Monday, October 8, 2012

Smelling the Book


     I still have my old library card from when I was in 4th grade. I remember the excitement of going to the library and being surrounded by so many stories, so much knowledge. I love to read. I can easily get lost in a book, it doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction, nonfiction or even the yellow pages (which fascinate me endlessly but that’s another whole blog). I love the smell of old books, the feel of the thicker paper, such a pleasure to turn. I love buying used books and discovering small notes in the margin. Will my children continue to know this pleasure? Will their children even have public libraries?

     All this thinking about books has generated lots of thoughts about digital literacy and digital fluency. How has technology, especially ereaders, iPads, and audiobooks changed the art of reading? The art of making meaning? Will we have libraries in ten years? Will borrowing a book mean something else entirely?

     My thoughts and consequent searching brought me to an article about how schools in Calgary are adopting electronic textbooks. It's an interesting article and several quotes from Jean Ludlam, the Manager for Children, Teens and Families at the Calgary Public Library hit home for me. She was referring earlier in the article to the digital divide but then said there is another divide too:

     "The other divide is with children and the difficulty they have deciphering and discriminating between information." 

     In this age of cut and paste and searchable texts, it is all too easy to not truly read the material, to not make the meaning. I do love the ease of downloading and reading books on my iPad. I love how easy it is to highlight, to make notes, to share those notes, and to find a particular quote quickly and easily but when it become that easy, do our students lose the ability to truly locate information, to sift through it all for the value? 

    I remember this great scene in Desk Set when Katherine Hepburn and her librarian crew outsmarted the brand new computer research system installed by Spencer Tracy because they used their brains to problem solve and not technology. Yet toward the end of the movie, when a particularly perplexing question is posed to Hepburn and her crew, it's the technology that finds the answer. The moral of course is to find the balance, but if someday we no longer have those reference books, if they go the way of encyclopedias, will our students be capable of locating the right information? Or will it be all too easy to take the information at face value because it is in electronic form?
     Better language needs to be developed around what it means to simply Google things and what it means use a credible resource that is available online, she said. And kids browse Google differently than when they once perused a textbook, she believes.
     “It isn’t that tactile experience,” Ludlam said. “I wonder how that works in our brains if you can’t see it and hold it and touch it.”
     Will we forget what reading a book means? Will we forget the way books feel and smell?

     Will it matter?