Why do we have to be seen to be choosing between hardcopy or digital texts?
I have heard many comments both for and against.
The positives I often hear are that e-readers are light and easy to use, can store many books on the device, can be accessed on many other devices such as tablets and a lot of schools and public libraries have e-books that can be borrowed.
The negatives are along the lines of you can’t cuddle up with an e-reader, what do you do if you run out of charge and I just don’t like reading on screen.
I have noticed in the school I work in that there really is a split between positive and negative e-book readers. This split isn’t at an adult level, rather it’s the students, especially for leisure reading. For the students there seems to be an anecdotal feeling that they just feel more secure with a hardcopy book.
A few years back there was a doom and gloom prediction that the dawn of the digital book was going to put a nail in the coffin of hardcopy published books. This was a knee jerk reaction to the unknown. Recently a major bookshop chain in the United Kingdom announced that it would stop selling e-readers in their stores. This decision is a direct result of the range of devices that can be used to read e-books. To me this is a good sign as it means that the devices we do have, such as tablets, are incorporating technology that not so long ago needed their own dedicated device, making devices truly multifunctional. This functionality needs to be harnessed by publishers, authors, educators and the wider community.
When I attended a few different conferences a couple of years ago, publishers and authors would talk about the current concerns and the legalities that were causing blockages to the rise of the digital book, but there was an acknowledgement of the potential of digital books. These concerns are now being studied and recently Macquarie University released a briefing report in which authors identified that traditional publishing was still the most common, followed by digital publishing. Some authors are embracing the digital and are playing with the potential affordances for their readers such as Shaun Tan’s app for the book Rules of Summer. It was with some naïve amazement, to me, that this year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia included a digital book, Audacity by Carlie Walker, on the shortlist. What a positive step this is for the validation of the form, to have the major publicly acknowledged children’s book organisation in Australia take the brave step to include a non-traditional format in the awards process.
Those of us in school libraries need to take note and modify our practices to adjust to this digital potential of books. I have been purchasing for the school library, for the past few years a range of fiction and non-fiction books plus online subscription services. I have to admit that it has not been totally successful for fiction reading, but students, especially senior students like that they have access to library books and resources on a 24/7 basis. My mission is to continue to support and promote digital books with my whole school community and to take note of the research that is beginning to appear that will aid a positive transition to an increased use of this part of the school library collection. One example is the research from New Zealand that showed that when youth select books traditionally they browse the bookshop or the library for a book that draws their attention, not too different to my own adult selection behaviour (Cunningham, 2011). I need to take this information and adapt my promotion to make it more visually stimulating and hopefully this will lead to the students, who many would refer to as digital natives, to take the next step and try reading a digital book for pleasure.
Cunningham, S. J. (2011). How children find books for leisure reading: Implications for the digital library. JCDL ’11 Proceedings of the 11th annual international ACM/IEEE joint conference on Digital libraries (pp. 431-432). New York: ACM. doi:10.1145/1998076.1998170