BookmarkED Empowering Literary Choices: A Conversation with Steve Wandler, CEO and Co-Founder of BookmarkED

In an enlightening conversation, Steve Wandler, the CEO and Co-Founder of BookmarkED, shares the inspiring journey behind the creation of this innovative platform and how it is revolutionizing the way parents, school districts, and librarians approach children’s literature in the wake of recent legislative changes.

As the landscape of challenged and banned books becomes more complex, BookmarkED strikes a delicate balance between empowering parental decisions and respecting diverse opinions on literature. Wandler sheds light on the platform’s mission to enhance literacy, ensure compliance, and foster community engagement.

Learn how BookmarkED navigates challenges, its holistic solutions for school districts, and Wandler’s personal strategies to stay motivated in the ever-evolving world of education technology. This interview unveils not just a platform, but a vision for a future where books become a source of unity, curiosity, and growth in the young minds of tomorrow.

1 – Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind BookmarkED and how it addresses the challenges parents, school districts, and librarians face in selecting appropriate literary options for children in light of recent legislation like the Texas House Bill (HB) 900?

BookmarkED was founded to address the conflict that school districts are currently facing from challenged books. With the passing of Texas House Bill (HB) 900, school districts must meet changing requirements for parental engagement and library book access.

We enable parents to make individual decisions on literary options for their children. At the same time, we protect school districts from liability by ensuring compliance with legislation and equip schools with real-time data at the state and national level for challenged books, which no other solution in the market is capable of.

Finally, our ultimate vision is to create a world where passion for books unites communities and elevates literacy.

2 – The landscape of challenged and banned books is complex and often controversial. How does BookmarkED navigate the fine line between empowering parents’ decisions and respecting the diverse range of opinions on literature?

As book challenges are increasing, we’ve naturally seen a surge in conversations from parents, school administrators, educators, librarians, and policymakers, across the United States. The American Library Association (ALA) documented 2,571 unique library books and resources challenged in 2022, nearly double the number of challenges reported in 2021 and the highest since the ALA began compiling data more than 20 years ago. 

Balancing the concerns of parents with the need to promote critical thinking and expose students to diverse perspectives is an undoubtedly broad challenge that requires ongoing dialogue and consideration within the educational systems. Our mission is to ensure each child has access to the material approved by their parents in a simple and transparent way.

As a non-partisan platform, BookmarkED addresses the current state of challenged books by fostering parental choice to decide which books their children have access to, based on their family’s values and interests, while protecting school districts from liability and compliance issues. Our mission is to elevate literacy by ensuring children have access to material approved by their parents without removing access for all.

3 – What holistic solution does BookmarkED offer to school districts, beyond facilitating the book review process? How does it enhance overall parental engagement and collaboration within the educational community?

BookmarkED is designed to create joy in reading, encourage curiosity, and spark a lifelong passion for books by bringing transparency and collaboration between all the pillars responsible for a child’s development. 

Additionally, BookmarkED’s innovative platform does the following:

  • Providing parents with transparent choice and approval of their children’s reading materials.
  • Ensures compliance with state legislation related to parental choice.
  • Accesses state and nation-wide, real-time, factual data on challenged books in district libraries.
  • Reduces costs around the challenged book review process.

4 – BookmarkED is positioned as a platform to streamline the book review process for challenged books in schools. Could you share some insights into how the platform will function and how it will contribute to a more efficient and informed decision-making process?

Libraries currently rely on challenged book data from the previous year, which is immediately out of date as more books become challenged and rulings change. This is a rising expense as challenged book reviews and duplicate requests must be checked and updated manually. 

BookmarkED keeps schools and districts informed and protected from potential liability with real-time updates on challenges at the state and national levels. Libraries receive the latest information on when and why a book is challenged, if a book has been removed, and more. Without a central source for this critical information, librarians and administrators are too often left in the dark until challenged books or new legislation becomes an issue. BookmarkED safeguards the literary well-being of our children while providing valuable insights and recommendations for a rich and fulfilling reading experience.

5 – Founding and leading a startup like BookmarkED must have come with its own set of challenges. Could you share some lessons you’ve learned along the way as an entrepreneur, particularly in the education technology sector?

Growing up, my neurodivergent brain—marked by ADHD and Dyslexia—presented unique challenges in the traditional school setting. These challenges led me to drop out of high school. However, it was through these struggles that I eventually discovered my passion as a tech entrepreneur.

As an adult, I noticed my son with similar learning challenges and being in the traditional learning environment, facing similar challenges early in his education. This discovery ignited my focus on the education space, propelling me to look at new ways to help educators reshape the educational experience for future generations.

6 – Entrepreneurship often requires staying creative and motivated, especially during challenging times. What strategies do you personally rely on to maintain your creativity and motivation in the fast-paced world of business?

For me, it’s crucial to step back and remember the mission. Lifelong literacy lifts all boats and improving the reading journey is the motivation behind everything we do.

Being a technology entrepreneur means staying creative and energized about solving problems. I’m always looking at things thinking, ‘How can we do this even cooler or improved on?’ It’s like my brain is on a mission to find new ideas. Which is a blessing and a curse. To stay focused, I’ve learned that I need to take time for myself – to allow my creativity and its natural ability to problem solve to be energized.

7 – As BookmarkED moves forward, what are your aspirations for the platform in terms of its impact on education, accessibility to diverse literature, and fostering open dialogues within school communities?

While our journey kicks off in Texas, our sights are set on a nationwide expansion next year. We’re all about envisioning a future where young minds are fired up to dive into books, explore their passions, and spark lively discussions around the content they adore. As we dive into this exciting mission, I’m truly thankful for the unwavering support from those who share our belief in the magic of literature and the freedom to choose what we read.

BookmarkED isn’t just about Texas – it’s about igniting curiosity coast to coast. Our platform makes discovering new books a breeze, with personalized suggestions waiting in libraries. We’re all about staying in the know and analyzing insights to craft reading experiences that match each individual’s taste. Together, let’s create a world where reading is a community celebration, young minds feel empowered in a secure space, and the thrill of uncovering fresh ideas through books has no limits.