Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why Libraries Shouldn't Replace Books With eReaders... Yet

This year for April Fool's, NPR had the best joke ever. They posted the following headline on their Facebook page.

When you clicked on the link, they showed this:

What made this so brilliant is that NPR was suspecting "that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they haven't actually read." 

True to form, Facebook followers started commenting on a fake story about how Americans don't read with comments about how of course Americans read. If the commenters would have actually read the article though, they would have learned that it was fake.

In our school there is a small discussion beginning about whether or not we should replace our library books with eReaders. I'm not very involved in this discussion, but I think the arguments for more eReaders in libraries seem to be as follows:

1) In the long run it's much cheaper.
2) It saves space.
3) It's the same user experience as a book.

I can't argue with point one or point two. My problem is with point three, because there doesn't seem to be any long term data to support it. And just because reading on a screen feels the same as reading a book, that feeling is not evidence that it is in fact the same experience. 

It feels cold outside so Fox scientists have disproven global warming

For me though, reading on a screen has never has felt the same. I've read eReaders for enjoyment and for learning, I've read silently and have tried read alouds using eReaders. It's felt convenient for sure, but it's not as enjoyable for me as holding a book. Luckily I'm not the only one. There seem to be at least a couple of old farts like myself who also don't feel the same experience when reading an eReader as when reading a book. 

"But you're old, guy." says You.

I know. I just said that. And I understand that I don't get it. But I do understand the developmental stages of literacy, and what seems to have been missing from the conversation is that even if teenagers and adults get the same understanding when reading an eReader or a book, they've already made the shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Elementary children have not. And we can't lump all readers into the same category, disregarding where they fall on a literacy continuum.

Except now there seems to be some research that supports that we don't actually read eReaders the same as we do books, regardless of what stage you are in your development.

I recently listened to episode 59 of The Gist podcast, "We're Terrible At Reading Online."  Maria Konnikova writes for the New Yorker. Last month she wrote the article "Being a Better Online Reader." The conversation about her research starts at the 11:46 mark.

Here's a summary of the conversation between the host, Mike Pesca and Maria Konnikova:

Maria Konnikova: Reading on a screen (whether its online or with an eReader) is a different physiological process. We tend to skim on a screen way more than on paper. We process and encode text differently depending on the medium. 

Maria Konnikova: The traditional book format has been shown as one of the best ways for our eyes to read.

Maria Konnikova: Even e-Ink- the closest electronic thing we have to ink-  causes us to read and process differently than a book.

Maria Konnikova: When testing reading comprehension, researchers have found that the medium matters a lot. Reading the exact same short story, responses were much more accurate after reading the story in a book than after reading it from an eReader. 

- Mike Pesca: Is it possible in the future that eReaders can equal text in terms of reading comprehension? 
Maria Konnikova: The straight answer is we don't know because there is no long term data about this, but it can certainly evolve in a way that takes all the above points into account and making a better medium than a book.

- Mike Pesca: So is the statement, "Reading on paper leads to better and deeper comprehension than reading on screens" BS? 
Maria Konnikova: For now, that's not BS. 

Her article goes deeper into her thinking. Maybe we need to teach reading on a screen as a new skill and perhaps separate skill- a skill that emphasizes developing our attention. This is a point I agree with and  I've made before.

She points to several studies that show there is no difference between reading on a screen and on paper, but also points out there is no longitudinal data to support one side over another.

And that's really the overall point I'm trying to make too. 

Without longitudinal data I don't see how we can take the leap from the lion's head and risk replacing books with eReaders in a library.
 Indiana Jones Leap of Faith

We just don't know what the effects will be yet. eReaders are cheaper and easier to store, and these are powerful motivators. But when we don't have the long term research to back up any claim that it's best way to serve developing readers, it doesn't matter how cheap or easy to store they are.  

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