Print, Ebooks & Reading Comprehension

I’m not gonna lie—I do experience a wee bit of a thrill when I get to say I told you so.

OK, this isn’t really an “I told you so” moment… but this is something I’ve been saying for the past several years.

Paper Versus Pixel by Nicholas Carr (posted on Nautilus Quarterly, 2013)

This doesn’t really offer any new ideas. That print offers better reading comprehension than ebooks is something that’s been shown by quite a lot of data recently. The telling quote for me is this:

Some scientists believe that our brain actually interprets written letters and words as physical objects—a reflection of the fact that our minds evolved to perceive things, not symbols… The differences between page and screen go beyond the simple tactile pleasures of good paper stock. To the human mind, a sequence of pages bound together into a physical object is very different from a flat screen that displays only a single “page” of information at a time. The physical presence of the printed pages, and the ability to flip back and forth through them, turns out to be important to the mind’s ability to navigate written works, particularly lengthy and complicated ones. We quickly develop a mental map of the contents of a printed text, as if its argument or story were a voyage unfolding through space.

I told you so.

The Continued Value of Print

With the inexorable rise of ebooks, there have been a lot of people expounding the continuing benefits of print books. Most of them tend to cite similar things:

  • The physical heft of print books.
  • The smell of print books.
  • The permanence of print.
  • The retention of knowledge when reading print books.
  • Etc.

People also approach the issue from the perspective of the benefits of ebooks.

We’ve all read these blog posts and articles, we know how they go. These are all legitimate and important considerations.

Here’s an article, though, that mentions a couple benefits of print that I’ve not seen cited before—and I think these reasons are some of the best for continuing to allow print books to play an important role in all our lives:

The Biblioracle on Physical Books in an E-Book World by John Warner (posted by the Chicago Tribune on August 2, 2013)
Continue reading “The Continued Value of Print”

Unintentional Knowledge

I love this article! It’s a wonderful summary of the real value of browsing the stacks.

Unintentional Knowledge: What We Find When We’re Not Looking by Julie Alves (posted on The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 23, 2013)

As a professional librarian, I’m obsessed with the phenomenon of serendipitous discovery. Some of the most rewarding learning experiences of my life came to me by chance; I discovered some of my favorite books and authors simply by browsing the shelves at the library and allowing interesting things to catch my eye. I’m more grateful for these unlooked-for experiences than I can say.

With new digital content services, and with more libraries going towards automated storage and retrieval systems for their print collections, we’re challenged to find ways to maintain the possibility of non-targeted browsing and unanticipated discovery under these new conditions.
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Another Librarian’s Response to "What’s a Library?"

I love Rita Meade’s (@ScrewyDecimal) reaction piece to Michael Rosenblum’s op-ed “What’s a Library?” that was posted by the Huffington Post on May 8, 2013.

A Librarian’s Response to “What’s a Library?” (posted on Book Riot on May 13, 2013)

[With apologies for plagiarizing her title.]

Let’s be kind – let’s give Mr. Rosenblum the benefit of the doubt and assume he was honestly trying to critique the current state of libraries in some kind of difficult to discern attempt to help.

He still failed.
Continue reading “Another Librarian’s Response to "What’s a Library?"”

Interesting Article: The Reading Brain in the Digital Age

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens by Ferris Jabr (posted by Scientific American on April 11, 2013)

When I was in grad school, I had an idea to conduct research into the neurological underpinnings of reading on paper vs. computer screens vs. ebooks. While my vision for the project was beyond the scope of what I could accomplish in the program and thus never got started, I’ve continued to be obsessed with this facet of our modern technology. I’ve written about it on this blog before. I continue to follow research being done on the subject.

This article from Scientific American sums up well what we currently know about how our brains process written language through different presentation media. It appears that I’m correct in my belief that these acts of reading are qualitatively different as far as our brains are concerned.

As librarians, we need to account for these differences in our resources – especially when it comes to education and literacy initiatives.

Why Libraries Are Relevant in the Google Age

This is simply one of the best summaries I’ve read of the importance of libraries:

Libraries are uniquely positioned to make sense of today’s tsunami-like exposure to information, to allow people to transform facts into knowledge and to move knowledge along divergent paths of practical relevance and unbridled inspiration.

Libraries are uniquely positioned to do this for an audience of all ages and status — children, college students, community members, university scholars, researchers and just plain folks who are just plain curious. From princes to paupers, libraries are a great equalizer and emancipator. In this new environment, we are all students. Libraries — both physical and virtual — are the places where we learn, discover old truths and synthesize new knowledge.

… [L]ibraries have moved beyond being mere repositories for shelf after shelf of printed materials, as valuable as that function is. They are gateways to a dynamic world of information and the manner in which that information is collected, presented and used is as important as the information itself.

(From Why libraries are relevant in the Google age by Patricia Iannuzzi, posted in the Las Vegas Sun on April 15, 2013)

The Virtues of Anthropomorphization

Chimpanzee from Disneynature
Chimpanzee from Disneynature

Recently, I was perusing Cracked, just randomly clicking through the linked articles at the bottom of the page, wasting time as is my wont, and I came across this:

5 Mind-Blowing Ways Animals Display Human Emotions

This reminded me of a movie review that one of my coworkers wrote last year for the Disneynature documentary Chimpanzee.

Both of these articles illustrate a near-universal attitude toward the subject of animal and human behavior and emotions: Namely, the assumption that human and animal behaviors are essentially different.

Both of these articles make me want to ask:

Just where do you think human behavior and emotions come from?
Continue reading “The Virtues of Anthropomorphization”

The True Scope of History, Part II

Homo sapiens is unique on this planet in that we’re the only genus with only one species. It’s not normal to be the only species within a genus! All other animals exist in a world in which there are others very like themselves, but not them.

Humans, by contrast, take it for granted that there are no other species in the world like us.

It didn’t used to be that way, though. We used to share this planet with other people who weren’t us.
Continue reading “The True Scope of History, Part II”

The Purpose of Human Imagination

The Internet Librarian International 2012 conference wrapped up yesterday. Perhaps the most widely circulated tweet from the conference came from Airport Librarian (@airprtlibrarian):

We have libraries because people need a place to dream. The collection is not the main goal. #ili2012

— Airport librarian(@airprtlibrarian) October 30, 2012

“People need a place to dream.” Yes!

[Edit: At the request of Airport Librarian, I’d like to credit David Lankes as the original source of the quote, from his keynote speech.]

The human ability to dream and to imagine is one that has fascinated me from a very early age. The scientist in me wonders: Why do we dream? What necessary function is served by our imagination?

Why do people need a place to dream?

I had an experience during my freshman year of college that informed my understanding of the purpose of imagination more than any other…
Continue reading “The Purpose of Human Imagination”

The True Scope of History

Human anatomical modernity began approximately 200,000 years ago.

Human behavioral modernity began approximately 50,000 years ago.

The entirety of humanity’s known written record dates back approximately 5,000 years.

Consider what this means: Our brains have been as complex as they are now – we’ve possessed the same curiosity, drive, wanderlust, intelligence, and creativity – for at least 50,000 years. We’ve been exploring, experimenting, testing, learning, and figuring things out this whole time. It may be that we’ve been this curious and intelligent for the full 200,000 years of our existence.

If we take the 50,000 year mark – this means we only know, at most, 10% of everything we’ve done in that time. 90% of our own history is unknown to ourselves, except through some cave paintings and fossils.

If we take the 200,000 year mark – that percentage drops to 2.5%, leaving 97%-98% of our own history completely in the dark.

Humbling, ain’t it?