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Partnership with library brings digital content to students

Published Friday, March 20, 2020

fourth-grader rio esposito

Fourth-grader Rio Esposito scrolls through library's digital content. (BCSD photo / Monica Kreber)

Jackie Bresse-Rodenkirk, media specialist at Foxbank Elementary, has been working to find a partnership that offers students seamless access to Berkeley County Public Library’s digital content.

Such a partnership now provides students with access to more than $100,000 worth of e-books and audiobooks through ClassLink in an app called Sora, a new tool created by OverDrive, which serves public libraries with their digital content.

With Berkeley County School District adjusting to ongoing e-learning lesson plans, stats are showing an increase in students checking out books via the app. Last month students checked out 649 books and clocked in 85 hours of reading. Between Feb. 19 and March 20, stats reflected 4,600 books were checked out and more than 900 hours were spent reading.

This jump is, of course, a result of students’ extended e-learning.

Bresse-Rodenkirk said right now many districts are scrambling to make the school connection to their public library – luckily, this is something BCSD has already done.

“Librarians are so innovative and collaborative, we’re constantly e-mailing each other about ideas and things that we want to do, and we’re also such problem-solvers that we all try to help each other,” she said.

Bresse-Rodenkirk first started looking into this seamless access to digital content after working with a student who needed audiobooks because of a visual impairment that made it harder to read.

Bresse-Rodenkirk said the school was going to have to buy a bunch of audiobooks, which she said are expensive. The public library does have audiobooks, but this was not a seamless setup through the student’s Chromebook.

This digital content is especially beneficial to students who need different types of books.

“This gives them a whole new cache of books…to choose from,” she said.

Bresse-Rodenkirk collaborated with the State Public Library and the director of the Berkeley County Public Library, looking for ways in which students could tap into the public library’s digital content. She also attended a national conference in Kentucky, during which she attended sessions on how schools can connect with their public library. It's something, she said, other big-city districts have done through Sora.

Sora provides about $115,000 worth of resources. Those resources include audiobooks, regular books and interactive e-books.

Foxbank Elementary piloted the app last semester around the holidays and students were able to use it over Christmas Break – and they loved it, Bresse-Rodenkirk said.

Diane Driggers, chief information and technology officer for the district, proceeded to put it out to all the schools in the district.

Media specialists are hoping to use this to promote more reading in students as well. For example, with “Call of the Wild” coming out as a movie, Bresse-Rodenkirk said everyone wants to do “Call of the Wild” book groups and study the Iditarod.

“The public library has ‘Call of the Wild,’ so we can do that now,” she said. “We don’t have to buy 30 books. We can have them go to the public library and check them out online.”

Sora is accessible on every device. Parents can also watch and see their child’s reading minutes.

“It shows you how many minutes you’ve read, how many pages you’ve read…it’s fun,” Bresse-Rodenkirk said.

Stats show some of the more popular checked out books are “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, “The Ninjabread Man” and “The Terrible Two.”

Bresse-Rodenkirk said other schools that have done this have created a shared district library of digital content, which “evens the playing field” for schools that maybe cannot afford to have their own digital library.

“Having a shared digital library for the whole district would be amazing,” she said.

When users log in to Sora they will see two options: the Berkeley County School District library and the South Carolina Low Country Consortium. The consortium allows students to check out books from the public library and has its books that can be shelved/unshelved, but the district can also buy its own e-books that everyone can use at the same time. These books were provided by OverDrive as part of the pilot.

Bresse-Rodenkirk said she thinks the shared digital content can help with professional development, as staff has access to such books as well.

“I think more collaboration can happen if we have a shared district account,” she said.

Students can get as much books as they want, but just like visiting an actual library, books are due back at a certain time. Students can renew books or return them if they are done.

Earlier this month, prior to the district making the switch to e-learning, fourth-grader Rio Esposito showed a part where if a teacher assigned a book to students, they would appear under an “assignment” section. Once the student finishes their work ,they send it to their teacher, who can see if they completed the assignment or not.

She said her class had done an assignment through the library once at that point; they read a book and then had to answer some questions about it.

Cooper Harris showed a book that he had been reading in his account, and showed how students can either read or listen to it.

“I kind of do both – I like listening to it better…I already have the book so I can just follow along with it,” he said.

Students also showed achievement notifications they can receive from reading – and said it helps encourage them to read more.

“They love to track their progress and they can see the amount read, and the amount left to go,” Bresse-Rodenkirk said.