In one CO district, a digital library offers valuable opportunities for differentiation [Sora Spotlight]
By: Kristen Hein, Account Manager
In our recurring Sora Spotlight series, we feature a wide range of educators who’ve become Sora champions at their school, impressing us with their innovative methods for implementing the reading app and engaging with their students. Here, we ask them to share their insights and ideas so that we can all be inspired to find new ways to reach students with reading.
Today, we’ll get to know Carin Barrett, a high school Teacher Librarian in Northern Colorado.
Describe your position and your school.
I am a Teacher Librarian at a suburban/rural high school in Northern Colorado. This is my 22nd year in our school and my 6th year as our librarian (I began my teaching career as a Social Studies teacher and still teach one class about Philanthropy). Our library supports the academic and personal reading pursuits of 700 students grades 9-12, and 70 staff members, as well as offering a dynamic space and a variety of programming.
How many years have you been active with OverDrive?
What are you currently reading?
The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope
Carin’s Sora Story
Why do you love Sora?/What do you love most about Sora?
I appreciate the flexibility Sora offers students to expand the means by which they can engage with books. Ebooks – and particularly audiobooks – are becoming more popular with our students. We talk a lot with students about how audiobooks can be a way to immerse yourself in a book in the car or while exercising or doing other activities. Especially with our upperclassmen, we use digital books and the freedom they can offer as a way to introduce the idea of the variety of ways they can become a lifelong reader. I also love Sora’s interface and how easy and user-friendly it is, as well as how fun it can be to curate collections for Sora in Overdrive Marketplace to further personalize and create meaningful reading experiences for our student body.
What unique things have you done to help increase student engagement with Sora?
During the pandemic I saw a store window that said, “Shop This Window,” with a QR code that allowed a person to be able to purchase and then pick up at the curb the outfits and accessories that were displayed. This immediately made me think of how to get books in the hands of students in such an easy way that doesn’t even necessarily require students to enter the library. Thus, our “Browse/Borrow This Board” concept was born.
We maintain three chalkboards in our school that have between two and four different themed displays, plus eight book covers that fit within each theme (we use magnetic pockets to display the covers and theme posters, so they are easily changed). When a theme catches a student’s eye, they just scan the code or enter the short link and are taken to a Google Site page with all the books, brief descriptions, and the links to the books in Sora so they can literally stand in the hall and check out a book right there.
We also promote our Sora collection on our Instagram and via inserts in any physical book that is on display in our library for which we also have an ebook or audiobook (or both), which is our version of a common practice in libraries to use shelf talkers to promote digital assets.
Are there any events that you’ve done with Sora?
This year when the emails started arriving for the Big Library Read of A Snake Falls to Earth, one of our library interns (students who create and promote library programs as part of their course schedule) and I thought it would be fun to do a “pop-up” book club. We had 15 students and staff participate, and we planned various “swag” items and text messages (participants opted in to a Remind group) that were connected in one way or another to an event or character in the book and reflected where readers would be if they were reading a certain amount every day of the two-week “pop-up” period.
At the end of the universal borrowing period, the readers came together in the library for a lunchtime discussion of the book. Everyone who participated enjoyed their reading experience in Sora, and for some of them it was the first time they had tried a digital book, which again has increased interest and use not only among those participants but also others who learned about it through them sharing their positive experiences. The universal access to the book via the Big Library Read program is an incredible opportunity to connect a large number of readers in an experience without any extra cost – students and staff really loved it and I’m sure we will do it with every BLR in the future.
How have you engaged your whole school community?
In my time as librarian, I have worked hard to partner with an increasing numbers of teachers to incorporate some element of choice reading in their classes or curriculum; at this point, most of our 9th graders and all of our 10th graders participate in choice reading as part of their ELA classes, and our Environmental Science and Genetics teachers both have projects which ask students to choose books that somehow connect to the content. Sora has been an instrumental part of offering reading method options that appeal to different types of students, and all the teachers involved have been happy to allow students to read whatever version of their selected book that serves them best.
In what ways has all of this been successful?
Students having access to digital books has unquestionably increased the amount of reading being done by students at our school. Providing students options that serve their reading needs also helps the library to ensure we are doing the best we can to truly provide inclusive services for all in our library.
Over the last few years, schools have been presented a lot of unique challenges. How has Sora helped with this?
The pandemic led me to create a digital browsing site for our students that houses several genre- and theme-based collections of our books, and Sora was critical to students being able to access many of those titles immediately (we also offered curbside pickup during the time of distance learning where students were away from the building, but staff could be there).
Students did borrow many books from the Sora platform during that time, and I think many of those borrowing habits have continued once students discovered the ease of using Sora and how its accessibility features can personalize their reading experience. The Sora collection of always available classics also offered an important means for some of our ELA teachers to be able to continue to do various units without having to figure out a way to distribute digital books to students.
As you look to the rest of this school year, do you have any exciting ideas you want to try?
I would really like to promote our Sora collection more effectively on our Instagram by combining it with the option to direct students to the link in our bio to get immediate access to books we feature with a few clicks. Based on the success of our Pop-Up Book Club and the affordability of the Class Set model that OverDrive Marketplace offers, I am also going to gauge student interest in having more of them than just the ones that coincide with the Big Library Read offerings. Additionally, I think it would be fun to set up an audiobook “sample station” (like the headphone stations in record stores of the past) in the library to enhance the browsing experience of students when they come by looking for a new read.
Get to know Carin
In your opinion, why is reading digitally important, especially to student readers?
Given the increasing amount of digital reading students will be expected to do in all walks of adulthood, both personal and professional, this is an important skill to help students master while still in school where they can be supported in doing so.
What is the most important thing you hope your students take away from reading/education?
I became a librarian because of how much I love information and how much power I believe it holds. The insight and ideas that come from books and the capabilities they offer to every single person who is willing to take the time to discover them is nothing short of miraculous in my mind. Books also can do so much for people and I have yet to find a personal or academic need that reading can’t meet; I want students to come to believe the same thing through the reading experiences they have as a function of our library encouraging them – as our motto says, “read what you want; learn all you can.”
What advice do you have for new educators/librarians with a digital collection?
One of the most important ideas that I think not everyone has yet embraced is that in many important ways, any method of reading a student engages in should be seen as reading. Too many people still consider audiobooks or graphic novels to not “count” as reading for example, and those attitudes can mean students are potentially losing important comprehension or personal growth opportunities that we shouldn’t be robbing them of. While digital reading and physical reading have different skill sets and benefits, negative attitudes toward digital options is a disservice to students. I would also say that once a digital collection is available, it’s worth spending just as much time creatively marketing those resources as one would building out complex physical book displays. Making it so students who come to your school and library know immediately that you have an “on-demand” option for them when it comes to books and that those books are “sold” just as much as others makes it more likely a student will choose to read, and that is one of the most valuable things we can do for them in our profession.
Want to be featured in our next Sora Spotlight? Reach out to us with a brief explanation of what you’re doing in your school and how you’re making an impact with Sora!
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About the Author:
Kristen Hein is an Account Manager working with schools to integrate digital into their libraries and classrooms. She herself has experience as a history teacher working with students grades 8-12 focusing on U.S. history and government. She generally spends most of her free time chasing around her hyper-active pup Romeo, hiking, practicing yoga and trying out the best Cleveland restaurants.
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