As an outstanding School Watford Grammar School for Boys became an Academy in 2010, one of the first 10 converter academies to be established, and has 1310 students. The School draws on a wide catchment area and the school community is a rich variety of cultures. We are an all-ability School and we take pride in the high standards achieved by students in academic study, games, music, drama and many other activities.
Interest in eBooks was initially raised by a group of students who approached me about the possibility of purchasing some e-Readers for the library. These students put the idea to the management team in a Dragon’s Den style presentation and secured more than £1000 for the project. Further investigation into how e-readers might work in practice showed that this was not a viable solution and I began to evaluate the available eBook solutions for schools. VLeBooks was selected as the best solution for our school, not just because of the functionality and content but also because of the help and support we received from the staff at Browns Books. As the sole librarian I also needed to be sure that any solution we introduced would not cause additional work within the library. Lizzie, our Area Sales Manager, came to the school to demonstrate VLeBooks and assist with the initial setup, and all further queries were fully answered in an easily understandable way by Dylan on the VLeBooks helpdesk.
Although we have 90 PCs in the library and hundreds more around the school we also wanted to promote reading of eBooks on our students own mobile devices for those that have them. To assist this, our e-Library project also prompted an IT funded project to boost the Wi-Fi provision throughout the school, which will provide significant additional benefits for the future. We linked VLeBooks through our Moodle VLE using the freely available Moodle block. Students connect to Moodle from school or externally and can then link seamlessly through to our e-Library without any further authentication.
In September 2014 we purchased our first batch of eBooks, mostly fiction for years 7 to 11. Many of these were quickly selected from a list of the most popular titles already purchased by other schools, so was not a time consuming job. I felt very nervous about committing that first basket of orders but the eBooks appeared instantly on our e-Library and an invoice appeared a few days later. It could not have been easier!
Students were brought to the library during an English lesson for tuition, starting with year 9 and then years 8 and 7 in turn. Each student was shown how to access the eBooks from a PC and read online, how to navigate and search within the eBook and make notes. They were then invited to download onto their own mobile phones and tablets. This caused much excitement among the boys and their enthusiasm for the eBooks was great to see. I have a named I.T. technician to assist with any technical questions and he has also helped in producing a simple instruction sheet that was handed out to each student as part of the VLeBooks tuition. Because VLeBooks is so intuitive, once they have been shown how to use it there has been no further training required. We’ve also notified all parents about our e-Library by email.
We have not yet made use of all of the functionality provided by VLeBooks. Because all of the eBooks we have purchased have been for years 7-11 and we have no younger students we have not restricted any titles by year groups. When we purchase titles for our sixth form we will likely review this. All eBooks are set for a maximum of 14 days loan period if downloaded, but when we start to purchase non-fiction we will be able to reduce or remove this for selected titles, thus ensuring high availability for our reference collection We intend to make use of the accessibility of eBooks by investigating read aloud software for visually impaired students.
We’ve continued to buy more titles and now have 224 eBooks. Additional funding is being provided by the Friends of the School. Buying the eBooks is simple, access is immediate, and while not every publisher makes their eBook titles available for library lending yet there is so much choice that we will run out of funds long before we run out of good eBooks to choose from!
Although we are only part way through our first year of using eBooks the enthusiasm of staff and students has been fantastic with no negative comments so far. We do intend to survey students to obtain wider feedback in the future. There are numerous benefits already apparent: no lost books, no late returns, no re-shelving, no physical shelf space required, it encourages the boys to read, and they are accessible everywhere; it’s as if they always have the book in their pocket.
VLeBooks has been a great success so far and has caused us no problems at all. The Head and Leadership Team have been very supportive throughout the entire process, from the initial setup and throughout the implementation. Next year we would like to involve more departments and obtain more non-fiction eBooks for our e-Library.