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Is reading changing in the digital age?
“From Print to Pixels,” a presentation at the Crook County Library discussed how e-books are changing the act of reading
Crook County Library Director Camille Wood (left) and Renee Parrott update a patron’s library card last Friday. Library patrons are encouraged to get their library cards updated, which will eventually be required to switch over to the new ILS system.
February 04, 2013
An overflowing and engaged audience listened with interest to Oregon author Mark Cunningham at the Crook County Library on Friday, as he addressed the topic of reading in a digital age.
Sponsored by the Oregon Humanities, the presentation was entitled “From Print to Pixels,” and Cunningham challenged the participants to think about ways that e-books may change the act of reading, and what effects they might have on writing and our interactions with information. He also explored the matter of technology and neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.
“I am a writer, but I am also a reader,” he began.
To a large extent, Cunningham’s presentation centered around the fact that Americans read more words today than ever before, but devote much less time to reading words printed on paper.
“Rarely have we paused to ponder, much less question, the media revolution that has been playing out all around us, in our homes, our workplaces, and our schools,” said Cunningham.
He explained that he has been thinking about these topics since the debut of e-books and especially the “Kindle.” He referenced the fact that Alexis de Tocqueville, a famous historian of the 1800s, looked at the political and economic characteristics of American society and the attitude at that point in time toward technology. Much of what Tocqueville had to say more than 150 years ago sounded like an observation that might have been made today, in regards to the migration of technology and reading.
Cunningham recalled the evolution of the printing press to the explosion of the digital age, and how this has changed the way information is ascertained. He added that the nature of human consciousness changes with the use of technology. Behaviors can strengthen or weaken the neurons in our brain, and this is how he related the subject of neuroplasticity. He pointed out that how we read can change the chemistry of our brains.
“Their use (technology) has strengthened some neural circuits and weakened others, reinforced certain mental traits, while leaving others to fade away.”
In contrast, Cunningham also emphasized that e-books have many good merits, and many audience members quickly pointed out that e-books and devices such as the Kindle provided them more options. These technologies, in association with the internet, gave them the option of having instant thesauruses when they come upon an unfamiliar word, and the ability to cross-reference information.
“They deserve to co-exist, and they both have their merit,” said Cunningham.
In relation to institutions such as libraries, he said that it is a good thing to have broad access to information, which is one reason why libraries have always been so valuable. Crook County Library Director Camille Wood noted that one of the unintended consequences that has come about as a result of digital media in libraries is the fact that many publishers are imposing restrictions on access to e-books in libraries. She said this is an issue across the country in public libraries.
Wood also emphasized that her staff work extensively with patrons who are struggling with their new e-book devices, and need some technical support. She added that the Crook County Library is also currently undergoing a big change in their library computer system. It involves a partnership with neighboring libraries in Deschutes and Jefferson counties, which involves switching to a new cataloging system and making Crook County Library cards usable at any public library in the three counties.
Advantages of the new computer system includes the fact that it will allow the library to add self-checkout stations like those at the Deschutes and Jefferson county libraries, and make it possible to share resources with the other county libraries in Deschutes and Jefferson County. The Crook County Library will initially install two self-checkout computers near the circulation desk, with the option of adding a third later.
The “integrated library system” or ILS, includes the library’s catalog as well as a database of patron information. The new ILS has the capacity to generate automated phone calls or e-mail notices, track holds on items, compile statistics, to name a few of the features. Like the arrival of e-books, the benefits will take time to assimilate.
Cunningham noted that in “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age,” by William Powers, there is a difference between access to information and the experience of it.
Quoting a portion of Powers’ work, he said, “Would anyone want to be trapped in a library in which all the books on all the shelves, and all the readers at all the desks, were talking out loud simultaneously? Hopping around among competing digital distractions, it’s impossible to go truly inward, to become immersed in reading to the point where the crowd falls away, an experience poet William Stafford captured nicely in the line, ‘Closing the book, I find I have left my head inside.”’
To reach the Crook County Library, call 541-447-7978, or go to www.crooklib.org. Patrons are encouraged to begin updating their library cards to get ready for “the great migration” to the ILS system.