Position Statement on Digital Content and E-books in School Library Collections

Today’s twenty-first century students must be able to discover, analyze, evaluate, interpret, and communicate ideas, information and knowledge in a variety of ways. Because school library programs are instrumental in teaching these skills, their collections must include a wide variety of formats beyond printed books. These multiple formats, including e-books and other forms of digital content, should be accessible by the school community physically and virtually as indicated in the mission statement of AASL’s program guidelines, Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs (2009). School library programs should provide access to materials in all formats, provide students and staff with current resources, and anticipate changes in technology.

Presently, in 2013, there is no single device that will access all e-books. Consequently, school librarians face a confusing investment decision. Some e-books are included in subscription databases, others are available in lease-only contracts, and still others are available for direct purchase for the life of the school’s need for the title. Contributing to the confusion, some e-books may be read only by one person at a time while other titles can be purchased for simultaneous access by multiple readers. Many free e-books may be read on a variety of devices; however, the number of free quality titles is limited.

In this age of instant access to information and because the AASL school library program mission statement is to “ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information,” schools should begin to provide anytime/anywhere access to reliable digital content.  This mission is accomplished by:

  • Updating selection policies to encompass digital content and reader devices;

  • Determining the best allocation of funding  for digital content and reader devices by knowing the school community, recognizing early adopters and followers, and listening to all learning needs;

  • Ensuring that access to portable electronic devices and digital content is available to all students, no matter their off-campus situations;

  • Ensuring there are no financial barriers to electronic devices or resources;

  • Buying portable electronic devices that will support the widest variety of e-book formats;

  • Considering the age of the learners in selecting e-readers and/or other digital devices, remembering both hand sizes and content needs.

  • Recognizing that vendors may package groups of titles, subscription databases and/or e-book collections, together, perhaps including some titles less useful to the specific school curriculum, resulting in the need to purchase overlapping products;

  • Recognizing that not all titles are yet available digitally and that schools still need to have printed books available;

  • Selecting materials for the variety of challenged learners, offering auditory and visually supportive formats;

  • Acknowledging that today’s digital reading devices may be outdated within two years and that funding will be needed to continually update devices and content formats;

  • Accepting the use of student-owned devices on school networks;

  • Guaranteeing the right to privacy when and if vendors collect data on what students read;

  • Cataloging all digital content while developing ways to publicize the availability of these resources because budget expenditures are only justified when students and faculty are aware of the resources and actively use them;

  • Developing and participating in cooperative purchasing agreements and consortia as a way to ease costs and share ownership;

  • Exploring new business models for purchasing resources, including the use of credit cards noting that digital resources are not so easily purchased using traditional purchase order procedures.

Digital content, e-books, e-readers and other digital devices are essential components of school library collections. These collections will remain in a period of transition for some time while school librarians balance the selection of devices and formats, including print, e-book and digital materials. Schools and districts will need to provide funding and support for this powerful means to access information, and for the requisite experimentation in the face of ever-changing options. Librarians and administrators need a cooperative spirit of tolerance as we explore emerging digital devices and new ways of purchasing and lending materials.  It is an exciting time as we move ever forward into the twenty-first century.

Brief Definitions

  • Digital content is any content that is published in digital form.  This includes online encyclopedias and subscription databases that contain keyword-searchable articles and/or e-books. Digital content is accessed live via the Internet and subscription databases; it may be leased or purchased directly from vendors.  Such content may be downloaded.

  • E-books are books read on digital devices including hand-held electronic devices and even computers; they may contain hyperlinks to other resources. E-books may be purchased, downloaded free from public domain or Creative Commons, or “borrowed” through library subscription services.

  • E-book readers are portable electronic devices that can be used to read digital books or periodicals. With Internet access and storage for downloaded content, they are designed to operate for long hours using minimal power. Some proprietary devices have access only to e-books from the same vendor. Other hardware devices, both mobile (smartphones, PDAs, pocket and tablet PCs) and desktop, are loosely defined as E-book readers because they can read e-books. These devices can do more than access e-books, but are not designed specifically for reading books for long hours using minimal power.  

  • Audiobooks are spoken texts, often available as digital downloads. While not considered e-books, audiobooks are sometimes included in the definition of digital content.

Adopted 06/28/13