Despite indications over the past few years of the ascendency of digital texts and, for many, hand wringing over the imminent death of printed books and bookstores, after an adjustment in the book publishing and selling markets, printed books in all sizes and shapes are still with us, much to the relief of every tactile person I know.
Digital books are of course particularly valuable in their ease of use. A digital text is: convenient to personally enjoy and share; easily transported easily from place to place using one hand; and readily available online due to worldwide connectivity. Plus, with digital books, readers are able to take advantage of intertextual links, within and between texts—a most powerful bonus.
Of course, people still like printed books for a range of reasons: the substantial heft of books, the feel of turning pages, the satisfaction of picking up an in-progress book and noting the advancing position of a personally selected bookmark, moving it from front to back as the reading experience unfolds, and the ease of using a finger to hold-my-place while looking elsewhere in the same text during personal inquiry. Even the aroma of books makes them a welcome part of a home or office. Print books also offer the serious student an opportunity to lay on a table many texts at once, each open to a particularly salient bit, allowing quick comparisons and contrasts.
While the stories and information shared through print and pixel are pretty much the same, rather than digital books overwhelming print, these two formats now have come into each other’s orbits and most accomplished readers can move back and forth between them without much thought of the medium at all. So it seems books are books regardless of their delivery media.
As educators, it clearly falls to us to ensure that children are brought up in an ALL-book friendly environment, regardless of the medium. They should be comfortable with digital and print books so they can focus on the even more foundational work of coming to love books and reading.
It is never too early to help children understand the value that the written word will add to their lives. Early on, regardless of the delivery system, they should enjoy being read to. The end goal, of course, is empowered independence in expressing their very own interests in book selection, regardless of medium. With that in place, children, enriched by experiences with both print and digital books*, will be comfortable borrowing from the local library and accessing public domain books online, as well as owning purchases from new bookstores along with second-hand sale finds. Such a background will prepare them to use books in whatever medium, nestled together as material partners in the essential, ongoing effort to inspire their ideas, experiences and feelings through the language and images of complex text.