So recently on the school librarian forum SLN there was a thread about digital collections, moving away from print content, thinking spaces!?! (yes don’t get me started!) etc etc and someone made a comment along the lines that digital content is superior to print content in every measurable.
Well this is certainly a big statement to make and one that immediately annoyed me somewhat.
Firstly, my main annoyance was around the fact that a comment like this goes full against what a library actually is and what it is for. Any library and librarian worth their salt knows that a library should contain in it a mixture of everything that meets the differing needs of its users. Not everyone wants to access things in the same way and we need to be understanding and responsive of/to this. By having just one point of access to information or reading we go against the whole ethos of a library and we do those we are supposed to be providing a service to a great disservice.
If someone chooses to create their library in this way then they are doing so not with their customers at the forefront of their mind but instead with a reasoning only to satisfy and promote their own misguided (for that is what it really is) viewpoint.
Digital content isn’t something that everyone wants to use in the first place to get their content. It’s the same reason why people are realising the whole thing wrong with learning styles is that we don’t just learn via one way. If we take a VAK test and it tells us we prefer to do (kinesthetic) to learn it doesn’t mean that that is all we should then engage with, it means that sometimes doing helps us to learn better. But by taking away the other options to learn we actually disable the ability to learn not improve it. This is the same with only having very limited and narrow collections in our libraries.
Secondly I have a really issue with everyone believing that we live in a world where digital content is so easy to come by. Yes a large percentage of the population has access to some sort of device but in our schools this may equate to access that is shared amongst 3,4,5 family members at any one time. It doesn’t matter what research you might do in your school to determine the type of access students have as you can’t know that the 80% that tell you have access to a device are a. telling the truth, b. understanding that you mean access at any time and c. know what you mean at all! Even if they do get all this and do have access it certainly doesn’t then mean that this is how they want/need to access information.
Digital print, the Internet and the Google generation has now been around long enough for some serious research to go into how we access information in print and digital format and this brings me onto to my third reason as to why I was upset by the initial comment made about the superiority of digital content. As time goes on there are more schools of thinking around the detrimental effect that digital information seeking has on the human brain and in particular on memory. This particular piece of research http://academicearth.org/electives/internet-changing-your-brain/ is not only extremely interesting but also very worrying.
From all the research I have undertaken myself on the reading brain this makes perfect sense and there is tons more of it out there underlying how digital print is actually having, when it comes to information, an extremely detrimental effect and impact on student learning.
So this piece of research is concerned with Google in particular but it also highlights how our belief that digital print is somehow better is misguided in the least. We’ve all been there when we’ve got so fed up of reading a piece of information on the screen for the umpteenth time that we just decide to print it instead as we know we’ll be able to take it in, digest it better. What research is telling us is that when we read digitally our minds are only taking all the information into our short term memory but are not firing those neurons to link this to the ‘velcro’ of our long term memory. We are just seeing this information on the surface and that is it. We all know that for learning to actually take place we need this link to our long term memory yet as our brains are changing to our over exposure to digital print this isn’t happening we aren’t taking it in the same way and learning it we are simply ‘knowing it’ and only for a short period of time.
It’s actually something librarians should be very worried about. Especially those in schools who base a lot of their texts as e-resources. The place that heralds itself as furthering student learning could in fact be the place that is doing more harm.
As the people that are supposedly trying to help young people understand, access and learn from information those that rely heavily on digital resources, especially in favour of hard copy resources are fundamentally not only going against the very fabric of library ethos but could potentially be doing more harm than good.