How digital libraries drive equity and excitement

'For years, I heard students don’t like ebooks, but the data doesn’t support that,' FETC presenter says
By: | January 26, 2021
Students are reading more and checking out more books since Florida's Cypress Bay High School moved its library collection online.Students are reading more and checking out more books since Florida's Cypress Bay High School moved its library collection online.

Digitizing a high school library boosts equity by expanding students’ access to books while motivating them to spend more time reading, media specialist Shawn Maas said in his FETC presentation Tuesday.

Maas’ school, Cypress Bay High School in Florida’s Broward County Public Schools, converted its entire library into ebooks and audiobooks with OverDrive and its apps.

Before the transition, students seldomly checked out any of the media center’s 28,000 books, which occupied 80% of the space. Now, 10,000 titles are available online 24 hours a day, and library has space for collaboration and other activities.

The response from students has been tremendous, with checkouts soaring and growing each school year, Maas said.


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“For years, I heard students don’t like ebooks,” he said, “but the data doesn’t support that.”

Cypress Bay is currently Florida’s largest high school, and a majority of its students are of Hispanic heritage. Its media center now stocks only 5,000 print books, all fiction. Students checkout digital books with either OverDrive’s Sora app, through the media center’s website or through the physical library’s OverDrive media stations.

A Cypress Bay High School student checks out am ebook at an OverDrive media station.

A Cypress Bay High School student checks out am ebook at an OverDrive media station.

Books are available in an audio format for auditory learners, and in English and Spanish.

The online collection also allowed students to keep reading when COVID closed schools in spring 2020. In April 2020 alone, students opened more than 3,000 books and spent 16,000 hours reading.

It is because OverDrive tracks this type of data that Maas can justify expanding the digital collection.

As a media specialist, Maas can also replicate schoolwide initiatives, such as the Florida Teens Read project. And he can create collections, such as his “Project Lit,” which contains books that feature people of color.

Since adding the Sora app, Cypress Bay educators have seen increased growth from English-language learners.

“We want to make sure all students feel represented and welcome in the library,” Maas said.


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