“Aren’t books going away?” is the response I’m most accustomed to hearing after I tell a new acquaintance that I’m a school librarian. The short answer, which I feel confident sharing on an anecdotal level, is “no.” Both of the libraries on the Colorado Academy campus are busy, buzzing spaces with bright shelves of titles and students constantly moving through to check out books. Fellow librarians see similar levels of student interest in print materials. In our larger community, independent bookstores like the Tattered Cover and The Bookies continue to flourish, which indicates that consumer interest in purchasing print books remains high.
In an effort to collect more data about student reading format preferences on our campus, I circulated a Google survey in late February to all Middle School students at CA. Ninety-three percent of sixth-through-eighth graders responded to the survey, which focused on their reading preferences when reading for fun (as opposed to reading informational texts or reading for academic purposes). Among the 201 responses I received, a striking 86 percent of students reported that they prefer to read print books to a digital book. Among those who prefer print books, about half are inclined to check out books from a library (school or public), while the other half are more likely to purchase the books they read for fun.
Curious about the reasons behind this strong preference for print among CA Middle School students, I spent time talking to survey respondents and unearthed some interesting insights. Many of the students I spoke with reported that they prefer reading print books for recreation because so much of their academic lives are centered on technology, which makes print books feel like a welcome contrast. “I like the feeling of turning the page and not just swiping across the screen,” explains seventh grader Julia Hall. “And I don’t get as distracted when I’m reading a print book because I can’t just do something else on my iPad while I’m in the middle of reading.” Another seventh grader, Paige Stanton, elaborated, “I have to be holding the book to get into it.”
The proclivity our Middle Schoolers show for reading print books is not just good news for our libraries; it has positive implications for student achievement, as well. A 2014 study published by the sociology journal Social Forces showed that the mere experience of being surrounded by shelves of books appears to increase intellectual curiosity. Although the gross domestic product of a country has the greatest impact on student achievement, according to the study, the quantity of books in one’s home is the “second greatest predictor of reading performance.”
So while we now live in a world rich with incredible technological advances that have made communication and education more efficient and interactive, it seems that there are also very compelling reasons to continue to fill our libraries, classrooms, and homes with the print books that our students and children so clearly enjoy and benefit from.