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School libraries face up to a virtual reality

Kids now will be able to access books electronically

Feb. 15, 2012

Technology is changing the way school libraries operate with improved access and service.

The Wauwatosa School District is a prime example. On Feb. 1, all district schools began to adopt access to a virtual library that allows students to check out books with a few clicks on a touch screen without ever setting foot in the library.

User friendly for teachers

"I think anything that gets students to read is good thing," said Kendra Kovar, Whitman sixth grade teacher. "The fact that they can download on a variety of devices is really great. Kids love technology and so we have to be there with this.

"The thing that I like is that even if a student doesn't have the technology, they can check out an e-reader or a touch-screen computer when they are available and get the books that way," she said. "As a teacher, I am for helping students use any new library services."

Kovar spoke as Whitman Librarian Jane Storts took Kovar's class through a tutorial of using OverDrive, the software the district is using to bring hundreds of books and other reading materials to the students' fingertips.

Getting oriented

Storts explained the process to the students, including the ability to go online, click on a district website icon, use a pre-loaded personal identification and then set up a password. Students have the option of taking out up to five online books - the same limit they have in the print format - for one, two or three weeks.

Books can be downloaded on touch-screen computers, e-books and even smart phones.

"The best thing about this," Storts told the students, "is that you don't have to come in to see me. You can download the books and after the designated time you need it the download is gone. You don't need to worry about late fees."

In fact, Storts suggested the students overestimate the time they need to read a book.

"I am a slow reader," she told them. "I get a book and I get really excited and I'll read the first two or three chapters really fast. Then I slow down. You can't just extend the time. Once the time is up, you have to go back in and reserve it. If it's not available, then you may need to be put on a wait list or you can come here to the library and get the print version so that you can finish it."

Storts said her counterpart librarians also are in the midst of the student orientation.

"We're kind of book crazy around here," Storts said. "We love it when the students come to the library, but getting them to access the books from everywhere will be great. They can still come in and ask about apps related to particular devices. We'll all learn a new way of doing this together."

Students are enthusiastic.

"I read about two to three books a week, so this is gong to be really good," said sixth-grader Breanna Weigman. "We have been hearing that the schools were going to get this, so now that we are learning about how to do it, I can't wait."

Adding to traditional role

Jenny Odau, the district's elementary school media services coordinator, said the virtual library will not replace the traditional services.

"There are only so many books available online," Odau said. "And many of the classics bond volumes. Some people - and I'm one of them - like holding a book while reading.

"This is so new and exciting," she said. "We announced that we were going to introduce this and I immediately got so many e-mails asking about it."

With that excitement comes challenge, Odau said.

"Students always seem to know when new books are about to come out," she said. "They ask us when we are going to get a certain book or the next one in a series. I'm sure they are going to know when the online versions come out. We'll need to keep up with that."

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