Frederick County schools’ ‘Magic Wall’ opens a world of e-books -- Gazette.Net


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For eager Frederick County schools students who love to read and have access to the Internet, they can now check out a book and begin reading it anytime day or night.

The Frederick County Public Schools has added a selection of e-books to the schools’ libraries that students can access online logging in with their school identification, said MaryJo Richmond, coordinator of media services for the school system.

Students can download the books to smartphones and other devices with a simple click on the book’s title from what has been dubbed “The Magic Wall” on their school’s website, Richmond said.

“The slogan going around is the library is now open 24/7,” Richmond said.

Frederick County is the second public school system to provide access to e-books in the state, behind only Washington County, she said.

Interest in e-books for the students appears to be high, Richmond said. At the kickoff event in January, more than 175 students and their parents attended despite inclement weather that night, she said.

The students are restricted in the number of e-books that can be checked out at one time, she said. They also are restricted to checking out only grade-appropriate books from the school’s website so elementary students could not check out high school level books, for example.

The most popular book now for young students is on the popular singing group One Direction, Richmond said. In the first month, 318 e-books have been checked out by elementary students, 218 by middle school students and 137 by high school students.

Providing children with easy access to e-books for them to check out of their school library is a helpful step in their learning, said Patricia A. Alexander, the Jean Mullen professor of literacy at the University of Maryland, College Park.

With e-books capable of being read on a range of devices, from smartphones to iPods to Kindles to personal computers, many students now are growing up reading books digitally instead of traditional paperbacks or hardbacks, said Alexander, who is an expert on how the interests of children and adults impact their reading comprehension..

“The joke is kids now don’t know how to turn pages because they’re so used to touching the screens,” she said.

With computers available at public libraries and smartphones becoming more affordable, the technology is also making the Internet accessible across different income groups.

“That’s been a question about the digital divide,” Alexander said. “The difficulty in that argument is the number of individuals who have electronic access is increasing rapidly. The real digital divide these days is how they use access. Are they playing games or are they reading books?”

Eventually, Alexander expects most textbooks will be digital as well.

“It’s already happening at the college level,” she said. “With younger students, kids come home with back injuries because they’re weighed down with so many textbooks.”

Richmond said she thinks textbooks for secondary school students is still far in the future because the economics are prohibitive for textbook publishers, and county schools don’t have the infrastructure in place for them, she said.

Costs of individual e-books range from $5.99 to $35.99. The school system has spent about $10,000 overall to add e-books throughout the county schools.

Currently, only three of the county’s schools have wireless accessibility, Richmond said. Installing wireless capability in every school is estimated to cost $5 million.

Meanwhile, textbook publishers, like other publishing businesses, have struggled to move into the digital age because of a range of complex issues, ranging from the risk of piracy from illegal downloads of the material to lower sales revenue from e-books, Richmond said.