SORA Expansion

SLS Expands Regional Access to E-Books
Posted on 01/20/2021

The MOBOCES School Library System’s new e-book service has grown exponentially this year as students and teachers in the region are utilizing more digital media due to virtual and asynchronous learning.

SLS has offered digital media services for many years, but moved in September 2019 to the SORA collection, which offers a wide range of leveled fiction and non-fiction material for K-12. SORA launched at the secondary level two years ago, and when COVID closed down schools in the spring, demand for ebooks, audiobooks, and other streaming and digital media skyrocketed, SLS Director Sue LeBlanc said.
“In some cases, in the spring, and still this year, this is the only way to access books, and we want to do what we can to keep books in kids’ hands and continue developing independent, engaged readers,” she said.

LeBlanc said the growth in usage has been far greater than other new databases SLS has rolled out in the past. In September 2019, SORA had about 750 checkouts and 1,121 opened books. Compare that to September 2020, with nearly 3,500 checkouts and more than 2,700 opened books.

tracy mammonePart of the growth has been the addition of elementary school users during the summer of 2020, but since those users just began exploring the database this fall, they accounted for only a few the September numbers. Since the year has progressed though, elementary usage has also grown significantly. School librarians, like Amy Jerome in Hamilton, said they have been working this fall to introduce their students in grades 1-6 to the regional digital collection to help expand usage.

“We have new elementary books with 100 holds on them. We didn’t necessarily expect to see that,” LeBlanc said. “Elementary kids are really excited about new content.”

Mary Laverty, a shared librarian between Rome and Canastota, had great success with SORA at Rome Free Academy high school during the initial launch, and is now helping students in grades 4-6 at Roberts Street Elementary School in Canastota become more familiar with the resource. Laverty said in particular she has been able to curate digital collections specific to LGBTQ+ students through SORA, allowing them to confidentially check out titles that they may not want to check out of a physical library. SORA also automatically returns books for students, bookmarks their place when they return to the app, and provides a broader range of materials than a single school could provide on its own.

“Even if we were not in COVID, having a robust digital library collection can fill a lot of niches for users,” she said. “So many students have multiple homes or forget their books and with their school Chromebooks, they have a digital connection and are never without a book. It helps fill a gap with independent and leisure reading.”

amy austinVVS Middle School librarian Amy Austin agreed, saying students are excited by the variety of materials available to them 24/7. Austin said she created online materials on how to use SORA that she shared with all teachers in her building, and students have been using SORA for individual book projects and independent reading. Although not all students want to read online, she said they enjoy having the option to access additional leisure material.

“As I moved through classrooms this fall and observed kids exploring SORA, they were excited about titles they found and immediately asked questions about whether we owned certain subjects and made requests for particular titles,” Austin said. “Having a digital collection means that no titles get lost or damaged, and there is no need to run overdue notices and track down students. Students also like that they can choose books and access them digitally from anywhere. It’s helpful when we are learning remotely.”

SLS used state funding to purchase the core collection of materials to be shared regionally, LeBlanc said. In addition, each district contributed $1 per student to allow SLS to purchase an additional layer of shared regional content. All nine districts are participating on both levels of the service, and MOBOCES schools now have access to many titles they might not be able to have in their own in-school collection.

“Ebooks are quite costly so if a district were to purchase these on their own, they would likely have just a small individual collection. This is much more cost-friendly and a regional collection like this really amplifies the power of everyone working together.”

An added bonus is that SORA allows districts to provide students with access to the entire Mid-York Library System’s digital media collection using only their school library account by setting up an agreement with their local public library. Four districts – Camden, Canastota, Rome and VVS - have so far included this option and are starting to roll out access for students and teachers.

“Not all students have public library cards, but now the entire Mid-York collection is open to all students without that,” Laverty said. “We only have these resources because we’re part of the MOBOCES library system. This isn’t something we could really do on our own.”