The 2015 strategic plan for the American Library Association declares, “The rapid shift from print to digital content is one of the more dramatic developments now transforming libraries of all types.” But for school librarians, change can be slow to arrive.

Many school libraries are still struggling with an array of e-book issues, including how to square the rules that govern e-book hosting platforms with district technology policies, economic constraints, the management of bring your own device (BYOD) policies, the one-copy-per-user model, and the plethora of options from the many e-book vendors now crowding the marketplace. And an issue that faces all libraries: how to effectively market digital collections to users. How are school librarians handling the e-book transformation? We asked around, and this is what we found.

Yes, Marketing Is Key

For school librarians that have the means to make e-books available, promotion is imperative to make sure those e-books actually get used. After all, what is the point of acquiring e-books if nobody knows they are available or how to access them?

One obvious key is to enlist staff and faculty to promote the e-book collection to students. But librarians must also work directly with students to make them aware of books available to them in digital formats. One effective strategy is to train student workers and volunteers who can then spread the word to their peers as e-book ambassadors. Also, make the login and checkout process as quick and seamless as possible. One suggestion, where applicable, is to use an existing student ID rather than lengthy username and password combinations.

Typically, when librarians want to showcase fiction and nonfiction titles for students, they create book displays. But since a tangible display of e-books is not possible, librarians are devising creative ways to promote the titles that are available in electronic format. Some librarians are covering old VHS tape holders or CD jewel cases with a printout of an e-book title and cover with a QR code that links to the e-book in the digital collection. These converted book “placeholders” can then be shelved in the regular collection, providing easy access for students browsing for titles.

For school librarians with limited e-book budgets, a good idea is to limit purchases to titles required for summer reading. Since students in many states are given summer reading assignments, e-books are an appealing option for students. This accessibility plays nicely into a new trend, as many school districts now require digital titles to be included in summer reading lists.

And work with your vendors. In addition to collection development help, marketing tips and promotional bundles are often part of e-book packages offered by many providers.

Amazon Rising?

Many school librarians follow the traditional route for purchasing e-books, via platforms like Overdrive, Follett, and Mackin. In 2012 BrainHive challenged tradition when it introduced an on-demand e-book model promoting a “$1-a-read” rental strategy.

Three years later, the appeal of the rental model can be seen through the lens of summer reading programs. Each year, districts must freshen up their summer reading lists and assignments by changing titles. As a result, many school librarians are left with multiple e-book “copies” that are no longer in demand. Renting e-books to support summer reading from year to year is an attractive option for school libraries with tight budgets, and also appeals to library consortiums looking to provide digital resources to a range of patrons while helping to manage costs.

Amazon has also arrived on the scene. Until January of 2015, many school districts found it difficult to conduct business with Amazon, mainly due to the e-tailer’s refusal to accept purchase orders as payment. Change has come quickly, however, with the introduction of a free service called Whispercast via Kindle Education, and a revised policy that now accepts purchase orders from educational institutions.

With 130 of the 250 largest school districts in the United States and more than 2,400 higher education institutions now using Whispercast, Amazon is poised to become a major player in the education marketplace, with both e-books and digital textbooks.

How are e-books doing in your school library during this time of change? We’d like to hear from you. E-mail us: