According to Lindsay Lorenz of “The Good 5 Cent Cigar,” the student newspaper at the University of Rhode Island, university students are relying more on electronic research than ever before. One quoted statistic, based on data reported at the University of Rhode Island, is that students twenty years ago borrowed more than twice as many books as they did in 2007.
There may be more reasons than simply “the Internet” for a decline in student book borrowing. For example, professors can assign individual chapters and journal articles, and there are more electronic resources available than ever before. Plus, if you compare today’s textbooks with textbooks of twenty years ago, you’ll probably see a significant increase in textbook length. There has also been a significant increase in availability of electronic supplements to individual textbooks.
So even if library book borrowing has declined, there may also have been an overall increase in the availability of course-relevant knowledge over the past twenty years. And much (but not all) of that content is available via the Internet.
I related these statistics to my own experience. I’ve seen how the Internet grew in importance as an educational tool and source for both of my children who are now in their 20’s. My own use of the Internet has always been high due to my line of work.
But for me personally, my use of the Internet has actually led to an increase in my borrowing of books from the local public library.
The reason is simple: the web sites I read and the podcasts I listen to* regularly mention books where I think, “Hey, that sounds interesting.” What happens next is that I check the online catalog of the Alexandria Public Library to see if the book is owned or is on order. If it is, I either request it online, or I put it on my library card’s “list.” I’ll check that list against the book’s shelf status via the online catalog next time I visit the library. If the book is there, I grab it.
An added bonus of the library’s web-accessed online catalog is that it also links to many additional book reviews. These can be invaluable when I book I want isn’t available yet or has already been loaned out to someone else.
None of this should be very surprising. Examples abound of how different media reinforce each other, a topic I wrote about in Using New Media To Sell Old Media. In my case, media consumption includes an increase in use of “old media” based on use of “new media.”
How unusual — or usual — that is, I don’t know. But that’s one reason why I don’t automatically respond negatively when I read articles like the above-cited one about book borrowing and Internet use. The topic is a complex one and I’d want to know more about total media consumption before drawing dire conclusions about the future of literacy and intellectual curiosity.
* Podcasts on my iPod that regularly mention or review books:
- KERA’s Think Podcast
- The World Beyond the Headlines from the University of Chicago
- Big Ideas Podcasts
- BBC History Magazine
- CSPAN Afterwords
- All About Books
- New York Times Book Review Podcast
- Books from the Guardian
- MIT Press Podcast
- Times Online Books Podcast
- The Washington Post Book World Podcast
Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald