This Week in LIS - 13 June 2014

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Headline of the Week: Are the eBook and Book Finding an Equilibrium?

Nicholas Carr’s recent blogpost  about the positioning of ebooks and physical books is interesting and thoughtful. I am pleased that its title is tonally appropriate to the article’s content! The post is the text from a talk he’d recently given at the Digital Book Conference at Book Expo America (BEA) in New York.

Carr observed a tension between some of the predictions of the demise of the physical book and the complementary takeover by the ebook, on the one hand, and his and other nonfiction writers’ personal experiences with the sales of their own books, on the other. Their ebook sales, by copy, seem to have settled in at the 10-20% range. He concludes there is a new equilibrium with ebook growth more closely tracking that of the market. Overall, in the U.S., ebooks make up 30% of the book market.

He goes on to talk about a more interesting tension between the culture of the book and the culture of the computer. This is quite helpful.

When Carr visited Luther College in February one of his talks focussed on how the Internet and the Screen where leveraging people’s primal nature to sense their environment for change and that a steady diet of such simulations leads to rewiring of the brain compromising ones ability to concentrate and be attentive. He was challenged by those who are able to concentrate reading on their ebook readers, smart phone and laptop computers and that all Screen experiences are not created equal. Carr has picked up that point in this post and introduces new language to unpack the uses of the “Screen” into “culture of the book” and “culture of the computer.”

With the “culture of the computer” he refers to highly interactive environment based on action, reaction, responsiveness, distractions and initiating actions. The culture of the book is different and provides one the opportunity to disengage from influencing and acting and to be absorbed in the act of reading. In the culture of the book there is time for attention, concentration and reflection. He acknowledges that information technology can be used within the “culture of the book.”

So there is room for the “culture of the book” which librarians and liberal arts college communities will naturally champion and the “Screen,” at least under some circumstances. Like most transformative technologies digitization, networks and mobile devices can be used for good and they can be applied to other usage scenarios with less desirable consequences.  Information and technology literacy is key and personal discipline is key.

There was great conversation Wednesday at the workshop “Enhancing Student Learning Through Information Literacy and Technology” about usage of mobile devices in the classroom. A number of arguments were made about how useful they can be as well as the issues that come from having them in the classroom. Further conversation ensued about student preferences and perceived effectiveness for reading - whether online or on paper. Understanding this informs library collection investment decisions and student printing services and policy as well as classroom policy and management.

It seems, during these times of disruptive change, that we have a great opportunity to help our students come to a new level of understanding and awareness of these issues integrating recent learning science from both neurobiologists and educational psychologists with our respective experiences. Through conversation and reflection we can help students build the information and technology literacy skills to discern between more useful and less useful usage scenarios for these information technologies. Together with the structure that we provide through our programs we can help them develop the personal discipline and habits of the mind that will serve them well into their futures.

Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:

The ebook equilibrium by Nicholas Carr

Convocation Lecture by Nicholas Carr at Luther College, February 6, 2014. (Click the On Demand and scroll back to February 6, 2014.)

The shallows:  what the Internet is doing to our brains by Nicholas Carr


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LIS Blog Highlights from the Week

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June 2014

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