Tag Archives: reading

Why libraries still need books on shelves

I grew up in libraries. Summer days were spent blissfully in the mobile library that came to my neighborhood every week. Every week I’d escape the blistering heat outdoors and enter an air conditioned magic castle. To me, it was magic. I would spend hours gazing at the shelves of books, taking out any one that caught my eye. I checked out at least 10 at a time, devouring them over and over until the next week’s visit. Thinking back on this time still makes me happy–I was a solitary kid, not many friends, but books filled in that gap and I made many, many friends among the intriguingly scented pages. I still love the smell of books in a library.

So when I heard about an article that advocated retaining the stacks in a campus library in lieu of moving them offsite, I was intrigued. In the article, Ann Michael, writing coordinator at DeSales University, recommends keeping the books onsite, even though as writing coordinator she would benefit from having the extra space. She wants instructors to push their students into the stacks, allowing them to get lost, allowing them to make serendipitous discoveries. As she puts it,

“The curious, inquisitive, emotional human mind — which is not an algorithm seeking one specific text or trained upon one set of parameters only — can find on those shelves a physical object that provides something unavailable through virtual technologies.”

A physical book can also be something beautiful in and of itself, with a tactile element lost in a world of electronic devices. And browsing in real time teaches students that finding good, reliable information sources takes time. Having a real, live librarian help with a search in a way that no software program can, and having a physical being there to share in a “Eureka” moment can enhance the whole library experience. As well, “books offer more chances for surprise and delight,” says Michael. The physical experience of interacting with book, the titles on the spine inviting deep thought and contemplation, may just offer a student a chance to find something that will change their life.

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Print books vs. digital — vindication!

I’ve long been a proponent of “real” books vis à vis digital editions, and I often feel like a dinosaur clinging to life as the earth crumbles around me. Print books are easy to hold, you can go back to a previous page easily, and they don’t require batteries, but e-books weigh less, take up less space in an airplane carry-on, and are easier to read at night without disturbing a partner. My husband bought me a Kindle Fire tablet, and while I have indeed read a book or two on it I mostly use it to access the Internet or play Angry Birds. (There’s a video on YouTube about how paper has a strong future, and it makes me laugh every time I watch it.) And in many of the journals I read (in print!) it’s all about one-to-one programs, more access to e-books, and increasing access to online sources. But now there comes a book that has found that young people, even those considered “digital natives,” prefer books over tablets. The book, by Naomi S. Baron, is titled “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World,” which is profiled in an article by Cory Doctorow, on the website “Boing, boing.” The book is an analysis of how we read and how reading is affected both in print or onscreen. E-reading, Baron argues, does not encourage the kind of in-depth reading that a print book does. Furthermore, e-reading lends itself to distraction and skimming, and multi-tasking becomes rampant. Baron “reaches past the hype of both sides of the discussion” in presenting what can be gained from e-reading and what may be lost by no longer reaching for a printed book. (Amazon.com, 2015)

Another article reviewing the same book is written by a reporter from the Washington Post, Michael S. Rosenwald. The article, titled “Why Digital Natives Prefer Print – Yes, You Read That Right,” touches on some of Baron’s insights on the surveys she conducted for her research. Interestingly, “building a physical map in my mind of where things are,” a reason given by one student as to why he prefers print, squared with Baron’s findings. (Rosenwald, 2015) Others mentioned the fact that it’s easier to find your place in a print book, and print allows for greater absorption of material.

So, to my great delight, paper books aren’t going away anytime soon, and the evidence is mounting that paper and digital books can co-exist side-by-side. This mirrors what I see in my library, as students vastly prefer reading print books over digital. They may have e-readers on their phones and iPads, but not a single one has ever come up to me and asked to add an e-book to the collection. My personal preference will always be print, even though I have been known to reach for a “classic” novel on my Kindle; the major reason I prefer print is, however, the fact that I like to re-read certain passages from the beginning of a novel when I’m almost finished with it. I will continue to monitor my students’ preferences and I’m open to purchasing e-books in the future, but for now, the printed word vigorously survives.

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