Do School Libraries Need Books?

February 16, 2010 at 9:42 am 13 comments

The editors of The New York Times recently posted an op-ed called “Do School Libraries Need Books?” as part of their Room for Debate series:

Keeping traditional school libraries up to date is costly, with the constant need to acquire new books and to find space to store them. Yet for all that trouble, students roam the stacks less and less because they find it so much more efficient to work online. One school, Cushing Academy, made news last fall when it announced that it would give away most of its 20,000 books and transform its library into a digital center.

Participating in the discussion is the headmaster for Cushing Academy, an English professor at the University of Maryland, the library director of Dana Hall School, and two authors of books about reading in the digital age.

More and more these days, I read things off of a screen myself. When I want news, I go to the online editions of BBC News, The New York Times, National Public Radio, and The Straits Times. Most of these sites also have iPhone apps so that I can follow the latest news on my iPod Touch wherever an open wifi network can be found. As a book reviewer, it is more convenient (and less costly) to have the PDF of a book emailed to me than a physical dead-tree copy. Google and other searchable online resources have made research so much easier than my university days, when I would have to troll the stacks and the reference room for the texts I might need.

But I cherish my dead-tree/ink/glue books. For a truly immersive experience, you simply can’t do better than a book, which is one of the most amazing technologies ever invented. It’s more than just running your eyes across black squiggles pressed into white paper, it’s a full-on sensory experience. You must hold a book in your hands, cradling the knowledge with tactility; you can hold your place with a finger and then come back to it. The pages riffle as you scan to the last page to see how long it is (or, if you’re naughty, to read the ending first). The smell of the paper and the ink and the glue is an intoxicating marker that indicates you will soon be transported to a new world, fantastic or otherwise.

But then, at 34 years old, I’m considered out of touch by today’s high schoolers. So what do you think? Should books in the library be replaced by internet stations and e-readers?


Entry filed under: Public Libraries, Recreational Reading.

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mark  |  February 19, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Although such technology saves materials and reduces loss, I think books in paper form are still better than screens. Other than the fact that such machines might get clogged up with people, giving us less chance to read, reading from screens often induce headaches and bad eyesight.

  • 2. Kean Patrick Murphy  |  February 20, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    There should be a computerized library but in the end, paper books are still the best due to the fact that all you need is the book and a comfortable place to read a paper book.

  • 3. Bryan  |  February 21, 2010 at 9:35 am

    i think a computerized library is not a good idea. i would have to face a screen to read and would result in myopia and often headache if used for long hours.and it is not very mobile.
    i do not have any small devices to bring along so i can only read from my desktop at home while i can bring books out of my house and read anywhere.

  • 4. Jason Erik Lundberg  |  February 21, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    These are all valid reasons why paper books are still valuable for school libraries. Thanks to Mark, Kean, and Bryan for responding.

    But what about those of you who have no interest in physical books? Would you rather read on your smart phone, or on e-readers like the Kindle (Amazon), the Nook (Barnes & Noble), or the iPad (Apple)?

  • 5. Wong Jin Fu Shaun  |  February 21, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    For me personally, I would prefer anything that could be read online be read on my smart phone. The main reason is that it is convenient. Wherever I go, I can read whatever I want. To solve the need of a connection problem, I can download the material beforehand and just read it at a later time! When we take public transport, we can read it while waiting. When we wait for our meals to be served, we can also read. That kind of power we have now is so great, it enhances learning by a hugh margin. Most of us waste our time waiting and staring into space but with “virtual portable books” now, we never have to do that again.

  • 6. Lee Zhe Xuan Etienne  |  February 22, 2010 at 12:25 am

    It is difficult to read books from iphone as the screen is rather small, but it is convenient as whenever you are are free and as long as you have a smart phone you can have access to the story book.

    I like the idea of online/electronic books as it will save me the trouble of going around phsically to hunt for the books. I recllaed that when I was in primary school, I was given a reading list and I realised that the books in the list are scattered across the Singapore libraries, not one library has them all. In addition, some books might be on loan.

  • 7. deckard  |  February 22, 2010 at 8:32 am

    “But I cherish my dead-tree/ink/glue books. it’s a full-on sensory experience… cradling the knowledge with tactility; you can hold your place with a finger and then come back to it. The pages riffle as you scan to the last page to see how long it is (or, if you’re naughty, to read the ending first).”
    Guess what, everything the headmaster says that makes reading a book a sensory experience can be duplicated in e-format! You can still cradle the knowledge with tactility using a handheld e-reader. I can hold my place with a cursor instead of a finger and come back to it. They even have e-readers that duplicate the broadsheet experience of newspapers! And if I want I can fast forward and read the ending first!f Did I mention that with an e-reader I don’t suffer from paper cuts, blackened fingers, coffee-stained pages, late fees, or receive nasty e-mails reminding me of exceeded borrowing times; I have the ability to copy and paste instead of copying passages by hand, and my asthma is never exacerbated with the onslaught of musty/deteriorating “dead-tree, ink/glue/books.” Gimme an e-reader any day!

  • 8. Timothy Chuah JiaJun  |  February 22, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    I think reading off an iPhone or online/electronic devices is better and more convienent.
    Firstly, it saves the cost of the mass production of books. It also saves us time from flipping pages, bookmarking the page we stop at.
    Still, there are disadvantages. If there is no online connection, we will not be able to view and read our books.
    Over all , i feel online reading is better than reading from a book.

  • 9. klc  |  February 22, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    I agree that there is undeniably a strong phenomological argument that must be considered in this debate; the experience of using each medium vastly differs on an experiential level, yet we cannot immediately proclaim one medium to superior to the other.

    But in this century, it seems more benefitial, phenomologically, to read books physically with a spine, printed pages and what not as online media has been utilised rather unfortunately, and are now assosciated with various signifiying characteristics such as the desire for brevity and the need to digest content quickly – as a result, paperless literature will largely be read in a more impulsive manner amongst most users. Of course, not all – some are already familiar with consuming 27 page essays online, but amongst students…

  • 10. Jasz  |  February 23, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    yes! Though ebooks are great, the feeling is entirely different when one can hold a book can curl up on bed/sofa or deck chairs by swimming pool to enjoy the reading.
    Agree too that too much of e-reading really doesn’t go well with our health 🙂

  • 11. Chua Wei Jian  |  February 23, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Although we can save more papers by reading online, I find that reading from a book is better than reading online. We would need internet connection to be able to read online. If the connections were interrupted, we will not be able to read. I find that reading from a book is more convenient as we would need only a light source and a place to sit down. If keeping school libraries up to date is costly, maybe the libraries could have a book sale so that the money make from the sale can be used to acquire new books. Selling off old books can help to solve space problems too.

    • 12. Jason Erik Lundberg  |  February 24, 2010 at 8:53 pm

      The Library actually has a book sale every year. I’ll definitely be announcing this when it gets closer.

  • 13. kjw  |  February 27, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    I feel that holding a book in my hands gives me the feeling that I am actually in the book, rather than reading off the iPhone, smart phone etc. And the good thing is that the book will always be there. The iPhone will ‘spoil’ as it grows old, and it may run out of battery as you are reading your book, which really gives you the frustration. Thats how I feel. The physical book, however, will be there for eternity, and it will certainly not run out of battery.
    Too much of e-reading will also be bad for our eyes. 😀


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