“…some researchers believe that the brain absorbs digital and printed text differently. In one study, students who read printed books seemed to more fully understand material, and did so much faster than another group of students who read the same material in a digital format. They explain that digital vs. print reading is much like the difference between ‘knowing’ and ‘remembering.’” Ten Reasons Students Are Not Using eTexts
This sounds something like Sheldrake and morphic resonance in action; but it is even more related to habit. Today’s students are not overly prompted by generations of codex habituation. On the contrary, current students prefer physical books in a context of their habituated screen dependence.
The generational argument, that the next fully digital generation will abandon physical books, is increasingly suspect. The current preference (76%) for paper textbooks is a preference conditioned by screen expertise.
When ever we frame discussions of print and ebooks in terms of contraries the out come is predictable; the meaning that lurks between the polarities will be missed. For example, cover design, artwork, pull quotes, title, and other front material—and the publisher’s imprint logo are all parts of paratext or tags that influence our reading. If such components are viewed as static or dynamic, fixed or mutable, or as simple binaries we will miss the meanings between.
In between we can consider how one format can complement another exchanging in either direction. Book transmission in general is benefited by such interplay especially within a competitive media world. An advantage of books is that they encompass BOTH paper and screen display systems. TV and the web are already confined to screen display alone.
A way forward with contraries such as physical and immaterial collections preservation is to look exactly between. There is usually a big space lurking there. The space between physical books and screen books is their common transmission role from storage inertia to a user display. Beyond that there is interaction of the two formats and a likely user dependence on a diversity of access options.
Look between at preservation of a diversity of access options and look at preservation of the diversity of reading skills needed. Preservation becomes library ethnography as cultures change or library physics as we look for force fields that lend mass.
Some of our best practices are hybrids in between; from cleaning slides for scanning to buffering Google searches with in-house scans, to cross validating source and surrogate copies. The steady state of a screen resource may last only micro-seconds but such micro-seconds of preservation are needed too.
Recognizing a “learning equation”, of a personal profile of habits and innovations, is, itself, a learning accomplishment. The action of definition of affordances of a variety of transmission media brings us to recognize our habits of learning. It can also map the diversity of attributes and dis-attributes of distinct media formats such as the paper and screen book.
Perhaps we need a bit of transcendence beyond polarized evaluations. Habits themselves can provide obstacles to recognition of the interdependence of transmission media. Today’s scholars must be very gymnastic readers and continually re-evaluate their research methods and sources. Look to research libraries for integration of storage, discover, access, and display across all media types.