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E-Book Resources for the School Library [Available Full-Text, Free]

By Audrey P. Church - Posted Jul 1, 2005
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electronic book 
-A digital version of a traditional print book designed to be read on a personal computer or an e-book reader (a software application for use on a standard-sized computer or a book-sized computer used solely as a reading device). Synonymous with e-book, ebook, and eBook.  
(Retrieved April 12, 2005, from

We've come a long way from the publication of the first hypertext novel, Michael Joyce's Afternoon, a Story, in 1987, and Stephen King's online novella, Riding the Bullet, in 2000. Progressing through the need for specialized reader software and dedicated e-book devices, e-books are now available for free and for purchase, for download and for printing off the Web.
Given the distance traveled, in terms of the technology for distributing and reading e-books as well as their general acceptance, e-books are beginning to play an important role in the library world. So, do e-books have a place in school libraries? That question generates a lot more questions: Do you have any e-books in your reference collection? In general nonfiction? In fiction? Does your collection development policy even address the format? Will you collect e-books? If so, how will you make them available to your patrons?
For this article we surveyed a number of e-book providers about their offerings to help you answer these and similar questions. We think once you see the breadth and depth of the free and fee-based e-book content available today, as well as the sophisticated ways that content can be presented and also searched, you'll likely decide it's time to make e-books available through your library.

Project Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg is the oldest producer of free e-books on the Internet. Founded by Michael Hart, who invented e-books in 1971, this collection includes over 15,000 e-books, primarily older literary works that are in the public domain in the U.S. Creators of the site characterize their collection as containing light literature such as Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, heavy literature such as Shakespeare's works and Moby Dick, and reference works such as almanacs and thesauri.
Users can search Project Gutenberg's online catalog by title, author, and language. The site includes over 50 books in each of the following languages: Chinese, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, and Spanish; up to 50 books in 34 additional languages are also included. Imagine sharing with your Spanish teacher that Don Quijote de la Mancha is available as a free e-book. Great Books Online began in 1993, published Whitman's classic Leaves of Grass in 1994, and now offers various reference, verse, fiction, and nonfiction works, accessible via author, title, and subject indexes. Reference choices include such classics as the Columbia Encyclopedia, Roget's Thesaurus, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, and Bulfinch's Mythology. Verse offers anthologies as well as individual works by classic poets such as Burns, Dickinson, Frost, Sandburg, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Yeats. Fiction includes everything from short stories by Harte and Poe to the works of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Turgenev. Nonfiction offers such variety as Darwin's Origin of the Species and Inaugural Addresses of Presidents of the United States. Since The Oxford Shakespeare is available, students will have no excuse for not having read Act One of Romeo and Juliet for English class!

International Children's Digital Library
The mission of the International Children's Digital Library (ICDL), a project of the University of Maryland funded by the National Science Foundation and the Institute for Museum and Library Services, is "to select, collect, digitize, and organize children's materials in their original languages and to create appropriate technologies for access and use by children 3-13 years old." Launched in November 2002, this project currently features 611 children's books online, searchable by simple, advanced, and location search. Using location search, the patron can search by continent (books from, books about, or books set in); view by cover or text; sort by title, author, illustrator, language, or publication date; and specify language.
The International Children's Digital Library offers patrons the opportunity to experience diverse cultures and perspectives through literature. Unlike Project Gutenberg and, which primarily feature classics and reference targeted at teens and adults, the ICDL includes recently published works (228 available children's titles were copyrighted in the 2000s), and, of course, it caters to children. Attractive, colorful, and user-friendly, it makes children's world literature freely accessible and readily available.

Gale Virtual Reference Library
Introduced in November 2003, the Gale Virtual Reference Library (GVRL) offers nearly 500 reference titles from numerous curriculum areas (the arts, business, history, literature, science, and social studies) in addition to biography and general reference. The collection includes encyclopedias, almanacs, and specialized reference sources from imprints such as Blackbirch, Cambridge, Macmillan, St. James, Scribner, UXL, and others, in addition to Thomson Gale.
You, as library media specialist, select and purchase the titles that you need in your reference collection. Once you have purchased an item, it is available 24/7 for multiple simultaneous users from any Internet-connected computer—at school or at home through login. Students can link directly to the resource via the MARC record in your online catalog.
What the Gale Virtual Reference Library enables, of course, is circulation of reference content, a wonderful concept! In addition, cross-searching of the entire reference e-book collection you have built becomes possible! And information access at the highest level is there for your students, from Scribner's African-American Almanac to Macmillan's Countries and Their Cultures to Sage Reference's Encyclopedia of Homelessness to Thomson Gale's Encyclopedia of World Biography to UXL's Middle Ages Reference Library.

Greenwood Publishing Group, eBooks
Greenwood currently has 3,000 available titles in its new eBook program, approximately 300 of which are appropriate for the 9-12 environment. As of June, its reference titles are to be published simultaneously in print and electronic formats, which will greatly expand the company's offerings. Once you select and purchase a title, it is available to patrons through direct-to-resource linking within the MARC record in your online catalog and available 24/7 for multiple, simultaneous users.
An enhanced and expanded e-book product, Greenwood Daily Life Online includes six volumes of the print Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life plus 27 volumes from the Daily Life Through History series, additional history material from Greenwood and from Praeger Publishers, primary documents, teacher lesson plans, and links to content-appropriate authoritative Web sites. Featuring the capability to search across content, this reference is a history teacher's dream!

Follett Library Resource Company
The Follett Library Resource Company, which began offering its e-book solution in August 2003, presents a tremendous selection of e-books especially for school libraries, with 12,000 titles currently available. Of these, for example, in English, there are 500 professional titles, almost 2,000 for grades K-8, and over 2,500 for young adults. Using Follett's Titlewave, you can search to find e-books for particular grades in specific content areas. Imagine reading a picture book to a class in an elementary school library. Projection of the e-book using an LCD projector ensures that all students can see the illustrations!

With a target audience of high school and college students, Questia focuses on the humanities and the social sciences and includes 56,000 e-books (the majority of which are copyrighted works) and 1 million journal articles. Professional collection development librarians select items for inclusion in the Questia database, which offers full-text searching of 28 million pages of previously published content. A real bonus is the 6,500-plus research topics with prepackaged search results (pathfinders hand-selected and built by librarians). Company founder and president Troy Williams notes that it is Questia's mission to supplement the physical library and the services of the library media specialist. Questia provides 24/7 access, simultaneous use for its subscribers. (And until October, secondary school librarians can request a free trial subscription to the product!)

Overwhelmed? This article only scratches the surface. If you'd like to explore more of the world of e-books, check out the Digital Book Index []. This site provides links to over 105,000 title records from over 1,800 commercial and noncommercial publishers, universities, and private sites. It includes reference books, literature and languages, history, social sciences, medicine and health, math and sciences, philosophy and religion, law, the arts, children's e-books, and others.
Will you include e-books in your school library collection? Moving forward into the 21st century, you have to look in this direction! And, oh, by the way … did you notice the source of the opening definition of e-book? Why, the Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science [], of course, also available in hardcover and paperback from Libraries Unlimited.

A building-level library media specialist for 20 years, Audrey Church is now in her fifth year of teaching in the graduate school library media program at Longwood University. She is a frequent presenter at regional and state conferences and author of Leverage Your Library Program to Help Raise Test Scores: A Guide for Library Media Specialists, Principals, Teachers, and Parents, Linworth, 2003. Communications to the author should be addressed to Audrey P. Church, Instructor/Coordinator, School Library Media Program, Longwood University, 201 High Street, Farmville, VA 23909, 434/395-2682,

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