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It came as a surprise to some of Mindy Siefert's students that their librarian was not against e-books.

Rather, the Lindbergh schools libraries began circulating electronic versions of fiction titles this year, as well as the portable devices on which to read them.

"Reading is reading," said Siefert, a librarian at Lindbergh High School. "As much as we love paper books, our kids are using their devices in every way possible, so why not offer them a way to read?"

Lindbergh is not the only district to turn the page into this new chapter — the popularity of e-books in school libraries has exploded in the last few years, especially among elementary aged students.

The district now has nearly 800 fiction titles in e-books. Rockwood and Mehlville also have hundreds of e-books available for students. To read its selections, Pattonville started allowing middle school and high school students to check out iPads. In the Francis Howell School District, most libraries have some e-books, and the plan is to dedicate at least 10 percent of next year's library budget to purchase more.

And educators say even in this digital era, the school library continues to thrive. While some budgets have remained flat to purchase new books, libraries are anything but quiet, they say. Rather, they are the hub of new technology, staffers say.

MORE KINDLES, NOOKS

E-readers were, at first, popular with older adults when they came on the market. But as the Kindle or Nook dropped in price, students, teachers and libraries are bringing them into their classrooms and schools. More students showed up with them after winter break after receiving them as gifts, and many more are interested in using them for reading, schools say.

The librarians are responding. Nationwide, the number of school libraries building electronic stacks is increasing in the past few years.

A 2011 survey by the School Library Journal found that 31 percent had e-books in their collections. But 63 percent of those surveyed said they couldn't afford to buy digital books.

"I think librarians are in favor of anything that gets students reading," said Margaret Sullivan, regional director for the Missouri Association of School Libraries and president of St. Louis Suburban School Librarians Association. "What we just want to make sure is that every student has access to technology, because some students might not have that at home."

AN EXPENSIVE OPTION

That is what some librarians refer to as the "digital divide" — or shutting out some students who don't have the technology at home to access e-books.

At St. Louis Public Schools, purchasing enough e-books and readers to give each student at its 77 schools fair access to the technology would be expensive, officials say.

Lindbergh has 165 total Nooks — 30 at its high school, 30 at each middle school and 15 at each elementary, although many students have their own devices.

For reluctant readers and those learning English as a second language, the e-books can be particularly helpful, librarians say. Some are interactive when used on a device connected to the Internet, helping children read by highlighting the words as a child hears the audio version.

But a 2006 study at Temple University found that e-books can hinder learning when parents read them with their preschoolers. With e-readers, parents spent more time directing the child on how to use the device, rather than interacting with them about the story.

School librarians, meanwhile, are looking for ways to rethink their role with children as they bring on the new technology of e-books.

A CHANGING ROLE

That effort fits within a larger shift that has school librarians growing in their role in developing a student as an online researcher as they navigate new database and technologies.

"It's about so much more than going to the library and getting a book," said Sue Polanka, of the "No Shelf Required" blog and editor of a book by the same name published by the American Library Association.

On a recent afternoon, 9-year-old Josh Hezel and his classmates were in the library at Long Elementary.

A generation ago, Hezel and the others might have stopped by a shelf of recommended books, or searched on his own in the card catalog. Instead, he and his classmates sat down with some of the school's new e-readers. The titles flew by on screen as Hezel scrolled through, stopping at one that caught his eye.

"This sounds like a chapter book," said Hezel, as the other third-graders at his library table glanced up briefly from their own screens. "Oh, it's a football book. Cool."

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