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Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 11/ 6/2010

Must we have the digital vs. print battle?

By Valerie Strauss

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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By Valerie Strauss  | 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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It doesn't have to be either/or. I am a little put-off when techno-heads try to claim that digital will wipe out print. I watch my students, every month, order books from the Scholastic magazine ordering form (that has not changed an iota since I was in grade school)and see the look of sheer joy and excitement on their faces when the box arrives with their books. books have a tactile quality that children certainly understand and appreciate. There is also this: once you have bought your book, you own your book. If you buy a text for your Kindle they can always come into your device and take the text off your list - as they did a couple of years ago with Orwell's 1984 (an ironic moment if there ever was one). No one would dare break into your house in the middle of the night to steal a book off your bookshelf.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | November 6, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

As a little boy, I remember being able to listen to some of my favorite "books" on a record player that I could control myself. I scratched records and delighted in the stories. My daughter had books that were both a book and a tape. How many times have I listened to Meryl Streep read "The Velveteen Rabbit"? Or traveling while my daughter in her car seat "read" a book while The Count from Sesame Street prompted her to, "Turn the page, turn the page." Different technology. Not books. But certainly not either or. Just another way to enjoy favorite stories....over and over. Perhaps made more interesting by changing the medium from time to time. Sometimes, at bedtime, I got to be the Count. Or I'd try to read with the elegance of Ms. Streep. It's the stories that matter, whatever the medium. May they continue to co-exist.

Posted by: briobrio33 | November 6, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

I have fond memories of reading books with my own children as well as to children I have worked with in the education profession. In addition to just reading books, we listened to books on cassette, then books on CD, then books read on the internet. I don't think that technological advances will take away childrens' desire to have and read books "the old way," I believe it will give them more options to enjoy the stories.

Posted by: mw4education | November 7, 2010 12:01 AM | Report abuse

I agree that paper books are great and I to have fond memories of my parents reading books to me as a child. I now get to read some of the very same books to my children. I do agree that we need both paper and ebooks. There are clear advantages to both. I see how all of my nephews are addicted to their video games and everything else that is digital and portable. If the ebooks are a way to get them interested in reading, then so be it.

Posted by: kenny01h | November 7, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

The two media are apples & oranges, or maybe pineapples and plums!

In support of books, particularly the picture variety for young children, just the different sizes and tactile quality of paper creates a sensory awareness in children that is very different from the screen versions.

As an artist, I am thankful that picture books exist to give children an awareness of human accomplishments in visual art that is closer to the original medium than
on-screen viewing.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | November 7, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

I have always been for print but I also know the importance of digital. There is something about holding a book in your hand but there is a convenience of a digital book. I think we need to expose children to all the different ways to learn and discover new ways wether it be in paper form or digital. The more ways to get kids reading the better!

Posted by: ash08ley14 | November 7, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

This was an interesting article to me. I am not to up to speed with most of the newer technologies. I do not own an ipod, ipad, iphone, blackberry, blueberry, or a strawberry or a Kindle. I don’t have HDTV and my TV is one of those extra wide versions. All I do on my cell phone is talk. I do not know how to text. I’m not quite sure I understand what 3G and 4G networks are ,nor do I know anything about “apps”. Now, all that said, you might think I am not for technology, but that is not true at all. I love technology. However, I cannot afford a lot of the new technology. It’s that simple. I have had my little flip cell phone for probably 5 years or longer, but it still works. I really only have it for emergencies, and I don’t get cell service where I live, so the technology that goes along with the cell would be lost on me anyway because of circumstances. So my point is in regards to the digital technology for books, I think it depends on the people and the circumstances. I am for whatever gets children and families reading. However, not every family will be able to afford the new technologies, especially since technology is constantly changing. I love taking my children to the library to get books. There is a certain tranquility that goes along with it. I know that sounds corny. I just think that is a great thing to do with your kids. So, I hope our libraries (and its books) won’t become a thing of the past…at least in my lifetime.

Posted by: TEACHER2b2012 | November 7, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

This is a very interesting article because it brings up a lot of important questions that we must ask with our technology changing everyday. I feel that reading is a very important aspect in academic growth. As long as children are reading whether it be digitally or with an actual book, the point is they are still reading! It shouldn't be a debate where people must choose sides on digital or print, we need both to be available. It is important for digital to become more accepted because it is a change in society that we must be willing to accept. It will help our planet by saving paper and not distroying as many trees. As well as show technology based students that they can read digitally as well. With print, I feel that it is important for students to still be using printed books. Although times are changing dramatically and a lot more things are done on computers, all reading does not need to be done digitally. It is important for students to still go to the library and know what all resources are out there. Both of these types of books are necessary in the classroom. Students need to be exposed to different ways of learning because various approaches work for different individuals. Why should we limit students when both types of resources can be available?

Posted by: pamelastar08 | November 7, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

I definitely agree with this posting. It is very difficult to make sure our children are learning to use both digital and print throughout life. Like the author states, a printed book can be used by a child in the bathtub, while a Kindle could not. However, it would be easier to take a Kindle on vacation because it is able to store many books in one device. Each item should have its own time and place, because there is an important need for both. Students need to be familar with technology because in the future they are going to need it a great deal, but it is also harmful for them not to be exposed to any type of printed material as well. In the future, will a Kindle and other reading devices be all that is used for reading? Currently, many newspapers are going on line and are no longer in print, is this what is going to happen to printed books? For the sake of our students, I hope not. There is something very comforting about reading from a printed book.

Posted by: edustudent8998 | November 8, 2010 7:15 PM | Report abuse

I work in a library, and we're currently in the process of trying to figure out how to loan e-readers to our patrons. While few of my co-workers are very fond of the idea actually using a Nook or Kindle, we're all fairly excited to adding them to our collection. In addition to books, we also carry books on tape, books on CD, playaways, books that come with software, children's books that come with games, book kits, an entire digital media catalog, and more. None of this technology is detrimental to the reading experience. In fact, it enhances it. I fully agree with Strauss' that this is not an either-or situation. Even with all of the non-print options that the library offers, this type of media only makes up one third of what is checked out every day. People--especially kids--need digital and print instead of digital or print.

Posted by: Chelsea5 | November 8, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse

When I first saw the title of this article, I must admit, I felt a little favoritism towards paper books. How could someone want to read from a computer screen all the time? Why wouldn't they want to have a collection of books on a shelf that they can go to for a good read? The feel of the pages, the smell of the book, it all brings me such great comfort. But after reading this article, I have to agree that both digital and print books are important. We are in a quick paced, constantly developing society. If we do not make changes to have things such and Kindle's and Nooks, we will be robbing children of crucial development to grow up in this world. If a child see's mommy and daddy on their computer all the time, but then hears that they don't think a digital book is very good, they will have mixed signals about technology. And they wont be able to decide if it is good or bad. But does this mean print should not also be present? Absolutely not. We must give children the feel of reading a paper book, or else they may still hate to read. Both digital and print are extremely important in today's society.

Posted by: knegard | November 9, 2010 7:37 AM | Report abuse

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