For the past few years, digital devices and e-books have gained great popularity in schools and homes—and most school-age children have access to the technology. Smartphones and iPads proliferate in many of our schools. Many educators believe that print books will soon become obsolete—or at least decrease in use—as children mature in a world ruled by technology.
Yet, so far, this hasn’t been the case. According to Scholastic’s 2015 Kids & Family Reading Report, the print book is not dead yet. Most students have read an e-book—61% in 2014 compared with 25% in 2010. However, for students ages 6–17, print books are still preferred—65% compared with 60% in 2012, and 77% who had read e-books said that the majority of books they read (especially for pleasure) were in print.
A preference for print books may be a growing trend in our society overall. According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales have steadily declined since 2012. Comparing AAP survey results from January 2015 and January 2016, sales of paperback books grew 4.3%, while e-book sales declined 24.9%. (However, in the same period, sales of hardback books fell 18.7%.)
According to a 2015 survey of librarians by the School Library Journal, 56% of schools in the U.S. reported that they include e-books in their libraries, but only 6% of librarians reported a high student interest in e-books. Their observations show that, while students may use e-books for research and school projects, they prefer print books for pleasure reading. They appear to prefer a book “in hand”—there is an apparent physical, tactile element to reading.
This seems also to be true for college students. A new study, recently reported in Tech Times, indicated that 92% of those surveyed preferred print books over e-books. Interestingly, of those who preferred e-books, many expressed concern over the environmental consequences of publishing paper books.
Our teachers use digital books in their classrooms more and more. The next generation of students, taught how to use technology at an early age and now entering our lower schools, may change reading habits. But it’s too early to tell if they will have a greater affinity for e-books. So we are left to wonder how trends will change in the future of education. Most likely, students (and ultimately adults) will develop the ability to use both mediums—print and electronics—for accessing information and enjoying the “fun” of reading. Perhaps this dual ability will positively affect the literacy of our students.
But it’s clear from current research that print books are far from extinction.
First published in The Source for Private School News, Vol. 16, No. 3.