E-Books Versus Print: The Debate Continues

The Allure of Print

Now that we are able to do so much online, it can seem like print books are no longer useful. They’re heavy. They get dusty. They weigh down your backpack and fill up your locker.

Why lug those things around when you can read almost anything on a screen now? There are e-books, digital databases, online textbooks. La Presse recently stopped printing a daily paper (except on Saturdays). Now, the best way to access it is through its app, which the Toronto Star is also using.

But the allure of holding an actual book in your hands is one that tablets and laptops can’t duplicate. Books are tactile objects that you can touch and smell. You can fold the pages over and write in the margins.

People still love books. E-book sales are down, and sales of second-hand books are up. University students continue to prefer textbooks in print – even when they’re given the electronic version for free. They find that it is easier to focus on a physical textbook, it is easier to highlight, and there is less chance of distraction. And research shows that a well-stocked home library improves children’s academic achievement across the globe, regardless of their socio-economic status or the country they live in.

A solid 21st century school library should offer a combination of books, e-books, and databases to provide students with the information they need. As a librarian, not only do I believe that print and digital resources can peacefully co-exist, but that they complement each other. There are times, like when you’re standing on the metro or crammed into an airplane seat, that e-books just make more sense. But then there are other times, like a rainy day when you’re curled up with a cup of tea, when only a real book will do.

– Laura Sanders, LibrarianLaura_Sanders

Laura Sanders, the Head Librarian at Lower Canada College, received her Master of Library and Information Science from McGill University in 2013. She taught English Literature abroad for four years and enjoys reading in both print and digital formats.

The Value of the Library

Lower Canada CollegeWhile in Toronto recently I was struck by the front-page headline in the Toronto Star: “Ontario Schools shelve libraries.”

In a controversial decision, the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board recently laid off all but four of its 39 librarians and is now dismantling all of its libraries. The board intends to revamp the use of space and use it more as student centres with computers and reference materials, or open it up for arts activities. This move has been attributed to two main factors: First, the ongoing shift to digital technologies resulting in declining use of books and journals by students. The second factor is cost savings, as that particular school board faces declining enrolment and an $8 – $10 million deficit in the next school year. So tough choices have to be made to avoid further financial losses.

Interestingly, that school board in Ontario is actually reflective of a broader trend across Canada. Although schools have not necessarily taken the drastic step of closing their libraries, very few are still staffed with a qualified librarian. To put things in perspective, understand that we have three full-time librarians here at LCC to staff our Junior and Senior libraries. In the public school system in the province of Nova Scotia there are none, there are only three left in all of New Brunswick, and numbers have declined notably in Alberta and BC’s public school systems as well. In Ontario primary schools, only 12% have full-time librarians.

In the face of this discouraging trend in Canada, studies have actually shown a strong relationship between professionally-staffed libraries and student achievement in school, including better scores on standardized tests (as much as 8%) and much more positive attitudes toward reading.

Meanwhile in Europe in the past decade, the trend has been the opposite of what’s happening in Canada. Europeans are investing in and developing libraries as a force to improve education. So in the Canadian context, I guess here at LCC we are “countercultural” relative to our Canadian counterparts and have aligned ourselves more with Europeans.

Although we have been proactive with the use of digital media at LCC, we also believe in the value of the book. We support the importance of the library as an information centre and oasis of calm in a noisy world. In the library students can read quietly, reflect and harvest the seeds of their creativity.

We have a reading week in our Junior School and our LCC Reads initiative in Middle/Senior School remains an important and interesting activity in our annual calendar. As the broader debate on libraries continues, one thing is for sure, the level of literacy that each student develops during their time at LCC will likely define much of their success in university studies and likely in professional life. So despite a host of other attractive options in their busy lives, young people need to make time to read; it will definitely make a difference in their futures.

Keeping our LCC libraries open is our priority and we will continue to actively support the development of literacy across all grades. By the way, our annual Book Fair is around the corner: May 26-27. Be sure to pick up a copy of the new LCC Reads book, The Heart Specialist. I hope you find something there that tweaks your interest. –Chris Shannon, Headmaster

How to Combat Reading Lags

ReadingAccording to reading specialist Paul Kropp (Canadian author of How to Make Your Child a Reader for Life), children tend to experience reading lags as they begin elementary school, again around grade 4 and, finally, when they enter high school. Although the reasons for these lags are not absolute, several variables are at play.

When children undergo significant transitions, e.g., parent-child separation upon school entrance or moving to a new school, daily routines like reading at bedtime may become disrupted. In the case of boys, peer influences may supersede activities like reading. Around ages eight to ten, boys begin to view reading as “uncool” and prefer to engage in physical and tactile activities, like sports and video games. In early adolescence, when boys and girls are going through puberty, their interests turn to one another and away from books.

Parents often ask me what they can do to combat these reading lags. Rest assured, children who live in literate households where the printed word is valued will pass through these reading lulls and return to their love of books with very little prompting from their parents. If your child falls into this category, I would recommend patience, some gentle prodding, like recommending books, and continuing to practice the literate approach you have already cultivated. Trust me, they will come around in mid- to late-adolescence. Forcing the issue too much may backfire, as teenagers are more likely to do the polar opposite of what their parents suggest. As a father of four and a teacher of many over the years, I can also advise you against reverse psychology. Our children are far too smart to be taken in by our legerdemain.

The following concrete suggestions should help you combat the dreaded reading lag.

1. The first step is to create a home atmosphere where books, magazines and newspapers are the norm, not the exception. Even though all newspapers are available online, subscribe to a daily paper. The newspaper is often the only print our children see us reading for pleasure during the day. Eventually, they will become curious enough to read the paper themselves. Doing the daily puzzles and reading the cartoons, especially with your children, are also fun ways to interact with the paper. The Gazette offers a weekly page for young students that includes word games and puzzles. In addition, subscribe to magazines for yourself and your children. Just as you may be fascinated by current events and read The Economist, your child may be passionate about sports and read Sports Illustrated (there is even a Sports Illustrated for Kids).

2. Engaging in literate activities outside the home is also extremely important. The cheapest and easiest way to do this is to take advantage of your local library. Going to the library with your child on a regular basis is a great way to cultivate the love of reading, not to mention a very pleasant parent-child experience. Libraries also offer cultural activities, reading clubs and competitions that may stimulate your child. Although they may be more expensive, occasional trips to a bookstore are imperative. Letting your children purchase their own books indicates that you value books and respect their interests. As teenagers often do not want to be seen with their parents, you may want to just make sure their library card is current and give them gift certificates to Chapters on an annual basis, for example.

3. Although this may seem odd to you, continuing to read with and to your children throughout adolescence is a positive way to combat the reading lag. Share the books you are reading, but do not foist them on your unwilling children. When you are commuting or going on family road trips, listen to audio books. Talk about books, current events and popular culture at the family dinner table. Show your children that you are interested in their passions. Above all, be an active reader yourself and leave plenty of reading material lying around the house.

Knowing and cultivating your children’s interests will reap life-long benefits. Supplementing their passions through reading, whether it be books about the sports they play or their favourite singer or actor, is an excellent way to show them you care about what they care about and to get to know your children on a deeper level. If you sense a reading lag, do not despair or overreact, simply follow the guidelines I have outlined above. However, whatever you do, do not tell them I said so. Remember, they are intelligent beings who sense overt attempts to improve them. Nonchalant subterfuge is often the best approach. —Brian Moore (Senior Department Head, English Language Arts, Communications Studies and Literacy Programs)