Nader Qaimari is president of Follett School Solutions at Follett Corporation, a leading provider of educational content and technology to pre-K–12 school and districts, as well as college campuses. Qaimari was previously executive v-p of Follett and general manager of the School Solutions division, and before that he was senior v-p of content services and solutions for Follett School Solutions, a position in which he oversaw publisher relations, textbooks, and classroom and digital products, among other things.

In addition to taking on new leadership roles over the past year, Qaimari has been centrally involved in Follett’s integration with Baker & Taylor, the key worldwide distributor of books and digital content to schools, libraries and retailers, that Follett acquired in April.

We asked Qaimari to share his insights into any changes he has observed in the marketplace and to offer an update on how things are going in the first months following the Baker & Taylor acquisition.

What are some of the trends you are seeing in the school and library market today?

From our vantage point as a partner providing educational materials to 70,000–80,000 schools, we have seen a somewhat surprising resurgence of print this past year. We anticipated that e-books would not grow at the same rate they have been, but we did not expect to see print return with such a vengeance. I think many schools did not see the usage they expected with the e-book model, and they went back to tried-and-true print. We also saw a reduction in fiction, and a lot more informational titles purchased. Schools that used to buy many copies of a single novel are now buying smaller numbers of many novels, or abandoning fiction altogether.

It appears that funding is increasing in the school market, though not to the levels we had seen a number of years ago. And there has been a little bit of resurgence on the library side as well.

The conversation about OER—openly licensed educational resources—is another trend we’re seeing. OER will be a new alternative that many customers will explore, and it will only work if it has the services of curation and collection around it. But for teachers, the problem with OER is having to find them and put them all together. Some of them are not copyright free; the material is not curated, and there is no pedagogy around it. We got interested via the Go Open campaign [launched by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology last October]. We’re one of the first companies to commit to the effort. We want to tell our partner schools that they have a lot of great content available, and their schools have invested in master curators: their librarians. Librarians can help sift through OER and offer a scope and sequence for them. Some people may not realize that the real value of a textbook is in the art of putting it all together in the right order, not just the content.

This fall we’re putting an OER feature in our Destiny platform, alongside owned and paid content. Among other things, teachers and librarians will be able to create and recommend playlists of content.

Follett acquired Baker & Taylor earlier this year. How is that integration going?

It’s going even better than we had envisioned, to be honest. There are some really talented people at Baker & Taylor who are a very nice complement to our team.

In terms of what affects customers, the acquisition vastly extends our catalogue inventory and our distribution capabilities. We were operating out of two warehouses in the Chicago area before the acquisition, and now we have six across the country and others internationally. The improved logistics of that will be evident to customers soon; many can start seeing same-day and next-day delivery of library and classroom materials.

Further, Baker & Taylor has a large catalogue of content that is different than ours, so customers will see more options in TitleWave. We are doing technology integrations as well, with our latest Destiny release, including single sign-on to B&T’s e-book platform, Axis 360.

In the near term, we will also be working with school districts and public libraries to discuss how they can start collaborating and sharing resources. This will help both institutions maximize their resources and work collaboratively to serve the community year-round. As students break for the summer, we want the public library to pick up where the school left off. If school districts agree, we would like to facilitate conversations with public libraries so that they are better aligned with the curriculum and the specific needs of their student community, using technology to help build seamless connections.

Ultimately, publishers also win because each institution is buying what the community needs and will use. With Follett also being the largest provider of content to colleges and universities through our many bookstores, there’s opportunity for higher education collaboration as well. Our vision is to help support a community-based ecosystem of knowledge, helping students, parents, and educators alike.

How have things changed in your day-to-day duties?

Well, I was head of our content and product and publishing services, and now I’m president and running [Follett School Solutions], and I have full responsibility for everything. I hired a new person to focus on sales and customer service. We had taken field reps away, except for big clients, and we heard from our customers that they didn’t like that. We recently gave field reps to everyone, so customers now have a rep they know by name. We’ve invested over $1 million in customer service.

Does Follett have any new products coming out?

We usually launch new products during our back-to-school season in August, and this year we have a few things we’re releasing. First off, we will have a new interface for the Destiny Library Manager platform. It has not been updated in 10 years, and we made some changes to the look and functionality based on usability studies. Our new Destiny 14.0 will support a Google Chrome extension that can provide library resources within Google search results. With the update, users can access Baker & Taylor Axis 360 content from Destiny. And, as I mentioned before, Destiny users will now be able to access OER through the U.S. Department of Education’s Learning Registry.

We’re offering a new professional development program for K–12 librarians, which aligns with our support of the Future Ready Schools initiative. When the U.S. Department of Education and the Alliance for Excellent Education launched FRS, it had no mention of the school library at all. We lobbied to have them rewrite the whole thing. [As a result, in late June, FRS announced Future Ready Librarians, which is an expansion of the original initiative that shines a spotlight on the critical leadership role school librarians play in creating school-wide and district-wide digital learning environments.]

And we’re expanding our Lightbox [interactive multimedia] product line, which just won a Best in Show Award at ISTE [International Society for Technology in Education] in early July. We launched last year with titles for K–3, and we are adding a middle school set and a high school set that includes companion Lightbox titles for major novels like To Kill a Mockingbird. Readers can be immersed in the book’s southern Alabama setting, see video of Gregory Peck playing Atticus Finch in the classic movie, and explore related topics of study.