access and download the ebooks?

  10. Michael Blosser

    What is the cost to have access to 4,000 titles?
    I am not clear with your previous comment. Did Overdrive provide the physical eReaders to your students? If not, did your school district supply eReaders to the students? If not either of these, how are the students accessing the digital library and if eReaders, what brand and model are you using?