Who’s afraid of the big, bad, digital library?

By Chris Jarosh
By Ruth Atkinson, Marketing Assistant and James Willats, Marketing Executive

As part of our series of blogs on our love of libraries, we’re wondering: what’s next for libraries? While the rise in eBook popularity isn’t as damaging to physical book sales as everyone seems to think, it’s certainly worth taking notice of.

Not everyone likes digital books, and the idea of a digital library is scary to some. But that’s okay! We’re certainly not leading a campaign to burn down all the physical libraries and replace them with digital ones. We love reading physical books too! But we want libraries to stick around, and for some, that might mean adapting, evolving, and making use of new technology. In this blog post, we’re exploring some of the benefits of a digital library and how these can help to overcome barriers that libraries are facing today.

All the features we list in this article are available with myON by Renaissance, our new digital reading platform!


1. Digital libraries for educational equality

It’s sad but it’s true, and something that we touched on recently in our blog about why libraries are so necessary. According to a study from the National Literacy Trust (NLT), 1 in 11 children don’t own a single book of their own – and that number rises to 1 in 8 children in who receive free school meals.

But while children might not have physical books in their homes, they’re likely to be able to access the Internet on a smartphone, tablet or laptop. And even if they are part of the minority living in a home without Internet access, many digital library programmes allow their users to download books when Internet connection is available to be read offline later – just like you can with your Kindle.

Suddenly, doors are opened: and access to books appears where it never existed before. A digital library can be purchased by a school and used by pupils at home too. This is something very special: particularly for disadvantaged pupils. In fact, that could explain one reason why another report from the NLT found that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to read books digitally.

2. How a digital library could save you money

Whilst Accelerated Reader can help enthuse even reluctant readers and reinforce the position of the library as the heart of the school, keeping it well stocked can be an expensive task – especially when lots of pupils want to read the same book at the same time! But some digital libraries can help ease the burden.

A digital library means no more worries about books that have wandered off on loan and not yet found their way back to the shelf. And no more budgeting to have 30 copies of that book that an English teacher wants her whole class to read at the same time. With some digital libraries, children and teachers could access books from library computers or even from their own personal devices. And they could even all read the same book at the same time without the need to buy an individual copy for them all. And they won’t get damaged by sticky fingers or coffee spills, or left outside in the rain and forgotten!

A digital library could also give you or your librarian some interesting data: such as easily seeing who’s reading what and identifying trends amongst particular year groups, as well as data on how many students actually finished that book or how long it took them to read it. With myON, you can even make live annotations on books currently being read by pupils, to steer their learning and reading engagement. The possibilities are vast!

3. A wider choice of genres

How many of your pupils read more fiction than non-fiction? We bet it’s the majority! And if so, the likelihood is that you’re naturally going to prioritise the fiction section of the library over the non-fiction section: keeping it stocked with the latest titles, and spending more time with pupils there helping them to choose books.

But this National Literacy Trust report found 1 in 3 children agree that ‘I cannot find things to read that interest me’. With a digital library, you can offer a wider choice of different genres, fiction and non-fiction, with the hope that your library users can find something that takes their fancy. Every English teacher or librarian can call to mind at least one child who evolved from a reluctant reader to a keen reader thanks to just one book that opened their eyes to the joy of reading:

One of the most vulnerable pupils in my class, who has found it more difficult to engage in reading, has spent almost five hours reading! He’s completely hooked into all the non-fiction options and the breadth of choice on offer in our digital library, and cannot wait to tell everyone all the facts he has learnt through his reading.”

– Chelsea Sandbrook, Assistant Headteacher at Manor Leas Junior Academy, Lincoln

4. The extra support of audio

You may not remember much about how you learnt to read, but I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s not easy! Any tools that can make the process easier are worth having: whether for young children learning to read for the first time or children learning to read English as a second language. And for children with a special educational need like dyslexia, words on a page can be the hardest code to crack.

The value of audio for those in the early stages of reading is enormous, and a digital library could give you books with audio support. This could be in the form of just reading single, difficult words aloud, or having whole books read to you. This audio capability offers myriads of benefits: from helping EAL students with pronunciation and helping early readers crack that one tricky word, to allowing readers to understand nuances in meaning that might not be so obvious in print. Plus, don’t we all remember that embarrassing moment of saying a word aloud for the first time that you’d only seen written down before, and completely mispronouncing it? (Mine is calling Hermione Granger ‘Hermy-won’ to my Year 6 teacher. It still makes me cringe…)

As a teacher or librarian, you know that you can’t always get around to every child who wants a word to be sounded out in a reading session. With audio support, pupils can be more independent with their development of reading comprehension.

5. Get your numbers up!

Dusty bookshelves, drab carpets, and the librarian behind the desk ‘shush’ing the slightest bit of conversation? Oh, please! The stereotypical image of a library is just that – an inaccurate stereotype. The library should be a place where everybody wants to be! So when you stroll into a library today, particularly a school library, you’ll certainly see bookshelves first and foremost, but we bet you’ll spot study spaces, the buzz of conversation, and most definitely some technology too.

The novelty of reading a book on a computer or tablet could bring some new visitors to your library – but even when that novelty wears off, you’ll hopefully see them hooked! And there’s another thing to consider too: when you’re reading digitally, no one can see what you’re reading. If you have struggling readers who might feel embarrassed that they’re choosing books that their peers might deem ‘babyish’ or too young for them, picking up that book and reading it in the library could be a barrier they don’t want to cross. But reading it on a screen, where their peers can’t immediately see what it is, could give them that confidence boost they need. (Fun fact: that’s one reason cited as to how Fifty Shades of Grey saw so much success as an eBook – you could read it in public without anybody knowing.)

In conclusion…

Physical books aren’t going anywhere. And they’d better not be! We’re passionate about supporting libraries – they and their librarians are essential. So if adding some digital books to your library is going to allow you to offer more choice, more features and more enjoyment to more people – well, why wouldn’t you?!

Exploring the digital library

So if we’ve opened your eyes or made you think again about the possibility of adding some digital books to your library, maybe you want to start exploring some options. But here’s the thing you should be aware of: not all digital libraries are the same! All of the benefits detailed in this post are available with myON by Renaissance. Our new digital reading platform offers all the features we’ve mentioned and more, plus is also linked to the English and Scottish curriculum. And whilst it works perfectly well on its own, it is at its most effective when used with Star Reading and Accelerated Reader to form a complete literacy solution. You can find out more about myON here.

Have you ever considered a digital library? Or perhaps you’re using digital books in your library already? Talk to us on Twitter!

Note: no organisations or individuals paid us to include their links on this post. They were all independently chosen by us!

Posted on 18 July 2019 at 3:52 pm
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