As the librarian who coordinates OverDrive for my school district (thirteen librarians and approximately 10,000 students), I spend a lot of time with OverDrive and have been able to give the service a considerable amount of thought. I think digital reading services are a really good fit for school age kids for a variety of reasons and here’s why…
OverDrive and other digital reading services are respectful of student privacy. Kids may feel self-conscious about what they are reading for a variety of reasons. Some kids read well below grade level, and they don’t want their peers to see what they are reading for fear of being made fun of. Some kids have reading likes that are different than what they think their peers read (I had a fifth grade male student who liked reading books that he feared his peers might see as teen romance novels written for girls). For these youths, these services provide a safe environment for them to explore their interests and reading needs. It allows them to borrow materials that they might not check out if they had to bring it up to the circulation desk in front of other kids, their parents, or even an unknown adult.
OverDrive offers over 2,500 picture books in a “Read-Along” format. These narrated books allow children to follow the words of the actual book while it is read aloud to them. This feature helps build literacy in emerging readers and children who struggle with improving their reading skills. While I know many of us (myself included) recognize the importance of the social interaction between a child and an adult who reads to him or her, the “Read-Along” format can be a valuable supplement and reinforcement of what kids are learning in school, in their libraries, and from their families.
Ebook collections generally operate (OverDrive certainly) with twenty-four hour remote availability. That means your kids can access ebooks whether they are five hundred miles away visiting nana, or next door. They can access your collection in July if your school library is closed for the summer. They can borrow ebooks even if they can’t get a ride to the library because the buses are not operating when they can go. If your kids have access to wifi and a computer or device to read on, they have access to ebooks. The benefits of this go without saying!
One thing that I was surprised to learn is that at least one major children’s publisher offers a significantly larger selection of ebooks to public libraries than it does to school libraries through OverDrive. I had no idea that this was the case until one of our students brought his device to one of my colleagues and asked about downloading a book from our public library’s OverDrive collection that was unavailable to us in the school library marketplace. I assume that this is a business decision based on other products this company offers. While it is disappointing from the school library perspective, it opens up the opportunity for dialog between public and school librarians. This might, in turn, lead to greater collaboration on matters of collection development and instruction related to digital resources…as well as other topics.
Finally, we have to recognize the role technology plays in the lives of kids. Numerous studies show that the great majority of children have access to smart phones, tablets and computers, even among low-income families. While there are certainly good reasons to believe that not everything about the rise of technology has made life better for kids, it is impossible to deny that technology has become one of the ways that kids relate to and shape their world. Digital reading services give us the opportunity to direct that eagerness and energy in a way that is helpful and productive to the development of young people and the skills they need to function.
Our students are incredibly enthusiastic about reading ebooks on their personal electronic devices. They love looking for ebooks, checking them out, and downloading their selected titles. My colleagues and I are delighted by this reception. On a deeper level, the decision to develop a digital reading collection has helped our school libraries to be seen as more relevant and visible in our school community. How great is that?!?
Dave Saia is a librarian at Heim Middle School in Williamsville, New York, and is a member of the ALSC School Age Programs and Services Committee.