Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I recently read about a protest being held at Ohio State concerning their library's switch from books to eBooks, or electronic versions of the printed materials. It seems that the library was discarding thousands of printed versions in favor of the electronic ones.

I've recently discovered that our own University of Utah Marriott Library has also made the decision to switch to eBooks. As I've heard it told, whenever there is an option to purchase an electronic version, the printed version will not be purchased. Apparently, it's too expensive to purchase both, so the library is opting for eBooks.

I can't help but wonder what the implications might be of this decision. Will the use of eBooks influence the way we read and perhaps our ability to learn from written works? What do you think? (VOTE BELOW!)

Although I am sure that there are financial, environmental, and perhaps other arguments to be made, since this is a blog about teaching and learning in higher education, that's what I'll focus on here.

Personally, as a social scientist, I have retrieved the journal articles I use in my research electronically for many years now - I'm even starting to be able to read them online without printing them out. However, when reading a work of fiction, I still prefer to curl up with a book as opposed to my laptop. Is this just force of habit or a personal preference? It's the same information on the computer screen versus the page - does it really matter which medium I use to access the information? I don't honestly know (although I hope to report back on what the research has to say soon).

But what about students and faculty whose research is not housed mainly in peer-reviewed journals? Would reading Descartes or Milton be the same experience online as with a hard copy? I'm not so sure. The Marriott library's own resources suggest that people don't like reading books online, but rather, that electronic versions are more suited to searching for information and fact checking. Is this what we want our students to be doing when they are writing a term paper on Shakespeare's sonnets? Maybe, maybe not. You tell me.

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