Must we have the digital vs. print battle?
This post was written by Gabrielle E. Miller, national executive director for Raising a Reader, a nonprofit organization based in Silicon Valley that is dedicated to early literacy development.
By Gabrielle E. Miller
I lead a national children’s literacy nonprofit organization, so it is not surprising that two recent book industry developments caught my attention: Barnes & Noble’s efforts to digitize 1,000 children’s titles and the use of digital library kiosks in a few locations around the United States.
People frequently ask me what I think about digital books for children. Somewhere in the question is the usual implication that one is good and the other is bad – a question that is not really information seeking, but rather a request for validation from someone who has already taken sides in the upcoming ‘battle’ of digital vs. print in children’s literature.
Do we really have to go down this road? Haven’t we already done this? Is it really going to be digital versus print?
There is nothing new here, other than the specific (digital or robotic) technology. The questions about print versus ‘fill in the blank alternative’ versions of children’s books have been around for a long time, long before Kindles. Yet, over and over again we have seen the ‘wow’ factor of the latest technology replaced by the unquestionable power of parents and children sharing books along with the healthy growth of technology.
Since moving from Washington, D.C., to Silicon Valley two years ago, I must admit that I have become more susceptible to the ‘digital innovation wave of the future’ bit. I do run a national organization based in Silicon Valley that helps families develop the habit of sharing books.
One would think that books would be a tough sell in Silicon Valley and that this would be the epicenter of the digital book revolution. Not true. I have yet to meet one person who argues for digital instead of print for children. I see many children with Kindles, but I also see families using libraries, and many, many used book stores. It is ironic that in one of the world’s most progressive technological areas nobody here seems to be feeling like they have to choose.
They insist on both – which is exactly my point.
We absolutely need both. You cannot put a Kindle in a bathtub with a young child, but you can use a vinyl book. You do not always have room for 15 children’s books on vacation, but you can take a Kindle. You cannot have a pop-up or a tactile ‘tie your shoes’ Kindle (at least not yet), but you can have those things in a book.
Parents need to be able to share books with children in any way they can. There is strong evidence that doing so not only builds language and literacy skills but meaningfully engages parents in their child’s learning; which has also been shown to positively affect academic achievement.
For most of the families we work with through my organization, Raising A Reader, this is not even an issue. They are delighted with the books our organization helps them access and are more worried about paying the rent than paying for a Kindle. However, the debate is important because eventually everyone will have access to this technology and it is important to ensure that children and families can choose what tool they need depending on the situation.
What is important to children is what is important to parents. For children to understand the joy of reading a book and be comfortable with new reading technology, both need to be important to parents. There is nothing wrong with a Kindle, but it is a Kindle, not a book. There is nothing wrong with a library kiosk, but it is a kiosk, not a library. There is a well known poem called “Children Learn What They Live,” and children definitely learn what they live when it comes to books and digital media.
If children only have access to digital books, they will lose out. If children only have access to print books, they will lose out. And most importantly, if parents do not spend time bonding with their children through both, they will lose out. We should not have to choose.
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| November 6, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories: Literature, Reading | Tags: barnes and noble, children's literature, digital books, digital media, digital vs. print, future of books, getting kids to read, kid lit, kindle, raising a reader
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