Paper or plastic? Are printed books superior to digital

Right now, there’s a new, state-of-the-art school under construction in our town. It’s going to be a K-12 facility and have all the amenities a modern school should have with one exception: There’s no library. All of the books the students will need will be available on their laptops or tablets, and as you might imagine, this isn’t sitting well with many of our older residents.

Now, I like books. I have a lot of books and I’m always carrying at least one book in my shoulder bag for when I have a few minutes to read when I’m out. But I also understand the thought process for not having a library filled with books at this new school. I think the primary reason for the decision is twofold: For one, it’s a cost issue; stocking a library suitable for K-12 students can get expensive. The second is we have a great library here in town, which is not far from the school should students still want or need physical books.

And in talking to the old timers, that’s seems to be the sticking point — physical books. When I ask them why it’s wrong to not have a library I get answers like, “Well, kids should just have books,” or “I just think it’s wrong to not have books.”

I get it. These are mostly arguments from emotion, and as I said, I too love books. But I think of the way kids are growing up today. I think it’s safe to say all of them are being raised to access information on phones, tablets and computers. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say a child being born today will probably never pick up a printed book, magazine or newspaper — ever. So why waste the money building and stocking something that the current and future generations will never use. Now we can argue all day whether the disappearance of print is good or bad for society, but the reality is it’s going away.

The second advantage to digital is this: Do you remember going to the library to get a book you really needed for research only to find that book checked out? Or how bout this? The book is there, but someone needed the same information as you and decided to rip the page out rather than spend the twenty five cents to have it photocopied. And do I need to mention all the drawings of pee pees and wee wees that are often found in high school library books?

Maybe in time we’ll find out our parents were right, and staring at screens all day will make us go blind, and honestly, it wouldn’t matter at all if printed material made a comeback. I happily consume media both in print and electronically. But the reality today is print is in decline and future generations are going to rely more and more on digital means for getting their information.

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