Are digital libraries on the horizon?

Alyssa Tormala

Now that so many texts are available in digital format, what will this mean for libraries of the future?

By Urmi Kumar, St. Mary's Academy, Portland, Ore.

On Sept. 14, 2013, Bexar County, Texas, opened the first all-digital public library in the U.S called BiblioTech Digital Library. The library is based on the ideal of “work[ing] to bridge literacy and technology gaps in San Antonio and surrounding areas by establishing a community presence at the physical locations as well as an online presence through the digital collections and resources” according to the Bibliotech official website. The library is completely digital and provides eReaders for two-week checkouts or an option for readers to temporarily download the books onto their own devices.

Now that SMA has implemented the 1:1 iPad program, is a digital library a possibility? Would it be a positive change to remove all traditional books or keep them on the shelves as they are now?

According to the 2010 Kids and Family Reading Report, 6 out of 10 children between the ages of 9 and 17 are interested in reading on an electronic device. Additionally, 1 out of 3 children from the same group would prefer to read more for their own enjoyment if there were more books on digital sources.

Contrastingly, 75 percent of college students preferred traditional textbooks as they believed it was easier to annotate, according to the 2011 Book Industry Study Group (BISG) survey. In that same survey, the females were less open to the idea of electronic devices in place of traditional books than the males.

In 2012, Kaurna Plaing School Principal Bronwyn Milera told the Herald Sun NEWS, “Books still offer great flexibility as we can send them home with students, they are cheaper to buy and they are still a great teaching and learning tool.” However, Milera continued, “I do feel that both books and iPads have a place in schools – there is room for both resources.”

In 2011, a German research team from Johannes Gutenberg University found that a majority of the participants in their study stated that they preferred reading a printed book better than reading on an electronic device. However, the data found that reading on an iPad is beneficial, as the information is processed more easily. “We have thus demonstrated that the subjective preference for the printed book is not an indicator of how fast and how well the information is processed,” concluded the German research team.

So how do SMA students respond to similar question? In a survey conducted by the Ms. Print of 301 students, digital or paper preferences for texts were separated based on the usage of the text. The survey found that over 50 percent of students would probably read more for pleasure if they could access more library books on digital devices, with 27 percent of those students absolutely sure they would.

However, generally, the students surveyed want to read books for pleasure in paper form. Fifty percent of the students indicated they preferred paper sources but are comfortable with digital sources. Additionally, 56 percent of students prefer paper forms of texts for annotating books for classes, and 50 percent of the students surveyed believe they absorb more information from paper texts then digital texts.

Overall, 50 percent of students surveyed prefer paper books and texts for school use. Of the other 50 percent of students, only an average of 10 percent prefer digital books and texts; the majority of students indicated a comfort with both forms.

SMA sophomore Phoebe Woofer summarizes what these finding suggest regarding digital libraries. “Because we now have iPads at SMA, a digital library would be convenient, but I personally think I, and others I have talked to, absorb much more when I read an actual book that I can hold in my hands and actively turn the pages.”

SMA librarian Cindy Daniels agrees that this appears to be a common trend at SMA. “I thought that [because of the 1:1 iPads], the number of people coming to the library would change, but this generation of kids still feel the need to have hands-on material. So where I thought I could eliminate a lot of the books, [the students] are not ready for it yet. They don’t want to spend time reading on their iPads; they want to feel [a book] in their actual hand. Maybe the next generation coming will be ready for [an all digital library] but not now with us.”

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