When it comes to choosing a content and library management system for your school, you’ve got to get it right from the outset. There’s a lot to deliberate but once you’ve talked through the options and applied the principles of best value, the chances are you’ll keep coming back to Softlink and its new cloud solution – Scout. Scout offers a single platform for multiple types of resource management, and can integrate eBooks, electronic journals, databases, MIS, biometrics, Accelerated Reader and other applications. It promises to transform the way you manage your school library, and that’s no empty promise.

Utilising the latest technology to connect children with literacy from a young age is no easy task, but the way in which Scout enables children to access digital resources using smartphones, iPads and other Android tablets is something of a head turner.

Of course physical books will and should always be a part of learning, but digital resources have their rightful place. After all, if you have a single device that enables you to access thousands of books, why not use it? Not as a replacement, but as an alternative route into the wonderful world of learning. The thing is, school libraries have traditionally had quite limited opening hours. But investing in a next generation digital library, such as Scout, means that resources can be accessed any time and from anywhere. It certainly strengthens home-school links when reading materials can be accessed from the living room.

Upon accessing Scout, you are presented with a nimble digital platform that children will find very easy to use. Designed with primary eyes in mind, Scout is crisp, colourful and not too busy, making it easy for children to find any resource in which they might take an interest.

An abstract is given for each book and, if you click on the classification number, a photo map of the library pops up to show you the book’s exact location with a flashing green dot. Children can write reviews of books they have read and publish them for friends to read – a feature to be exploited to the full.

Popular titles and suggestions for great reads are listed on the home page, and there is a ‘new resources’ section that allows children to see the very latest additions to the library and where to find them. More importantly, Scout offers teachers the ability to highlight the right learning resources according to year groups/learning objectives to help improve literacy standards. Children can search for information on a topic very easily, either by word, subject, title, author, series, or list. I typed in ‘Pirates’ and got links to web-based games, websites and books. It’s also possible for children to click on the eBooks icon and start reading some of what’s available without having to physically visit the library.

What would make the software better?

Personally, I’d like to see a couple of childfriendly characters who pop up and explain what to do and how to use Scout’s features. I think some of the information provided when you click on a book is a bit too academic and could be more child-friendly. And it would be nice if reviewers could upload a photo of themselves, or an avatar.

I am sure children will love using Scout because it connects them with the library in a totally new way. They can interact with a world of information and, what’s more, they can set their own user environment.

From an admin point of view, there are all sorts of bits and pieces to play with, all of which are easy to access and use. You can catalogue books, manage borrowers, lend or return resources, review overdue loans, access statistical reports (on loans, resources and top borrowers), connect to the Softlink website for help, and access management functions. At first it looks daunting but, after dipping your toe in a few times, you’ll be more than happy to take the plunge and get fully immersed.

So, what about cost? Will you need deep pockets? Obviously there is an investment, but this has to be weighed alongside what you would otherwise spend on physical resources – not to mention the cost of IT support and overburdened teaching staff. With Scout, all updates and maintenance is done for you. The idea is that the platform will change and grow with your school’s learning resource collections.

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Our Verdict

Learning at your fingertips

If your school isn’t yet hooked up to a digital content delivery solution, take a closer look at Scout and discover this out-of-the box, cloud based gem. It’s easy to use, reliable and a serious contender for getting your library up to speed.

Pie Corbett