Library Networks – and – Innovative ways of enabling access to books from abroad

The international school library network in Singapore, ISLN, has explored several innovative ways to help schools get their hands on their Red Dot Award books each year.

Access matters.  ISLN’s goal is to get as many people to read the four annual shortlists as possible in order to promote discussion and exposure to a range of books from the region and around the world.  

An extra incentive for the students is the end-of-year Readers Cup, a fun-filled day based on the Red Dot shortlisted titles. Past ISLN president Mel Cooper described the 2018 event in a blog post, saying: “This year’s Readers Cup Festival had a number of components: book trivia quizzes, book cover competition, viewing book trailers and, what I feel was the most enlivening component, students from different schools mixing together to work together on book-related activities.”  She also commented on the challenges involved in organizing it, but confirmed it as evidence of “the power of a professional learning community coming together to host a fun literacy centered event.”

If schools can’t get the Red Dot shortlists into their libraries, then their students can’t read them in time to vote and participate in such literacy activities. So the network has looked for ways to ease that — for both physical copies as well as ebook versions.

Digital rights management is tricky overseas. It depends on the country you’re in and the ebook store you’re buying from — and there aren’t many options when it comes to ebook lending software and vendors. As of September, there’s a Bolinda “BorrowBox” ebooks/audiobook consortium within the ISLN network network, allowing them to share books between schools that use Bolinda, which is useful for any Red Dot titles available in those digital formats. Previously, ISLN had a consortium using Wheelers Books, a NZ ebook/audiobook lender — and the network bought all the Red Dot titles it could.

When it comes to getting physical copies into Singapore, the network has helped out in several ways. First, they encourage booksellers to make it easy for schools to order the Red Dots each year, e.g., Denise Tan of Closetful of Books in Singapore has a special order form for schools to use, and the regional representative of Follett Books (a US supplier) creates order lists in Titlewave (their online bookstore) based on the Red Dot lists.

It sometimes happens that books from a particular country, say Australia, are harder to get. So sometimes ISLN has taken it upon themselves to import titles like James Roy’s “Town” and Sally Murphy’s “Pearl Verses the World” and re-sell them to their members.

Because many schools in Singapore rely upon online vendors like Book Depository (beloved because of the free shipping and the fast delivery times — despite the fact that they are actually owned by Amazon), ISLN decided to experiment with being an “affiliate” — meaning they would earn money (5% commission) every time someone clicked on a Red Dot link (from the website or from Twitter) and bought a book.

This little Book Depository experiment has netted the network about 4,000 GBP profit since June 2018, with over 500 orders, not just from Singapore, but also from Dubai, the UK, Malaysia, Japan, UAE, and Thailand, etc. (Obviously, Amazon has a similar potential….)

Having said that, I should point out that library networks earning money can be problematic. Where do you hold the funds? In one school’s coffers? Opening a bank account implies you are a legal entity. Fortunately, ISLN is a registered non-profit in Singapore, ever since it made money from its “Hands on Literacy” conferences, starting in 2008. So it has a place to hold — and distribute — money.

What do they do with the funds? Besides supporting book purchases, the ISLN money goes towards professional development projects as well as charity literacy ones, like Book Reach in Nepal.

It’s just another example of a group of dedicated teacher-librarians being committed to books — and figuring out ways to spread them throughout their communities — and others.

[Cross-posted on Katie Day’s blog, The Librarian Edge. Katie is now the secondary teacher-librarian at NIST International School in Bangkok, Thailand, but worked at United World College of Southeast Asia in Singapore for 11 years before that.]

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