Ebooks and beyond in the school library

"Nothing endures but change" Heraclitus (c. 535 BC - 475 BC)

Libraries around the world are being challenged by one of the most disruptive technologies since the advent of the Gutenberg Press (Polanka, 2012) and school libraries are no exception. This technology has caused ructions between publishers, authors and libraries; spawned numerous debates within the library and information sector and is demanding a partial or even complete overhaul of library management systems and policies. Amazon heralds it as one of their fastest year-over-year growth market in both units and dollars in over 10 years (Moon, 2011 and Tyson, 2012); five of the six biggest publishers in the world have spurned libraries because of it (Hazard Owen, 2012) and readers the world over have taken to it for its ease of access and availability. Welcome to the world of ebooks. From their humble beginning in the early 1960s through to the superstar status of a bestseller Kindle® book today, ebooks are here to stay.

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Reading short stories via iPod
Creative Commons licence: Attribution 


The challenge of disruptive technology is not new: in our recent history libraries have been confronted again and again with what appears, initially, to be hugely disruptive developments. From library automation to the internet, each development has challenged us but also presented us with immense advantages. However, for those of us running or working in a school library, the reality of having to justify and advocate our existence coupled with budget cuts or zero budgets and increasing demands to do more with less, the thought of throwing ebooks into the too-hard basket is very tempting. But ignoring this new technology simply creates another problem: irrelevancy. Sadly, the threat of irrelevancy in today’s school libraries is also an ever-increasing reality. To remain relevant we must look to harness challenge rather than ignore it. In fact, by incorporating or adopting any new avenue or access to information, knowledge and the enhancement of literacy (as is presented by ebooks) we increase our relevancy profile. In addition, the community we serve not only demand it but also deserve it.

Access and the tools

In his remarkable landmark publication, ‘The Atlas of New Librarianship’, David Lankes emphasises the important shift school librarians must make in new librarianship – particularly in the expansion of the concept of access (Lankes, 2012). This is a two-way street: the facilitation of access to the outside world from the school community and also the facilitation of access to the school community. Ebooks come with an exciting possibility in that, not only do they facilitate access to the outside world, they also provide the school community with an ability to reach out to the world. Back in February of this year, Richard Byrne, a monthly columnist for the School Library Journal, certified Google teacher and full-time writer and speaker, detailed just how easy it is for a classroom or library to publish ebooks (Byrne, 2012).

You will note that Richard takes us step by step through the processes of this exciting journey and that he links us to some great tools. It should be noted, as well, that all of these links and more are provided over at the New Zealand e-Reader Taskforce wiki (NZeRT). As founder and editor of NZeRT and as a regular writer too, my own fledging journey into self-publishing (in addition to my experience in regular publishing) holds much promise and excitement as I begin to explore this unfettered new world of self-expression. The additional satisfaction of being able to share these firsthand experiences in my role as a school librarian and teacher also allows me to forge new relationships with the creative talent of both students and staff alike, and urge them towards their own publishing journeys.

Of course, you don't need to be a writer or even remotely creative to see the potential that self-publishing and social publishing holds. To write well is to be read and we, of all professions, know the power this has not only in the enhancement of literacy but also in the empowerment and skill development of those who write. As gatekeepers as well as disseminators of knowledge and information, we can also appreciate the power of enabling a school community to reach out beyond its physical boundaries and connect elsewhere. Put another way, this extended ability to reach out and be heard holds the possibility that others may reach out to us. The increasing accessibility of ebooks, particularly in the world of open sourcing, means that like-minded souls – including other school communities – can share and communicate with us and even, ultimately, enhance our library collections!

Changing where to locate material

We are also no longer beholden to regular channels of publishing or purchasing models. Ebooks have changed this landscape entirely. More importantly, our role as gatekeepers of good writing is enhanced: we know a good book when we see one and we recognise good writing. As such, we should not fear to walk in the realms of the self-published, the indie writers and the smaller publishers and their ebook offerings! Indeed, a few public libraries in the States have already trod this path. Take, for example, the Douglas Counties Libraries (DCL) whose vast and growing collection of ebooks is not only provided by vendors such as Overdrive and 3M but by a whole cast of small publishing houses.

It is entirely possible that a new library lending model will open up for the self-published and indie writers too, whereby libraries (including school libraries) ‘float’, for a nominated amount of time, a portion of a newly created work among the regular published ebook offerings, to see if it attracts a captive audience. Once hooked, readers will have the option to suggest the purchase of a full copy or copies for the library, or be able to buy a copy of the work outright. Amazon already does this and although one might argue that their Kindle book samples are on offer to millions of people worldwide, an Australasian consortium of libraries (including school libraries) could wield the numbers for the exposure a new author or self-published author needs to succeed.

Indeed, the creation among Australasian schools of an e-content consortium (note, I am thinking beyond the sphere of ebooks now: e-audio, e-textbooks, etc) could also leverage some control back into our court. I suggest this in all earnest as we watch the Big Six publishers remove themselves from popular ebook vendors’ offerings (most notably Overdrive) and refuse to sell ebooks to libraries outright. There is no reason why school libraries cannot collaborate on a vast scale (if correctly coordinated) to not only tout for new e-content (and actively promote it) but also help facilitate the creation of it. When put together, our combined communities of students, teachers, support staff and parents make up a vast network of e-content users and creators. This is truly harnessing the juggernaut (to continue the thread that Stephen Abram began and Kerrie Smith took up in earlier Connection articles on ebooks)!

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Stephen Abram's Thinking about ebooks, Connections issue 75 2010

So, I imagine that this article about ebooks is not entirely what you expected? I thought very seriously about what I should write and decided that taking you through the steps on how to enable your library to lend ebooks was not what you needed to hear. There is plenty of information out there nowadays on how to do that. Indeed, I have covered this base many times in my emails to colleagues over the years and in the information provided in my NZeRT wiki page for schools. Nor can I or should I repeat the sage and illuminating thoughts of the inimitable Stephen Abram and Kerrie Smith. I wanted to look at the options and the possibilities that ebooks offer and I wanted to look, ultimately, beyond them too. So I present to you a challenge. Not only do I encourage you to enable your library to lend ebooks, I encourage you to go beyond the basic ebook lending model and embrace the many opportunities ebooks present for the enhancement of literacy and the community you serve. Take time to explore this brave new world – there are vast opportunities.


Abram, S 2010, Thinking about ebooks. Retrieved August 2012 from

Byrne, R 2012, Classroom publishing: Enable students to create ebooks of their work with these easy-to-use applications. Retrieved August 2012 from

Douglas Counties Libraries, An open letter about eBooks and Douglas County Libraries. Retrieved August 2012 from

Hazard Owen, L 2012, Penguin ends Ebook library lending and relationship with OverDrive. Retrieved August 2012 from

Lankes, D 2012, The atlas of new librarianship. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press; [Chicago]: Association of College & Research Libraries

Moon, B 2011, Digital Tipping Point? Amazon says Ebooks now top print book sales. Retrieved August 2012 from

New Zealand eReading Taskforce, digital publishing and presenting links wikispace. Retrieved August 2012 from

Polanka, S 2012, No shelf required 2: Use and management of electronic books. ALA, Chicago

Smith, K 2011, Harnessing the e-book juggernaut. Retrieved August 2012 from

Tyson, M 2012, Kindle book sales overtake print at Amazon. Retrieved August 2012 from


Debbie Price-Ewen


Debbie Price-Ewen

Head Librarian
Upper School Library
International School, Bangkok