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N.H. Schools Stocking Their Virtual Shelves With E-books

Flikr Creative Commons / Alexandre Lemieux

E-books are now selling more copies than hardbound, print books, and the average public library e-book collection has expandedby 55 percent in 2010 and 75 percent in 2011.

But one place that’s been slow to adopt e-books is public school libraries. But a consortium of 33 public schools has teamed up to stock the digital shelves for the first time in the Granite State. 

That consortium was led by Gilford High School, where the library bought more than a 900 volumes of encyclopedias, textbooks and collections of fiction. That would be $120,000 dollars’ worth of traditional reference books.

But Librarian Sally Sessler says that’s not what she paid for those books.

Sessler: They offered to high schools for just under $10,000 dollars. This was a really good deal, it was like the best deal ever.

That’s because all of those new books are in electronic form. Sixteen school districts pooled their buying power to drive the price down for the buy, which is the first of its kind in New Hampshire.

Barksdale: Rome was one major empire, so the Forum in Rome was the most important place.

Anna Barksdale is walking her 9th graders through using the e-books library to do research on Ancient Rome. The kids can type in search terms and scan through the virtual library, just like Google. But as freshman Jacob Forst will tell you the information he’s finding is a lot more reliable.

Forst: With Google you get stuff that might be hard to cite and it’s not very easy to understand, and with this, so basically all this is true because it’s right out of a book

Presumably it’s sometime in the 10th grade that Forst will learn that not everything you read in books is true.

The promise of e-books in schools doesn’t stop with research projects. Again, librarian Sally Sessler.

Sessler: Our goal is in 5-10 years I don’t think you’ll be seeing many textbooks anymore, in paper and hardcover, simply because, they’re very expensive. They’re over $100 for most textbooks now, and kids lose them like crazy and they also get trashed and everything else.

Sessler says the school can spend $40,000 dollars a year on textbooks. She thinks with the money that could eventually be saved by going to e-text-books, the school could buy each new student a kindle or a nook.

Sessler: So instead of carrying around these backpacks that weigh fifty pounds, you know bigger than the kids, you know we’re gonna give them an e-reader and that e-reader will have everything on it that they need for their day.

If this is all starting to sound a little too-good-to-be-true, just wait, the possibilities get even more exciting.

Rebecca Miller: You also have the D-I-Y textbook.

Rebecca Miller is the editor-in-chief of the School Library Journal, which tracks school library trends in e-books. She says, when you start going digital, teachers can create their own textbooks and patch together pieces from other textbooks, magazine articles, or anything really.

Miller: That, in quotes textbook, can have an article from the New York Times, it can be very diverse, timely or nimble.

So of course you’re asking, what’s the downside?

Miller: The challenge is you actually have to have the time to do it. Teachers have no time and schools are under so much pressure on their budgets.

Teachers are already being pulled in a thousand directions by various efforts to reform the way they do their job, and taking time to craft your own text books each year is pretty low on the priority list.

Sessler notes that just getting teachers at Gilford High School to use the new e-reference-library she’s bought is tough enough.

Sessler: You know you always have those guys who are like harumph been doing this for twenty years, not changing.

And as for buying all digital text-books, schools perhaps won’t see the huge savings there that they get with reference books. That’s because unlike dictionaries and encyclopedias, schools already are buying many copies at a time; so publishers can and will charge more. And even if it makes financial sense, buying more tech gadgets could still be a hard sell to taxpayers.

Public schools tend to not be early adopters. But as teacher Anna Barksdale reminds us, even though schools might be slightly behind the rest of society, they’re still changing very fast.

Barksdale: it’s mindblowing, I think about it, I graduated in ’99 and we were just using word processing, and it was like the huge thing, and you know, started using the internet for research, and it’s crazy to think how far it’s come.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.
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