Electronic Eye August 2011

Follett Shelf: An eBook Solution for School Libraries?

Kathleen Meulen

August 2011

While I have always tried to consider the public library perspective as well as the school library view in this column, this is one entry where I’m going to wind up showing my school library slant in this one. This is because I’ve been watching with envy as my public library colleagues serve out digital content to our shared clientele and all I am capable of doing is enjoying their services and resources along with my students. Hooray for OverDrive Digital Media, one of the many ways in which the public libraries are serving their patrons well.

This is not a competition and the public librarians in my neck of the woods and their school counterparts are very friendly, but my issue is that I am desperate to remain relevant to my increasingly digital students who are now coming to school kitted out with their Kindles, iPhones, iPads, Nooks . . . and many other flavors of tablets and smartphones.

But another important consideration for me is to always focus my library’s mission on resources and services that directly affect student learning. I need to be mindful that I set goals for my ebook collection that meet needs.

As I see it, ebooks could help me achieve several goals over my great need to remain relevant to my students with digital capabilities. There’s also the no lost or overdue book benefit to ebooks, less need for shelf space, and 24/7 check-out availability. Another great benefit of ebooks would be for my struggling readers who need easier texts to build their reading skills but can’t handle the embarrassment that goes along with reading an easier book in front of their peers. Reading selections are more private on an ebook. Finally, some ebooks might integrate well with the interactive whiteboards that my teachers use in their classrooms. Using an ebook as a part of a reading lesson might help students learn how to interact with the text.

I’m unwilling to start pricing out the school products available from OverDrive because I’ve been waiting to see if Follett, the library management program that I and so many school librarians use, will come through with a solution that integrates well with what I already have. Considering how much of a market share Follett has in the school library market, I keep on assuming that this is just around the corner.

Follett is starting to roll out some concepts that meet some, but not all of my goals for ebooks in my library. Here is an update on what this looks like.

Any vendors of ebooks who aren’t publishers themselves have had to negotiate the rights to the content and also have had to prove that they are going to keep this content secure and only allow it to be used by the patrons who can use that library. This has been a major sticking point for a lot of would-be ebook vendors and I’m assuming that this has been the case for Follett as well. Follett has chosen to use Adobe as their format for serving out ebooks and has created an online and offline eReader for viewing their ebooks. There is not a way to check out a book to a device such as a Kindle, although there is the possibility of reading it as part of an Internet browser on a Nook Color or iPad.

How is Follett’s eReader? It has all of the bells and whistles that you might expect on an eReader and they are all accessible from the navigation bar at the top, including notetaking, highlighting, and consulting the built-in dictionary. Users can change the text size and the color of the text for greater contrast and read the book as either a single or a dual page display. The permissions, which can be set by the publisher, can allow for some copying and some printing. A smaller collection of books allow text to voice capabilities and that is another feature available from the navigation bar. The icons feature very universal images so it’s an easy interface to understand. The style of the interface is youthful and hip and should appeal to young adults. There are no keyboard shortcuts that I could find, so advancing the page does require a mouse click, which was a small annoyance.

I spent some time testing out the eReader on a Netbook, as well as an iPad, to see what how it worked on a small screen and it didn’t fully work the way that I wanted it to. The full page was not able to be viewed without scrolling on the Netbook, which was a major disadvantage. On the iPad, one has to choose to read the book without Flash, but the page image does load up on the screen well and you can expand and re-center with ease. The only limitation that I can see is that you have to advance the pages with the arrow in the navigation bar at the top. No flicking between pages.

A library can give users the ability to download the book for reading with the offline reader. Libraries can choose the amount of time users can have with a book as well.

Follett Destiny

How is Follett helping libraries organize and make accessible their ebook collection? There are two options that libraries can use for content delivery. The first is through an existing Follett Destiny library catalog so that it is completely integrated with the library’s print holdings. A button on the right hand side of the catalog record screen allows users to read the book online. After logging into the system, users also see another button which would allow them to check it out for offline reading.

Follett Shelf

The second way is one that they have just recently launched and they are calling it Follett Shelf. Users don’t need a Destiny catalog in order to circulate their ebooks and there may be greater integration of other electronic resources that a library purchases through Follett. In look and feel, FollettShelf looks just like the ‘Destiny Quest” graphic interface that is a part of Follett Destiny. This means that users are able to tailor their interface with a series of exciting patterns or themes including an exciting molten lava one and another under the sea one.


So what is out there and available to be collected either on Follett Destiny or FollettShelf? Follett is selling ebooks via their popular Titlewave site which notes that they have over one hundred thousand ebooks available. What does the one hundred thousand plus book list look like? Not great yet. Major publishers have not coordinated agreements with Follett, so you’ve got some smaller but well-established publishers in the education market like Orca Press. Others that seem to be doing a brisk ebook business with Follett are Candlewick, Perfection Learning, and Saddleback.

In an attempt to make ebook accession even easier, Titlewave is offering several bundles for different types of libraries and are throwing in some extra ebooks as perks for purchasing in bulk. Admittedly, the extra books are ones that are already in the public domain like Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, but still. Other bibliographies available on the Titlewave Web site might help with collection development, including lists tailored to reluctant readers.

Which brings me to another potential goal of an ebook collection. There are a lot of graphic novels represented in the collection, which have greater appeal for reluctant readers and also can be used with a full class via an interactive whiteboard. Teachers could use a science title that features the superhero Max Axiom to highlight a new concept in science or a graphic novel on the Salem Witch Trials as a more inventive way of bringing to life historical content. Students always have the option of finishing it later on the Follett Web site.

Follett’s ebooks may not yet be the solution for circulating more copies of the most recent bestselling titles for users to read on a portable device. Follett just doesn’t have them available yet. And I also don’t think that Follett’s eReader is one that you can cozy up to yet, because you can’t get the entire page on the screen without scrolling and there isn’t an easier way to advance the page without hitting the navigation arrow.

But here are the goals that Follett’s ebook service is now meeting: research specific texts, some resources for remediation with students who need to build their reading skills, and resources for teachers to use with interactive SmartBoards.

That might be enough for me at this time to buy in.

After working for eight years as head librarian at Marymount School of New York in New York City, Kathleen Meulen is now a librarian for the Bainbridge Island School District in Washington state. Please e-mail comments to kmeulen@bainbridge.wednet.edu.



  1. Kate Owen says:

    As a librarian at a smallish (300 FTE) middle/high school I’m thrilled that Follett has entered the fray. They’ll be getting my business, even if the interface and portability isn’t what I’d like. Here’s why:

    1. They’re affordable. Overdrive is charging prices that my school simply can’t pay. I am unwilling to commit almost half (!!!) of my _well over_ $7/student book budget to subscription fees & content (it’s a package deal: 1/4 of my budget would be subscription fees, the other content) that my school would loose access to if we were to cancel the subscription.

    2. Continuing access is part of the purchase price. There are no subscription fees- if I purchase an ebook it will still be available the next year.

    Don’t be too envious of public libraries. Overdrive is no wonder-product: witness the tense negotiations between Kansas and Overdrive ( http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/home/890089-264/kansas_state_librarian_goes_eyeball.html.csp )

    I hope more publishers join Follett’s program. I won’t be using Overdrive unless there are radical changes in the pricing and licensing terms, no matter how attractive the content is.

  2. Christa Naylor says:

    Our school has recently started using Follett Destiny as well. I’m not highly familiarnwith their e-book format, but since we are encouraging our high school students to bring in their various electronics in the classroom, it would make sense to have e-books that are compatible with all of them, which Overdrive has.  The other advantage I see to Overdrive is the audiobooks–what a greatnthing to be able to offernour LD kids and struggling readers.  They might actually get to hear the whole book instead of just going to Sparknotes.  Our public library has Overdrive, bu not necessarily thentitles kids use in our classrooms, which is the main reason I would want e-books and audiobooks in our school library.  The cost might be worth the improvement in education.

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