Friday, March 21, 2014

eBooks at Moultonborough Academy

The evolution of the ebook marketplace

In Carolyn Foote's recent post on the evolution of the ebook market, she discussed some of the benefits and challenges of the current ebook trends and she discusses where she envisions the market going. It's a short read, and it made us think of what happens in the background, where most users of the library never venture.

We already explained how students can check out ebooks using Overdrive in a previous blog post. In this post, we'll explore our thought process and how we actually acquire ebooks by exploring those benefits and challenges that Foote presents.

The most important question to develop the collection is to decide the direction in which to head. Will material be fiction or nonfiction? We made the decision to mainly purchase fiction material. Nonfiction items that support the curriculum are often checked out by teachers and used by more than one class at the same time, something we cannot do with eBooks at the moment at a reasonable price. Some ebooks are available with unlimited access, but the cost is prohibitive. We also avoid the collection challenge of managing metered access books by only purchasing actual copies of books. And we add nonfiction items for smaller classes and curriculum items where it is unlikely there will be a demand for the same book from two or more students at the same time.

The first significant challenge is the variety of vendors and platforms on which ebooks are available. Early on in the process of acquiring ebooks, we made the conscious decision to purchase only from one vendor at this time. Some vendors offer to host all ebooks from other vendors, but for a fee, while most vendors limit their ebooks to their proprietary platform. This avoids the issue of students having to use different apps to locate the books they are looking for. It does mean that we do limit ourselves to what our vendor has available, but if we cannot find an ebook version we're more than happy to purchase the print version, usually at a lower price.

We advertise our eBooks through daily new books messages, by posting on Pinterest, on the library's webpage, and through social media like Instagram (MALibrary). The inability to display hard copies of the book is problematic, but we print color copies of each book along with a summary and prominently display these on a rotating basis in a major hallway frequented by all students at some point during the school day. We also publish a "What's new" newsletter in the library that highlight these books as well. Circulation for eBooks currently averages about 10% of the entire collection, but as more books are purchased, we hope to increase how many books are checked out.

Budgets being limited, we make sure to purchase ebooks at reasonable prices or during sales. We do not purchase books that are more than three times their print costs, but instead will get their print version at the regular price.

Ebooks also have many advantages. The ability to order and have it available for students in less than a few hours. Talk about instant gratification! If a title is needed right away, it's less than 24 hours to order it. By buying only a few books at a time, we can keep our "new" section fresh and attractive, and it adds to the overall collection by deepening the selection.

We also agree with Foote that advantages include the ability of students to check out books anonymously and not be intimidated by the size of the book since it's impossible to see how big an ebook would be before checking it out. We compile information on how many checkouts and what titles are popular, but we do not know who checks out the material. Finally, the interaction between the reader and the content, with students both looking at the text, listening to the text, and touching the device helps them focus on what they are reading.

The final advantage of ebooks that Foote did not mention is the ability of authors to create shorter novellas or other works around their novels. For example, Lissa Price released several short stories, Portrait of a Starter, Portrait of a Marshall, and Portrait of a Donner, to go along with Starters and Enders solely as eBooks. Those who enjoyed these books will also enjoy the background information and the point of view in the shorter works, but they are not available in print.

Electronic books are here to stay, and we plan on adding to our collection so that as we transit to a full 1:1 school, we will have an extensive collection of books available for students and staff to support both the curriculum and pleasure reading.

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