Monday, December 3, 2012

eBooks and eReaders in the School Library

Booktalk Interview with Travis Jonker – Part 3
Part 3 of an interview I conducted with Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian in Michigan, founder and blogger of 100 Scope Notes, reviewer and  blogger for School Library Journal, former judge for CYBILS Awards, and member of the 2014 Caldecott committee.

You mentioned earlier the effect that has come from changes in technology and the rise of eBooks. Tell me other ways that has impacted school libraries.
Travis: Last year I wrote a grant in our school district to purchase eReaders. When it came through, we started a program where students could check out the eReaders and take them home like a normal book. It has been hugely popular. We keep trying to add more to keep up with demand. Whether you’re a school library or public library, there’s no denying that eBooks are going to be hugely important.  They’re growing so fast that I think now is the time for libraries to give it a shot.

What were some of your goals with the eReader program?
Travis: One of our goals when we started was to give all our students access to eReaders, especially kids that wouldn’t have access to that sort of thing at home. We felt that a lot of the features of eReaders would be good for students. They can take notes. They can change the fonts. A lot of times the eReader will even speak the words. There are a lot of features, especially for reluctant readers, that might engage the students a little bit more.

With the introduction of your eReader program, did you see a rise in reading with more students reading than before?
Travis: Definitely. We had students who hadn’t had the highest interest in reading before, but were very interested in checking out an eBook and reading it on an eReader device. It’s hard to know whether they were interested in trying something new or if they were interested in some of the eReader features that could make reading a better experience for them. But we had interest from kids who read all the time and from kids who weren’t really readers and hadn’t been checking out books very much. We have a waiting list for all five our eReaders that will take us all the way to the end of the school year. As soon as one comes in it goes out to another student.

What advice do you have for other schools that might want to kick off their own eReader or eBook program?
Travis: A big part is analyzing what you want out of the program. One thing to think about is what you want out of the experience. Do you want it to be mainly for reading? Do you want something where students will have more capabilities, such as from a tablet like an iPad, a Kindle Fire or something like that? That’s the first step. Once you settle on that, based on what your students need, you move forward from there.

I know cost is always a big issue for schools. Do you have advice for how schools deal with that as they look at launching their own eReader program?
Travis: That’s tricky. Our grant came from a local education foundation in our school district. But there are definitely other sources out there. FableVision Learning has an email subscription list that will send you different grants that are available. But in a lot of cases, school libraries are already portioning some of their budgets for digital spending, like databases or online subscriptions. So if a grant won’t work for them, they might need to look at using some of their digital funds for eBooks or eReaders. Or they might want to use a little bit of the money they would normally use on print and put it toward digital. I think more and more school librarians will have to put a little bit more money into the digital side of things.

Any other advice in terms of eBooks and eReaders?
Travis: That’s another situation where I think it’s just good to just jump in and try it. It is growing so quickly. Librarians definitely need to stay current and that’s a good way to stay current.

(Note: Travis recently wrote an article for School Library Journal about his school’s experience with its eReader program, which provides advice and guidance for other schools. You can read the article Travis's Excellent eReader Adventure at