By Tom Dulaney, Editor in Chief
Waiting on-line (as in a queue of people) to check out a few books at the local library, I went online (via Kindle) to finish a few chapters of my current ebook.
A young librarian, arms laden with books, glanced at my Kindle. Her lip curled in obvious anger, her eyes met mine.
“Have you seen this thing?” I asked, because it seemed a dose of friendliness was in order.
“It's a Kindle,” she spat. “I hate that thing. It's going to kill libraries.”
In the ecstatic rush of daily news about ebooks, the promise of the iPad and the revolution inflamed by Amazon's Kindle, it's easy to forget that a lot of jobs, professions, careers and lives seem threatened by the ebook.
Beyond just having jobs, dedicated library professionals worry about the literary health of students who spend more time reading online (48 minutes per day on average) as opposed to off line (43 minutes).
That's why today's report in the Library Journal at libraryjournal.com fascinates. Several articles cover the School Library Journal Summit held at the end of last week in Chicago. “As always, the goal of the summit is to tackle an urgent issue that school librarians and other educators are facing,” say the summit organizers on the web page for the meeting.
With ebooks, iPads and Kindles the big buzz in the world of books this year, it's no surprise the overall topic of this year's summit was “The Future of Reading.”
“We're experiencing a sea change,” the summit web page states. “For starters, ebooks and other digital content have challenged the basic notion of what constitutes reading and books.” Ebooks are just the “starters,” and the whole digital age is the rest of that iceberg challenging the printed book and its world.
The conference leaders pointed out the meeting “is about the future of reading, not the future of books.”
Online reading does not equal traditional reading, argued one of the speakers, Donald Leu. He holds an Endowed Chair in Literacy and Technology at the University of Connecticut, where he is also Director of the New Literacies Research Lab.
His research indicated “there is no significant correlation between” measures of traditional reading comprehension and online reading comprehension.
Online reading requires skills that off-line (traditional) reading does not, Leu says. Up to 20% of students classed as “low scoring readers,” he adds, are “extremely savvy” when working with online content. And significant percentages of “high scoring readers” by off-line standards do poorly with online content.
Students viewed as “digital natives,” highly skilled online, are “digital doofuses” when it comes time to “appraise the resources they uncover” on the internet.
Bottom line: Disturbing indications that “digital natives” may be skilled at manipulating streams of data—facts--blasted into them at high speed by high tech devices, but comprehending the information, evaluating its validity, and finding meaning in the words is problematic.
Students had their chance to be heard at the conference, and a report reveals a four-student panel discussion, all the participants in high school, talking about such things as “bookless libraries,” a world without paper text books, and how they view ebook readers like the iPad as part of both their life and their education.
They weighed the pros and cons of Amazon's announced plan to enable book lending of Kindle books. The topic, itself, is a sign of these digital times since that announcement was made at the time of the conference.
In all, the online reports about the summit are a fascinating eye full for anyone interested in the future of the ebook and its impact on our lives. Videos of some of the speakers can be seen here.