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October 21, 2013 / Sarah Ludwig

CECA 2013 Annual Conference presentation, October 2013

July 29, 2013 / Sarah Ludwig

Starting my ebook adventure–Axis360 vs Overdrive

Now that I am at the Ethel Walker School, which has a 1:1 iPad program, it’s time for me to suck it up and develop an ebook plan for the library.


I’ve been putting this off. I’m totally overwhelmed by ebooks and hate that it’s such a pain in the butt to explore all of my options. When you want to start collecting print materials, there are only a couple of places to go. Ebooks are another story. And it’s been surprisingly tricky for me to find information online about what other libraries are doing, especially libraries where all students have an ereader. So I thought I’d start chronicling what I’ve learned so far, just in case there are any other librarians in the same boat.

It seems to me that there are two major models for ebook delivery systems.

The first is paying for a database of ebooks. For a flat fee (anywhere from $1800 to $3150 for my school, with our enrollment of about 250 students), you get access to a large number of ebooks–some vendors offer upwards of 115,000 books.

The second model is one user, one book. You purchase a copy of an ebook just as you would a print book. For multiple copies, you buy multiple ebooks. These books range in price, but are sometimes much more expensive than print. Other times, there are circulation limits on the books. Students can check out a copy of a book, which means it’s unavailable to anyone else, and return it when they’re done. Vendors that offer this model charge a hosting fee of some kind–Baker & Taylor’s Axis360 is $250/year, while Overdrive’s, again for a school of our size, is $1000. They both require you to spend a certain amount on books as well–in our case, $1000.

So which model will work better for my library?

Remember, we are an iPad school, so in my research, I needed to make sure that ebooks were easily accessible via iPad. I know this is unique to my school and is often not a challenge faced by other schools, especially those whose students do not have access to ereaders or mobile devices. In those cases, reading on the computer is important–but not in my case.

Today I’m going to share what I’ve learned about the one checkout per book model, and focus on Axis360 and Overdrive. I have contacted 3M for more information about their cloud library, but I haven’t heard back yet and it doesn’t look like they really work with schools (yet). If I hear back and get more information, I’ll share it here.



  • Overdrive has excellent customer service; they’ve been in the game a long time. I spent about an hour on the phone with one of their sales reps, talking about different options and features.
  • In terms of mobile functionality, Overdrive appears to offer a robust and seamless experience. Students can search the library’s ebook holdings right from the Overdrive app, and books sync across devices.
  • Overdrive offers a million-book catalog. Of those million books, they estimate that 350,000 are suitable for K-12 libraries. I have not received a publisher list for them, but they work with the major trade, academic, and school publishers, meaning that nearly anything that is available in ebook format is available through Overdrive.


  • The industry leader, Overdrive’s platform is expensive, though I was actually pleasantly surprised at the price point. I’d put off  exploring Overdrive because I’d assumed it would be prohibitively expensive, but the platform, at $1000 a year, is comparable to other systems. You are obligated to purchase $1000 worth of ebooks upon signing a contract, and will probably spend more, given the pricing model.
  • You can  integrate Overdrive’s records into your catalog, but they do not offer MARC records or book records for free. They do offer the raw metadata for each item…and I have no idea what I’d do with that.
  • Overdrive offers patron-driven acquisition, which would come in handy given the collection development challenges of ebook collections (more on that in another post…)
  • I’m frustrated that they do not allow you to truly demo the product or the acquisitions module, meaning that I just have to assume the process of checking out and reading a book is as easy as I hope.

Axis360 (Baker & Taylor)


  • At $250/year, with a $1000 obligation, Axis360 is more affordable than Overdrive.
  • The Magic Wall is B&T’s online platform for finding ebooks. It’s cover-heavy and attractive, and any materials you acquire will be displayed there.
  • Ordering ebooks would be fairly a fairly seamless process, since we purchase print materials through B&T. Currently, those ebooks would need to be ordered through Title Source 3 while print is ordered through School Selection, though the rep did tell me there are plans to merge the two soon.
  • MARC records are available to integrate the ebook collection into the catalog
  • Students can also access the library’s holdings right from the Axis360 app.


  • B&T provides access to 500,000 titles, which is obviously far less than Overdrive.
  • It seems as though B&T is a bit less sure of their product than Overdrive–no disrespect to my sales rep intended. They are not as aware of some of the features and functionality, including some important stuff like catalog integration and use on mobile devices.
  • From what I’ve read, some libraries have passed on Axis360 because of its more limited catalog. Would this be a real issue for us, though? I did some test searches to see if there were any differences in popular YA titles in both catalogs.

Overdrive: yes

Axis360: yes

Overdrive: yes

Axis360: yes

Catching Fire

Overdrive: in audio only (so no)

Axis360: only available to public libraries (so no)

When I did some keyword searches for topics that high school students often research, I found:

Civil Rights Movement

Overdrive:  27 items

Axis360: 7 items

Roman Architecture

Overdrive: 0 items

Axis360: 2 items

John F. Kennedy

Overdrive: not sure? A search for “john f kennedy” gave zero results, and “john f. kennedy” led to 5 titles, none of which were related.

Axis360: 65 items

Climate Change

Overdrive: 68 items

Axis360: 77 items

Obviously, this is a really small sample. But on cursory glance, it does not appear that there is a huge difference in the results that a user might get back from these two platforms.

Do you use either Overdrive or Axis360 in your school? Would you like to share your feelings on them? Please do!

Stay tuned for a post about ebook databases…

A note on collection development: I will definitely write another post later on about how to collect ebooks. Or rather, on my ideas and the ideas of others, since I haven’t started collecting them yet and I’m still not sure how to approach the issue. If you have any thoughts on the matter, please feel free to comment here or get in touch on Twitter!

July 23, 2013 / Sarah Ludwig

Using Vine with teens in public and school libraries


Using Vine with teens in public and school libraries

My latest post for VOYA’s Tag Team Tech

May 23, 2013 / Sarah Ludwig

Lesson Plan Share: Making Geometry Documentaries

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What makes a shape a shape? That’s the question that fifth graders are asking in their math classes right now. To answer the question, they’re making documentaries using the iMovie app on our school set of iPads ($5 or $2.50 with bulk purchasing). Here’s the lesson plan! It is taking two days (each class lasts for 45 minutes). See below for notes.

Screen shot 2013-05-23 at 9.31.31 PM

(View on Sribd)

Notes not addressed in the lesson plan:

  • While the interviewer and interviewee work together in the classroom, I train the cameraperson and narrator on using iMovie and then walk around with them as they film.
  • The only features the students use in iMovie are titles and credits and transitions. Since they can film right in the app, there is no importing and they can re-shoot the clip as many times as they need.
  • The students’ teacher also worked with the students on brainstorming where their shape could be found–in the kitchen, in the classroom, in the natural world, etc. This helped them brainstorm how they were going to present their shapes.
May 13, 2013 / Sarah Ludwig

Rotten Tomatoes: All the Presentations I’ve Bombed

image via flickr user billaday

I’ve reached the point now where I’m presenting enough to get a sense of when I’m doing well and when I’m failing miserably. And I obsess over the bad presentations. They swim into my consciousness late at night when I’m trying to fall asleep and I cringe as though they happened earlier that day and not months or even years prior.

The worst one, I think, was at ALA. I was the chair of a YALSA committee that sponsored a panel presentation on book trailers, so I was moderating the panel. A group of four people sent me their PowerPoint slides and I mashed them together on my Mac. But when I got to ALA, I panicked about using my Mac with an adaptor (this was a few years ago, so please forgive me), so I transferred everything to a PC laptop…which meant that none of the videos played. Or rather, they played for ten seconds and then froze, which is almost worse. Since the presentation was ABOUT videos, this was pretty bad. So bad, in fact, that during the presentation itself–with a packed audience, by the way–I made reference to weeping, curled up, in the corner. Everyone assured me that it was fine, but I knew better and I really did want to disappear.

I gave another terrible talk at a YALSA pre-conference event, when I for some reason spaced out about the fact that I was speaking to teen librarians (really?!), and I focused way too much on services to children. I was talking about a program that I have mostly used with elementary-aged kids, and I didn’t have the foresight to adapt my presentation for those working with teens. It wasn’t until the very end, when someone ased about teens in my Q&A, that I realized my blunder. Ack.

I was late for a webinar once, so not only did I not show up until ten minutes in, I was also out of breath. So I sounded almost strangled as I talked, and I never got over being flustered at being late. That’s one webinar I will never listen to!

At another event, non-ALA, I was on a panel, and because the panel was speaking in response to a keynote–a keynote I hadn’t seen ahead of time, because it was itself unplanned–I was unprepared, inarticulate, and, frankly, dull. The only thing that people seemed to take away from my remarks was that I allow students to be loud in the library….not exactly the message I was aiming for. I am not good at speaking off-the-cuff.

The thing is, I consider myself to be a pretty good public speaker. When I’m prepared, I seem to have the whole thing under control. I can connect with the audience, and make them laugh, and be fairly articulate from memory (I saw a wonderful presentation recently that was read entirely from a written speech, and while it was lovely and interesting, I find that far less engaging). And, to be honest, I love giving presentations. For a socially-awkward introvert who will avoid parties at all costs, there’s something about standing in front of a group of people that I find incredibly appealing.

So what goes wrong at these awful presentations? Well, sometimes it’s just bad luck–the traffic on my way to the webinar was unusually bad. But more often, it’s bad planning on my part. And sometimes, it’s just that the audience and I don’t connect. You know when you’ve got an audience loving you. You can feel the energy coming at you on the podium. Other times, it feels like you’re speaking into a vacuum. But even so, there are times when I think everyone hates me and then people come up to me after and tell me how useful my talk was. So, you can’t always tell.

Why am I writing about this? It’s not to convince people not to accept my conference proposals. It’s because I need to come clean. We all make mistakes in front of crowds. I remember attending the SLJ Leadership Summit in 2011 and running into a speaker right before she went on stage. This librarian is extremely well-regarded–some might even consider her a bit of a celebrity in the school library world–and she was nervous. Very nervous, in fact. I was astounded by that. But it also made me feel better. Because I get nervous no matter who I’m talking to–a huge group at a national conference or a tiny group in my own school–and it was nice to know that I’m not alone, and that even the most practiced speakers get the pre-show jitters.

Speaking in public is fun if that’s the kind of thing you like to do, but we all have bad performances, and many of us have to run to the bathroom six times before we go on stage. It’s OK. I will keep trying to give presentations, and I’m sure I will have other sub-par performances. But what I’ve learned from the bad presentations is extremely valuable. Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Make people laugh by laughing at yourself. It diffuses tension and makes you human. Acknowledging that something isn’t working or that you’re frustrated or flustered can go a long way toward breaking through the roadblocks that are tripping you up. For example, I am going to acknowledge that I just mixed my metaphors. See? Doesn’t that help?
  • BE PREPARED. Read over your slides ten times if you have to. It’s not to memorize the information, but when you get up in front of the crowd, chances are you have memorized some of it without even meaning to, and when you get nervous or have a quiet little internal freak-out, autopilot will kick in.
  • Re-read the description of what you’re doing before you start making your slides. This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you put in your proposal (or get asked to do something) six months before you actually give the presentation, your brain may mess with you and get you to believe your’re presenting about one thing when it’s really another. Stupid brain.
  • Test your tech. Duh. And have a contingency plan if something doesn’t work. This may be distracting people and running out the back door and straight into a bar. Or, maybe it’s holding up your iPad and being extra charming in your delivery!
  • Shake it off. If your presentation sucked (and it never sucks as much as you think), get over it. Analyze what went wrong, try not to read the tweets about your talk, and move on. Try again. People won’t remember your mistakes like you will. And there’s nothing like a great presentation to erase the memories of a bad one…unless you’re trying to fall asleep.
May 10, 2013 / Sarah Ludwig

Pop! Creating Stories with Zooburst

Screen shot 2013-05-08 at 12.07.13 PM

I recently wrapped up a project with our third grade classes using Zooburst, “a digital storytelling tool that lets anyone easily create his or her own 3D pop-up books.” The site has been around for a while–in fact, it was named an AASL Best Website for Teaching and Learning way back in 2011–but this was my first time using it. It was very easy for me to create a class and student accounts using the Premium account, which costs $10/month or $50/year. With young students, this was absolutely necessary since they don’t have email addresses.

Screen shot 2013-05-08 at 12.04.26 PM

Once each student had an account, it was simple for them to start working. The students were learning about different African countries and were tasked with writing a story about an animal or animals from the country they’d been assigned.

Zooburst creates pop-up books. When you turn the page, the images on the page pop up in 3D. The images can be rotated, resized, or moved anywhere on the page. Students can either select an image from Zooburst’s media bank or they can upload their own. Additionally, with a premium account, teachers can create a custom database of images for students to use.

Once the images are on the page, students write a narrative for the page itself, as well as add dialogue for each character, if they choose. They can also customize the background and the page color, and they can add background elements. And finally, students and teachers can comment on each book. The books can be embedded into a website or simply emailed home to parents.

Check out our third graders’ books here!


May 8, 2013 / Sarah Ludwig

Astrid is the boss of me


Just a quick post today to tell you how much I love Astrid. This productivity app and website is extremely effective and useful. With Astrid, you can create multiple lists, which can be anything you want. I use Astrid when I go to the grocery store, but I also live and die by it at work. I can sort items by priority or due date, and I can add collaborators for every task in any list–or add a collaborator to an entire list (my husband, ahem, is on my “home” list, which is a list of chores). When I complete a task, I check it off, which feels great…and if you check off a lot in a day, Astrid tells you how productive you are!

Astrid is a bit bossy at times. It sends reminders to your phone. Excuse me! You said you would vacuum! Sometimes I feel like Astrid is my mother, and I get a little annoyed. But ultimately, I appreciate the nag. After all, I clearly need the help.

Screen shot 2013-05-08 at 11.37.11 AM

I also like that you can create repeating tasks. There are certain things I do every week, every day, or every month that I like to remember. I can add notes for each task, too, so if I’m half-done with something, I can note that.

And finally, like all awesome things, Astrid has a Chrome add-on! Turn any website into a to-do item. And with the add-on, when you open up Gmail, an Astrid box appears that allows you to seamlessly add to a list. (You can also forward your emails to

Hooray for efficiency!

(PS: Astrid was acquired by Yahoo! last week. Some Astrid users are concerned that our beloved app will go away or change. Stay tuned, and I’m hoping for the best.)