Minimum required specifications

So, are eBooks and schools compatible?

I’ve been running through scenarios of how school libraries could adopt digital texts and have whittled them down to two common choices:

1. “I’ve seen the adverts so let’s buy some Kindles!”

This is the equivalent of the marketing executive demanding “Where’s our Twitter/ Facebook/ Second Life presence?” in a board meeting. Let’s face it, a school library is unlikely to have more than a dozen or so eBook readers unless it’s gone down the whole-school approach (see below).

SLA Guidelines still state that a suitable number of books per pupil in a school is 13 (at least). A school could buy 1,000 eBooks, but as soon as the number of eBooks exceeds the number of eBook readers then you’ve  got dead book stock that cannot be accessed (or worse, becomes a controlled privilege to access) – the equivalent of having a class of 30 pupils but only 5 sets of eyes to go around. The other kids don’t get to read books until it’s their turn.

So, fairly pointless except from a vanity point of view, or unless the eBook readers are for a special purpose – for example encouraging reluctant readers, etc.

If eBooks are necessary to education then every pupil must have exactly the same level of access to this reading material as they would a printed book – including access to read it at home.

I’ll stick my neck out here and say that until things change, a librarian who prioritizes a copy of an eBook over a copy of a printed book without good reason is a fool.

2. The whole school approach

Every child in the school is given their own device that can read all of the eBooks in the school library. Full stop, no arguments.

As if that’s going to happen outside of the private sector any time soon.

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Of course there is a third way broached by some librarians – why can’t pupils use their own phones and iPods to read eBooks in the school collection?

Because it’s not good business.

It would be great for school librarians, but do you really think that content providers will open up their devices to allow their users to access free stuff when it’s their business to sell it?

Apple won’t allow users to synchronise content with multiple media libraries. The fact that they only allow bulk discount on purchases for corporate hospitality gifts speaks volumes. Apple has so far given schools a big ‘f**k you’ because, frankly, they don’t care. You’re falling over yourselves to buy their product as it is, so why invest time and money in providing custom school-centric firmware? Firmware that would allow you to use their hardware how you want to (giving autonomy to consumers – blasphemy!).

And how the hell are schools going to provide electronic resources that work on all of their pupil’s phones and tablets and laptops? It’s a technical nightmare. Sure, any private or part-private school could insist that all pupils subscribe to x service provider with x handset/ tablet, but the moment none of the schools that I have worked with can get uniform software access across all of its own PCs and laptops, let alone systems on outside networks.

Oh, and one academy that I know of (that shall remain anonymous) provided eBooks (electronic textbooks) across the school network of  laptops, the result? Most of the teachers didn’t bother with them and went straight back to print books because the quality was better and there were no technical hitches. When you’ve got 50 minutes to get a lesson taught, a gremlin in the systems can really ruin your day.

So…

Q. Are eBooks and schools compatible?

A. Not fully, only partially and for niche projects. End of story (until the next big technological evolution at least).