What to expect when buying e-resources for high schools

Lura Sanborn, reference and instruction school librarian at St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, recently wrote a piece on ebooks and digital collections for the School Library Monthly. It provides a useful overview of the state of ebook acquisitions in high school libraries and the features of the most dominant e-resources on the market. We have received permission to reprint this article on No Shelf Required.

Lura has been active in the digital arena and has published her perspectives on the future of libraries in various sources, including ALA’s new journal eContent Quarterly. In her article “Bookless Library? I Raise You the Building,” featured in the Winter 2014 issue of eContent Quarterly, she convincingly argued that fully embracing a buildingless library is the logical next step for all academic institutions. Here she echoes similar “we have crossed the digital Rubicon” sentiments, focusing on the actual products and explains what high school libraries can expect to gain from and pay for each. The products covered range from platforms used for research to those used for lending purposes. The full article is reprinted below.

Books and Digital Collections for the High School Library

by Lura Sanborn

Many changes have occurred in the course of the technological revolution during the past three years. This article will serve as an update to the eBook overview published in School Library Monthly, April 2011. Important changes for the library perspective include personal devices that are designed to consume digital content, changes/additions to vendor offerings, changes/additions to existing platforms, and vendors absorbing other vendors. Perhaps the most important change is the widespread acceptance and use of eBooks and econtent. eContent is no longer a clever novelty outlier, but rather a naturally expected part of a library’s collection.

The Shift “e”

The evidence is easy to see. Not only do we see our students preferring to access consumer products in music, film, photo, and social activities (iTunes, Netflix, Spotify, Instagram, Twitter) in digital form, but several important studies have measured similar preferences and movement in the eContent universe (such as from JISC, ebrary, Pew). OCLC’s Worldcat has over 18 million eBook records (OCLC, email message to author, November 4, 2013). And, according to Cindy Orr in her post, “A Closer Look at Library Budget Woes,” on the Digital Library Blog on April 9, 2013, Overdrive reports astonishing growth in eBook use with 8.7 million digital titles checked out in 2009 and, just three years later, in 2012, 70 million digital titles checked out. Clearly, we have crossed the digital Rubicon.

The following information is intended to be a guide to the most highly recommended eContent appropriate for the high school library. In 2011, the article focused on eBook collections and, while certainly highlighted again here, this information also now differentiates between scholarly eBooks, eFiction, and eReference. Additional digital content such as streaming film and eMagazines as well as a watch list of items that are on the horizon/in development are also included.

The following criteria are highlighted for each selected collection: ownership or lease, number of titles/items, simultaneous or single user access, collection coverage, Patron Driven Acquisition model availability, and pricing, when available. All of the included eBook vendors offer free, downloadable MARC records.

Please note that pricing specific to the high school market is included, but as always, pricing is subject to change. Librarians should contact vendors for up-to-the minute pricing.

Scholarly eBook Collections

For an opening day scholarly eBook collection, the two major players today are ebrary Academic and the Ebsco Academic eBook collection.

ebrary offers an annual subscription to 86,000+ academic titles all with unlimited simultaneous user access. The collection adds titles every year at no cost to the subscriber. DDA model is available, as are subject collections for purchase and/or subscription. Individual titles may be purchased with permanent access, usually with the option of either the individual use model or multiple user model. Interestingly, Proquest, the parent company of ebrary, purchased EBL in the spring of 2013. At the moment the Proquest company is supporting both models; a major ebrary interface upgrade is expected in 2014, including the folding in of EBL into the new ebrary platform. Expect to pay: Close to $5,000.

Ebsco Academic eBook collection offers an annual subscription to 120,000+ academic titles all with unlimited simultaneous user access. The collection adds titles every year at no cost to the subscriber. DDA model is available, as are subject collections for purchase and/or subscription. Individual titles may be purchased with permanent access, usually with the option of either the individual use model or multiple user model. Expect to pay: Close to $3,000.

When looking for something smaller, wish to hand-select, and/or acquire permanent ownership:

JSTOR offers 20,000 titles available as permanent acquisitions that co-live in the JSTOR journal database, mostly with unlimited simultaneous user access. Purchase options include complete collection, subject collections, DDA, and title-by-title acquisitions. Like the journal database, the eBook collection is well-rounded and includes humanities, sciences, social sciences, and the arts. Expect to pay: $5,000 to begin a DDA program, purchases run about 30% off paper list price per title.

Project Muse offers over 30,000 (by 2014) titles available as permanent acquisitions or subscription that co-live in the Project Muse journal database, all with unlimited simultaneous user access. Purchase options include complete collection, subject collections, and collections by year. Title-by-title acquisitions are available to those libraries currently working with the eBook jobber, Yankee Book Peddler. Titles are largely humanities and social science based with some representation of the softer sciences and history of science. Expect to pay: $500-$5,000 depending upon subject collection/archival depth.

Is your library supporting a hardcore STEM program? Worth a mention is the Springer Book Archives, offering 90,000 titles from 1842-2014, available as permanent acquisitions, all with unlimited simultaneous user access. Libraries may purchase the archive (1842-2004 containing 50,000 eBooks) or frontfile (2005-2014, containing 40,000 eBooks). Expect to pay: Roughly 55 cents per eBook, so about $30,000 for each of the collections. This is an absolute bargain, yet sadly unobtainable for much of the high school market.

Updated thoughts on ACLS: While three years ago this was a standout product for its quality content and low price tag, today, the old-fashioned interface and difficult to use eBook presentation places this in the “no longer recommended” column. Expect to pay: About $500 for 3,300 eBooks, subscription with unlimited simultaneous user access.


This is the absolute gold standard of background information; library reference collections are now available, in varying acquisition models, in digital form. These collections are essential for initial research and to teach/understand “what exactly can we expect from Wikipedia?” and “What is the difference between reference books and Wikipedia?”

Have nothing but want something? Credo Reference, available as an annual subscription, offers roughly 600 eReference books, all with unlimited simultaneous user access. The collection adds titles every year at no cost to the subscriber. Subject collections are available for purchase with permanent access also with unlimited simultaneous user access. Expect to pay: Around $2,000.

Want to build your own eReference collection and hold it forever, as libraries have long done with print? Gale Virtual Reference Library here is The Incomparable. Gale’s publisher list is extensive and includes both classic backlist titles and frontlist titles (for a total of 12,000+ selections), all with permanent and unlimited simultaneous user access. In the fall of 2013, Gale announced the new UDA (User Driven Acquisition) model. Expect to pay: A smidge more than print list price for the digital version. Gale frequently runs great sales, offering select (often core) titles at up to 75% off.

Salem Press is worth noting in this category, especially as Magill’s falls under the Salem umbrella. What was good in print is excellent in digital form. The Salem model is unlike others, in that a purchase of the print version includes a free copy of the same title in digital form, with unlimited simultaneous user access. I confess, I’ve purchased the print solely to bring the digital version to my patrons. One caveat, Salem packages their eBooks into subject platforms (literature, medicine, history) that are not cross-searchable. Ideally cross-searching all Salem content via one master interface will become an option in the future. Expect to pay: List price for the print and get the digital for free.

Is there serious literature research at your school? Gale’s Literature Criticism Online product recently made available twelve literature research series previously, due to cost and space, only available to the college and university market. These include the Dictionary of Literary Biography (400+ volumes), Contemporary Literary Criticism (300+ volumes), Shakespearean Criticism Archive (144 volumes), and the popular Something About the Author series (200+ volumes). In the summer of 2013, each of these sets was being offered to high schools at up to 95% off the print list price Representing a phenomenal savings in shelf space and dollars. As of this article, these series stand alone and are not currently cross-searchable with Gale’s Virtual Reference Library. Expect to pay: between $2,500 – $5,000 per literature series; price varies depending on title.


Overdrive carries the big guns in this market. If possible, I recommend hopping into a larger, pre-existing Overdrive consortia as this will give access to the content already collected by the consortia at a bargain rate. From here, one can then add the overlay Overdrive Advantage model to purchase, say, a dozen copies of Animal Farm available just to one’s own patrons. Additionally, if students have already used Overdrive via their public library, this neatly eliminates the learning curve of yet another digital interface and provides seamlessness from public to school library. According to the Overdrive site, over 1 million titles are available from major (and minor) publishers. Overdrive offers eBooks, eAudio, and eVideo in the (mostly) one-book-one-user model. If a dozen copies of a text are needed to support AP English, be prepared to buy a dozen eCopies, just as we are accustomed to doing with print. This platform absolutely requires each student/faculty member to create an Overdrive account in order to access content, unlike the scholarly eBook collections described above. Items are beautifully presented and synced using HTML5; individual titles are keyword searchable. Overdrive does a superb job of supporting libraries and streamlining processes. It is the publishers that make Overdrive one of the more intense eBook labyrinths. Harper-Collins titles are available for twenty-six check-outs, and then disappear. Penguin titles are rented on an annual basis. Macmillan titles are available for fifty-two checkouts or two years, whichever comes first. The variety in publisher policy de-simplifies managing this collection. It is worth noting that in the last twelve months, the big five publishers seem to have arrived at an understanding of what healthy eBook lending is/can look like at the library level, and more large publishers are making offerings via Overdrive. Despite the wide variance in publisher terms, Overdrive itself is a fabulous platform, offers the most number of titles and desired publishers, and, thereby, my top pick for eFiction. Expect to pay: Possible consortia fee, a thousand or two as a set-up fee, and variety on the pricing per title: $10-$75 depending on many things including release date, popularity, and publisher.

If Overdrive is not going to work, there are some smaller eBook vendors that could fit the bill. With smaller selections and fewer brand name publishers though, it will be harder to offer AP reading lists (and other course required reading) in eBook form using anything but Overdrive.

Axis 360 is a Baker & Taylor product that is really trying to compete; if Overdrive is the major league, Axis 360 is more double-A, offering about half the number of titles. 3M offers 200,000 eBooks with some big publishers like Random and HarperCollins included. For a more esoteric experience, involving tokens and lesser-known titles/publishers, try Freading. Finally, library software supplier Follet has its own platform and array (200,000) of largely nonfiction offerings.

jSources to watch

Oyster is currently a consumer-only platform, offering 100,000 eBooks for a monthly fee (one is naturally drawn to compare this to the ground-breaking Netflix streaming platform). At the moment, this is only open to consumers, but if Oyster opens their product to libraries this could be a valuable model.

Indieflix (below) was for years only available to individuals, but since being purchased by Recorded Books, it has entered the library market to rave librarian reviews.


Great educational streaming media has been around for a bit (i.e., NBC Learn newsreel archive, Discovery Streaming, Alexander Street Press). It has been difficult to locate streaming content that fits into the recreational category. Initial offerings are popping up, some still in growth/beta mode, with hopefully more to follow!

Indieflix contains about 4,000 independent films, with 60-100 new films added each week. Independent is defined by Indieflix as: shorts, web series, full-length features, and documentaries. They are all streaming, anytime, and cleared for educational viewing. Patrons may also submit their own films for review and possible inclusion in the collection. Expect to pay: About $1,000.

If a faculty member needs an individual feature film for known educational use, try Swank Media and purchase a license for educational rights. Expect to pay: Varies per title.

To watch: Kanopy, a streaming educational provider from Australia, has the rights to offer a collection of Paramount/Universal film to the Pan Asia area of the globe. Currently (winter 2013/2014) Kanopy is investigating being able to offer this collection to the U.S. Fingers crossed!

To watch: Hoopla, currently only available to select public libraries and a product of MidWest Tape, offers a collection of 2nd-tier streaming video titles alongside streaming music in a pay-as-you-play model.


Are printed magazines languishing in the periodicals room? Looking to expand access/digital content and ensure like eBooks that eMagazines are available 24/7 from anywhere around the globe on the device(s) already owned by your students? Put the periodicals room in their pocket with the following services.

Zinio, owned by Recorded Books, offers a generous number of eMagazine titles priced similarly to Ebsco’s print magazine subscriptions, in a digital flip-page model. It includes the now digital-only Newsweek. One downside is that Zinio charges an old-school style set-up fee. Expect to pay: $1,000 to $2,000 set-up fee, plus the cost of each subscription.

To watch: Ebsco, long-time provider of libraries’ printed periodical subscriptions, is expected to launch a mobile interface in summer 2014. This interface will be based on the popular flip-page model. This is one to keep an eye on, especially if Ebsco offers a seamless transition from print-to-digital, and presumably without a platform set-up fee.

Digital Ethics

“But, how do I cite this stuff?” It is best to buy a citation management software. Digital ethics skills are screaming for everybody’s attention. EasyBib and Noodletools are both great choices to support this skill; both products are ideal for entry-level and even mid-range bibliographers.

Aching to Keep Up?

In addition to keeping an eye on the professional literature more broadly, the following specific sources may be helpful to have on one’s radar.

The following three annual articles (or twice annually) from the professional literature are recommended:

  • Library Journal: Best of Databases is available in November, in print, indexed in select databases, freely online.
  • Booklist: eReference update is available in both Fall and Spring in print, indexed in select databases and freely online
  • Choice: E-Products for Academic Libraries: Annual Buying Guide is available in late summer, in print, indexed in select databases and via paid Choice site.

A book:

  • E-book Platforms for Libraries by Mirela Roncevic. ALA TechSource, 2013. $43.00

And a blog:

  • No Shelf Required (blog). http://www.libraries.wright.edu/noshelfrequired/. This blog is managed by Sue Polenka, and her books on the topic are helpful too.

To Conclude

Since the first edition of this article ran in 2011, I have (happily!) received dozens of emails from high school librarians requesting advice regarding the acquisition of eBook collections appropriate to their environment. I recommend that every librarian study the digital landscape and make purchasing decisions based on their own students’ research needs and interests, broader curriculum support, and, of course, budget. A quick answer, however, to “What if I have $10,000 to spend on digital content?” would be these very general suggestions that are not intended as a master guide.

  • $4,000—either ebrary or Ebsco Academic, for an awesome scholarly collection. Can’t go wrong with either one.
  • $1,000—Indieflix, to supply some streaming content that can be used in the classroom, in projects, and for recreational viewing.
  • $2,000—to start building a digital reference collection with Gale, beginning with core titles most useful to your patron base.
  • $2,000—to invest in an eFiction collection; my first choice is Overdrive, especially if you can hop into an existing consortia.
  • $1,000—to spend or allocate to content (either from the vendors in this list or otherwise) specific to supporting the unique aspects of your patron base, i.e., be it STEM, eLiterature, or faculty professional development titles.


Certainly it has been challenging to be asked to point to shelves of print titles and claim them as more sophisticated and scholarly than random Googling and Wikipedia entries; students are not so easily convinced of this as truth and certainly, and astutely so, are aware that print is undoubtedly not simpler to use nor is it quicker. The digital eContent model eases this challenge greatly. eBooks are available online just as easily as are our students’ long-standing favorite research-to-go sites. A library with a hearty selection of quality eBooks, accompanied by a quick and clever explanation as to why library digital collections represent the academic gold standard, and how they are different from the free Web, and what one can expect from the free Web alongside library digital collections, can go a long way in deepening understanding and use of a library’s carefully cultivated, scholarly eCollection.

A wide acceptance of digital products broadly, and eBooks, more specifically, has led to the natural expectation and need of having eBook collections at the high school library. Digital collections are incandescently powerful in that they meet patrons where they naturally want to be (online, via a lovely glowing screen), they mine data quickly and masterfully, and finally, they are available no matter what the library hours are. While we are still amidst a technological revolution, it is clear that when it comes to books, it has been comfortably realized that it is not the container that matters; it’s the content.


Digital Library Blog. http://overdriveblogs.com/library/2013/04/09/a-closer-look-at-library-budget-woes/.

Connaway, Lynn Silipigni, and Timothy J. Dickey. “The Digital Information Seeker: Findings From Selected OCLC, RIN and JISC User Behaviour Projects.” JISC, 2010. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/reports/2010/digitalinformationseekers.aspx (accessed December 2, 2013).

McKiel, McKiel, Allen. “2012 Global Student E-book Survey: United Kingdom.” ebrary, 2012. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/surveys/home.action (accessed November 6, 2013).

Rainie, Lee, and Maeve Duggan. “E-book Reading Jumps; Print Book Reading Declines.” Pew Research Center, 2012. http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2012/12/27/e-book-reading-jumps-print-book-reading-declines/ (accessed December 2, 2013).

One thought on “What to expect when buying e-resources for high schools”

  1. Nice job capturing the ever-changing eBook world. Oyster looks very appealing for the direct-to-consumer model but if they made the shift to libraries I suspect the publishers would be treating them much like they do OverDrive. As to film – well OverDrive is player there, too and the LibraryIdeas folks (ie Freegal) have streaming film as well.

Comments are closed.