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A Time and A Place For Everything

by on February 12, 2014

One of my patrons recently referred me to the article, “Why The Brain Prefers Paper” by Ferris Jabr, which appeared in Scientific America, November 2013. In this article numerous studies are cited spanning the last two decades. All concur, reporting the same result: people understand and remember text better on paper than on screens. In fact, surveys indicate that for informational material people prefer paper. Further, brain activity in children reading paper and physically writing is higher than children reading screens and typing on keyboards. While I was happy to read this article, it was not news to me. So, why do librarians and educator support the idea of the electronic library and future?

Don’t get me wrong, I like technology. I am not advocating we throw our e-readers out the window! What I am advocating is that we start calling this trend for what it is: merely another new format that has its place, not the be all and end all for the future.

We all know the advantages e-readers have. Sellers have assured this. Mass market advertisers have done their part, now it is time for librarians to share the facts. This has been our role throughout history.

Recently on a national librarian list a discussion arose as to how to incorporate e-readers into story time. Schools are purchasing tablets for all students. I have heard endlessly that students will be doing all their work on electronic devices and, of course, that print is obsolete.

As librarians we know this is not true. We know that this trend is not good for education and literacy. We know that this is not simply ‘our biased opinion,’ but that this is backed by scientific research. We know that print still flies off our shelves. We know that never mind that ‘not everything on the Internet is true,’ not everything IS on the internet, or should be.

And yet, what I hear so often from all parties— librarians included— is that we must embrace the electronics. We must introduce them to our patrons at the earliest age and encourage and support their use. Why? I’m told because it is the future. Join up or get left behind.

To this I say that as long as we follow this false trail, we will make it our future. But what future are we actually making? I would much rather explain to a young mother why I am NOT using an e-reader at story time and don’t encourage her to do so, then try to assure my popularity or function by jumping on a media created bandwagon.

E-readers are great devices. They serve a purpose in our busy world. So do hammers and screwdrivers and instant coffee. We do not abandon screw drivers because we have hammers. We do not stop drinking ground coffee because we now have instant. There is a time and a place for all things. As librarians, it’s time we start to explain the time and place for electronics and that their time and place is not everywhere at all times.

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