In other columns this year, I have explored the nature of the ebook in school libraries. Looking back, I realized I hadn’t actually discussed the pros and cons of the print and electronic formats for books in general. I also didn’t exactly focus on the classroom as opposed to the out-of-classroom library use of books. So I’ll cover that in this issue. I think we’ll start this as a simple list of pros and cons. Note, however, that this list could be out-of-date very quickly due to the rapid development of the e-reader and ebook space and changing regulatory environments and laws. Also note that the ebook experience is quite different on a laptop or PC versus on an e-reader or a smartphone. However, this is how it looks to me at the end of 2010.
WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT PRINT BOOKS?
Look and feel: I’ve never gotten this benefit to the extent that I hear it from others, but I can’t deny it when people say that the feel of a book, its leather cover, and the heft in your hands are like an aphrodisiac to them. Add to this the folks who go wild over the smell of a book and you see what I mean. When we look at learning styles, we must acknowledge that some learners need the touch and smell experience to lock down comprehension and retention. A lot of research supports smell as a major element in memory.
Packaging: Print books can be more beautiful. Gold foil or embossing rarely translates well into electronic images. Pages of illustrated books, in particular, are laid out with care. Since most e-readers wrap text to accommodate the standard screen size, the beauty and intention of the layout can be lost. Indeed, this can be particularly egregious when pictures and illustrations are embedded in the text at just the right place or when the form requires it—haiku or concrete poetry specifies the layout as part of the artistic merit of the work. When users change the font size, the issue gets worse. We know that layout can enhance learning by stimulating more than one learning style at a time. Indeed, some ebooks have the advantage of being able to employ sound and motion as well.
Fonts: Most e-readers and ebooks allow users to change the font and design choices, which can corrupt the author’s or artist’s intent. That said, we know from research that reading comprehension, retention, and learning can be enhanced by simple font-size changes. Young readers do better with larger fonts, and teens usually handle denser text with more facility. The PC as a reading device for straight text generally works best for short passages (less than five pages), although e-paper on e-readers seem to have similar results to p-books.
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