Use of e-readers in school libraries

Initially as school librarians field-tested various e-book services they saw the circulation of  pre-loaded e-book readers as one solution to the problem of how to integrate  e-books into a traditional  school library’s acquisition system. The e-books were catalogued in the usual way but the catalogue record informed the user that the book required was stored on an e-book reader. The reader was then issued,  just like any other item borrowed from the library, and duly returned at the end of the loan period. There were a range of logistical difficulties in loaning e-readers though and the whole process of downloading the books, charging the devices, and cataloguing the titles was very time consuming.

Over the years librarians have discovered further disadvantages to using e-readers in the school library situation. These include:

  • their unpredictable life span  – in the world of e-Publishing, there are already many devices available on which to read e-books, and there will be many more to come – but they all have an obsolescence cycle. It is important to remember that companies can remove support for a device at any time, effectively leaving them unusable and useless.  In 2014, Sony who had originally helped pioneer the e-reader, closed down its entire e-reader business in America, Europe, the UK and Australia and informed users that they would have to transfer to the Japanese owned Kobo. Similarly in March 2016 Barnes and Noble announced that it was removing all support for its Nook e-readers here in the UK. Fortunately a deal was struck with Sainsbury’s to transfer all customer accounts to the supermarket and Nook users should still  be able to access “the vast majority” of their already purchased e-books. However, this can only really be guaranteed for bestsellers, lesser known titles not stocked by Sainsbury’s will just be lost to Nook readers forever!  A sad reminder that you never actually own your e-books (the ones with DRM). You have a licence agreement to read them which the digital retailers can revoke it at any time. This was proved when Amazon deleted everybody’s copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from their Kindles. It was a mistake and soon rectified but this incident goes to show just how little control we have over the e-books we “buy”.
  • platform lock-in and lack of interoperability –  every dedicated e-reader worth buying is tied to its own exclusive  e-book formats and bookstore. This means you’re generally limited to that store’s selection and prices, and stocks vary considerably e.g. in 2015 Kobo removed newspapers from its subscriptions and while its magazine subscriptions still  remain available they can only be read on iOS and Android tablets, not on Kobo e-readers. The Amazon Kindle is restricted to the MOBI e-book format which is not compatible with major e-book distributers such as Overdrive that supply their digital material in the more popular PDF and e-PUB formats used by the other major e-readers. An important consideration if your school is planning investing in an e-book platform
  • the red tape involved – before loaning e-readers to students it is crucial to draw up a loans contract setting out the terms and conditions of use. Parents must sign accepting responsibility for any loss or damage to loaned e-readers; and pupils must agree to only use the device to read books the school has downloaded and not to use the device to surf the internet or for downloading additional material.
  • purchasing the e-books could be tricky – school purchase orders are not acceptable as payment has to be made online so a credit/debit card has to be used. Most school librarians do not have access to their school credit card, so they have to use either their own personal accounts to purchase e-books or use gift vouchers, but these are not always easily available.  However, using gift vouchers is a way to limit anyone’s attempts at an unauthorized buying spree! In the case of the Kindle it’s just a one click buy, so you also have to find a way to stop your students buying loads of random books!
  • loaning  e-readers – this can be an absolute legal minefield mainly because of the confusing and potentially damaging contractual language contained in each different e-reader’s terms of use.   Amazon in particular states that Kindles are for personal use only; and it is breaking the terms of your agreement to lend a Kindle device out. Some schools have chosen to register and use their Kindles only in the library in the hope of getting round this problem!   Similarly the content of a Kindle, Amazon states  is “solely for your personal, non-commercial use…may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense, or otherwise assign any rights….”. Worse, the contract states that Amazon reserves the right to terminate, without warning, a user’s account, delete its content, and render hardware unusable.   The SLA have issued their own warning about the use of Kindles in school libraries. See their  blog. So if you have already bought Kindles then you may be in a very difficult position.
  • sharing books across devices – usually one e-book purchase can be downloaded to 6 different devices but sometimes these devices have to be registered to the same account. But once you have shared the maximum number of times, sharing e-books stops.  This means that once you have assigned the book to the allowed number of devices, those devices “own” those books and they cannot be pulled back into the archive and assigned to other devices. If they could, each book could be downloaded to different devices infinitely, which is clearly not what the publishers want! Some e-readers such as the the Kindle allow you to lend an e-book in your library to another reader with the same type of e- reader  for a period of two weeks, but the book is then unavailable to you for the two week lending period and there are only some books that have this facility

For these reasons it seems librarians now prefer to be able to circulate e-books that users can download to their own e-book readers. However if you are one of many libraries who have launched pilot programs to get e-readers into the hands of students or have allowed them to bring their own devices to school, there’s mostly just anecdotal evidence from librarians about how well these programs are doing.

Suggested use of an e-reader in school (other than just to enhance the leisure reading experience!)

  • To house books that otherwise would not be purchased by the library e.g. a full set of the classics
  • Accommodating pupils with special educational needs
  • Book clubs
  • Social networking – reader manufacturers are increasingly adding social media functions to their offerings e.g. Kobo has ‘Reading Life’. Using these tools, you can engage in conversations about e-books, share thoughts, make recommendations and in some cases, even lend or borrow titles
  • Class lessons/research – e-readers offer the capability of highlighting text and making notes without worrying about permanently vandalizing the book.

Recommended reading for everything you want to know about the world of electronic books and readers. There are reviews, sales, deals and a great blog too

(Last updated by Denise Reed on  1 May, 2017)




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