Move Over E-Readers, Make Room for Paper Books

Back in 2007, when the first e-reader, the Kindle, was released, a new debate started— paper or electronic? Before e-books, bookstores across the country used to sell only paper books.  Their bookshelves were filled with hard covers and paperbacks, divided into fiction, non-fiction, romance, history, cooking and the other categories in the Dewey Decimal System. With the addition of e-readers, a new section appeared at Barnes & Noble, the Nook section. Technology was creeping into the reader’s tactile experience, taking over the traditional reading experience.

There are still readers who are diehard paper book fans, who prefer the tactile experience of reading.  Anne Mangen, writing in,  describes a study, in which  students were asked to take tests reading from a screen and reading from print.  The results showed just how valuable print reading is.  Mangen says, “…To this effect, the fixity of text printed on paper supports the reader’s construction of the spacial representation of the text by providing unequivocal and fixed spacial cues for text memory and recall.”  The brain understands the shrinking page count on the right hand side to mean progression through the story. Through this process, the brain is capable of figuring out where certain scenes happened in the book and readers are more likely to go back and reread scenes.  Rachel Grate of Art.Mic says, “Reading long, literary sentences sans links and distractions is actually a serious skill that you lose if you don’t use it. Before the Internet, the brain read in a linear fashion, taking advantage of sensory details to remember where key information was in the book by layout.”  This is a skill that readers will lose without the use of paper books.

A study in which college students reads textbooks on their e-reader for a semester showed that many preferred the paper textbooks.   They struggled with note taking and studying with an e-reader textbook. Cynythia Boris of NBC News quotes Alex Thayer of the University of Washington: “Though the Kindle does allow you to annotate some books as you read, 75 percent of students in the study still used paper to take notes. The students also found it difficult to locate information in the text while taking tests or writing papers.” Part of the problem, says Thayer, is that e-readers don’t allow for “cognitive mapping,” the process of using cues to remember where you saw the information in the first place. Navigation and search functions are also notoriously poor on most e-readers.

When using a paper textbook, students are able to use highlighters and pens to mark important parts in the textbook, a function that Kindle struggled to provide. Thayer continues, “The biggest con could be the process of reading electronically itself. As the University of Washington study seems to indicate, reading a print textbook may lead to better recall of the material when it’s time to take the exam.”  One of the positives of e-readers is that they are light and easily carried around. With textbooks only growing larger they are increasingly gaining weight. Most students struggle with carrying books on their backs and with the e-readers, their load is lessened.


E-readers are a great second choice to paper books.  They are lightweight and easily transported, but they don’t bring to the table the same tactile experience that paper books do.  Paper books allow readers to engage and use most of their senses to enjoy a book.  E-readers encourage Americans to  spend even more time front of their screened devices, more than they already are. Through computers, TVs, phones, GPSs, and the panoply of other screened devices, the amount of time Americans spent looking  into a glaring screen is dizzying.  Reading advocates encourage people to take time away from their screens each day, even if it is for half an hour. There are many benefits to reading on paper such as reducing stress and increasing the ability to concentrate.  In a world where paper books and e-readers collide, there must be a way for them to exist together– move over e-readers, books belong on the shelf too.


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