A few months ago one of the librarians I work with in the School Library System of the Genesee Valley (NY) Educational Partnership told me she was going to take a chance on some fiction ebooks she wasn’t familiar with. Marie D’Onofrio of Livonia (NY) High School purchased four ebooks from Lerner’s Carolrhoda imprint. The students loved the books, which shouldn’t really be surprising given a history of more than 30 years of award winning books from Carolrhoda. And yet buying these books was a voyage into the unknown.
Fiction ebooks in public libraries have received a great deal of attention, but the state of digital fiction in school libraries is relatively unclear compared to non-fiction. In many ways, our ebook map has the same type of uncharted regions that medieval maps supposedly depicted with the phrase “here be dragons” to warn about the unknown. There are fiction ebooks out there beyond the restricted offerings we see now, but our knowledge of authors and titles from these other fiction publishers is quite foggy.
This summer, the haze will lift. In a new collaboration between the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership, Mackin, and School Library Journal, school librarians will be invited to explore the uncharted waters and identify quality ebooks available with school library friendly licensing terms through previews and reviews at HereBeFiction.org.
The need for Here Be Fiction has become more obvious this past year as school librarians have faced increasing pressure to deliver ebook fiction for both student-selected reading and teacher-directed class use. Though informational ebooks are easily licensed from K-12 focused publishers, the availability of fiction ebooks is less well known. Here Be Fiction will provide a summer reading style opportunity for librarians to discover fiction from established, trusted, publishers that are readily available for licensing in school libraries for individual and multi-user access.
During the project’s first active phase from July 15th to September 15th, selected school librarians around the country will have free access to read and review ebook fiction provided by participating publishers using the secure MackinVIA platform. Moving forward, additional active reading phases where books will be available to more verified readers will be structured around common school vacations in the summer, winter, and spring.
Throughout the year, the website will be available to everyone with open access to the lists of titles, short previews, and book reviews to help librarians and teachers find new content to purchase. Here Be Fiction will also feature author biographies, publisher overviews, and editorial content on the use of ebooks in classrooms and school libraries. As a social project, active readers and site visitors will find it easy to highlight and share books they discover using platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest. Site visitors will also be able to create wish lists of books featured on the site that can then be downloaded or sent directly to Mackin for a quote.
The desire is to create a broad overview of fiction ebooks available for schools under license terms that meet our unique library needs. As such, participating publishers need to agree to three requirements:
- Publishers must provide either multi-user access or individual access with a discount for licensing multiple simultaneous readers so ebooks can be used for class novels, book clubs, reading groups, etc.
- Publishers must make ebooks must be available for offline access through a secure platform such as MackinVIA or a download using appropriate security to avoid digital divide issues and allow increased home access and reading in schools without wifi.
- Publishers must, when possible, allow the use of text-to-speech ability available through the reading platform to support struggling readers or those with special needs.
Many thanks to the publishers who have provided content for this project as well as our partners in developing and deploying Here Be Fiction, Mackin and School Library Journal.