Digital lending libraries

When the iPad was launched in 2010, Apple also announced iBooks, an ebook reader with corresponding digital store. It made a lot of sense, especially as the iPad is about the size and weight of a large book.

Despite this great start, digital books in schools have never really taken off. I feel that part of this is the technical distribution challenge and the other is the cost. With 1:1 iPads and a decent MDM, we have sort of solved the first problem and have been able to give out digital texts at my school. However, book licenses are not re-assignable in Apple Books, which makes the whole thing only workable with free titles.

So I wondered: might a digital lending library be possible? And after a bit of searching, I discovered one…

Hello Sora!

Overdrive have created and app and digital service called Sora. Once it’s set up for your school, it offers an ebook reader that works on iPad and the web, including the facility to sync annotations and titles across devices and even play audiobooks.

The best thing though is a subscription they offer in the UK called Ebooks Now. Once paid up, you get access to large range of digital texts that can be ‘borrowed’ by students in school. They keep a close eye on which titles are being read or otherwise, swapping out unpopular titles and keeping the selection as fresh as possible.

Bubble Books

When we returned from the first COVID lockdown in September 2020, they there were all sorts of concerns about restricting the risk of viral transmission with shared resources or spaces. So things like a school lending library were out of the question!

Instead I proposed that we get Sora at school, making the most of our 1:1 iPad programme by offering a digital lending library to our students.

It was really easy to get set up, and Overdrive even allowed us to authenticate users with our on-premises Active Directory (and later swapping to Azure for cloudy credentials). Once logged in, children could browse our school’s digital collection, borrow or reserve books and then read to their hearts’ content!

Reading the results

There’s been lots of benefits. Here’s a few…

  1. Lockdown library. When we had to switch again to remote learning in January 2021, children were still able to log into Sora to borrow and read books at home. With no other way to provide books to our students, this was a fantastic way to keep our children reading.
  2. Lending leader. As an admin, I’m able to see the number of titles that have been loaned by kids in our school. And in the last year, that number was 47,111! Which I think is not too bad…
  3. Idle moments. Because we are 1:1 iPad, teachers are able to make use of the ‘down’ time in the classroom to do reading on Sora. Obviously reading an ‘analogue’ book is just as good, but it does mean children can listen to audiobooks easily too, as well as change or renew books without having to leave their seat.

So Sora definitely comes with a thumbs up from me!

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