Anita Mechler: Print books will never go out of style

As a librarian, I am often confronted by people who question the validity of my job as well as want to engage me in a conversation about how print is dead. Here is my answer to them about the second part of that argument:

  • Borrowing, Giving, Lending: Hundreds of people you may or may not know can read one copy of a print book that you bought. You can lend it to a friend, give it as a gift to a family member, or you can leave it in a “free books” box for strangers. There is no telling how far and wide that one copy can go and it’s all legal.
  • Poor people: Not everyone lives in a developed country nor does everyone in a developed country have access to technology or equipment that many of us take for granted. Yes, some libraries are able to allow some of their users access to ereaders and ebooks. What happens when those things are stolen, lost, or broken? A poor person would not be able to replace an electronic device as easily they could a print book.
  • Decoration: I admit that not only do I have a slightly overflowing bookcase at home, I also like to decorate with books on many many surfaces. Print books give a warm and inviting atmosphere to a home or workplace simply by existing. They sit on the shelf or bedside table like discoveries waiting to happen.
  • A Consistent Medium: You don’t have to worry about running out of batteries, needing to find an energy source to charge up, whether or not your device is proprietary, if your screen is broken, or if your subscription service has ended. A print book will be available to you at any time of the day or night and go for hundreds of years without ever dying or becoming “obsolete”, if taken care of properly.
  • Resting: Print books are a chance to give your eyes a rest if you are constantly staring at a screen all day. You can power down all of your electronic devices and concentrate on the words in front of you without the distraction of social media, urgent email, or adorable cat videos. You don’t have to worry if you fall asleep while reading, because a print book will be there for you when you are ready to pick it back up again.
  • Impracticality & Sentimentality & Satisfaction: There’s a certain pride in hefting around a tome of a book, getting through it, and finishing it. I have nostalgic feelings for my first copy of “The Secret Garden” and my collection of Narnia books and a pride for getting through “1Q84” that I don’t think I’d ever have if I experienced these first in electronic form. Sharing an electronic file with someone is not the same as inscribing a private message on the title of page of a book. As a print book lover, there is almost nothing as satisfying as getting to that last page at the end of a story-journey, taking out my bookmark, and shutting the book with a certain finality. Getting to end of an ebook can sometimes be anti-climatic. Also, there is nothing like the smell of an old used book store (or maybe that’s just me).

I agree that while traveling, an ereader can be a convenient tool to have and be able to take on planes and trains. There are great features like enlarging the print, changing the font, and being able to look up definitions without having to bust out a separate dictionary. However, I refuse to think that print is a “dead” medium simply because there are other ways to read content. If you want to read a longer and more scientifically driven essay on this I would highly recommend reading this.

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