Friday, April 11, 2008

Print vs. digital: What's a librarian to do?

In today's issue of the New Hampshire Union Leader, you can read an article (page B2) by Merrimack correspondent Jim Kozubek about the use of print encyclopedias and online research tools (aka "databases") in libraries. During our phone interview, I tried to convey the message that there is still a place for print reference materials--though we invest more in focused, single-volume titles than multi-volume sets--and at the same time we are encouraging people to use our online products, most of which can be used from home or office by logging in with your library card number. (This is one important point missing from Jim's article.) There is a place in libraries for both print and digital; it's not a competition.

We encourage students to use a variety of sources, and we know their teachers do, too. For almost any topic, there is an array of information in multiple formats: books, periodicals, media clips, websites, etc. Consulting a variety of sources allows students to gain different perspectives and interpretations, as well as to cross-check facts.

Jim's article concludes with a comment from computer addiction specialist Maressa Hecht Orzack. I'm not sure where computer addiction fits into the subject of the value of encyclopedias and online research tools, and I don't even know if her comment is accurately presented, but I have to say that I don't think she knows much about a student's approach to school assignments. The article indicates that she thinks "a quiet read of a print encyclopedia or book is irreplaceable for its function to modulate attention and mood." I'm sure this is true, but the students I see everyday are so overloaded that they want their information as quickly and painlessly as possible so they can finish the assignment...and get on the next one.

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