By Chris Powers – Web Editor
Americans are reading fewer books than last year, but more of those books are traditional print books.
Pew Research Center conducted a study last month showing overall readership down around 7 percent compared to last year, print readers down 6 percent, while e-book readers have remained flat.
There is some crossover. Seventy-two percent of all Americans have read at least one book in the past year. Sixty-three percent of Americans have read a print book, while just 27 percent read an e-book.
The choice to read an e-book or a physical book can be a personal one. For college students, that decision is compounded by questions of what is good for their education.
“I know some people who are avid readers, they can read (either) an e-book or printed text,” said Vikki Cooper, Director of Developmental Curriculum at Grand Rapids Community College and a reading and comprehension specialist.
Pew survey data indicates a generation gap among college students. Adults ages 18 to 29 are twice as likely to read an e-book than their elders.
While Cooper usually prefers print books herself, she just enjoys seeing students read.
“I like when I see students reading, even if they’re reading on their phone,” she said.
When it comes to textbooks, most students still prefer to have a hard copy. Because websites have trained people to skim blocks of text on screens, making it difficult to read comprehensively on-screen.
This is especially true of students with dyslexia or other learning differences where the reader needs to track words as they read.
“If you do have learning differences, having an e-version might not be as advantageous as having a physical page where you can touch it (and follow along),” Cooper said. “As I watch people with learning differences, they tend to go toward paper as opposed to an e-reader.”
Cooper said if students want to try a digital textbook, they should consider a dedicated device with an e-ink display, such as a Kindle. Dedicated e-readers tend to be more conducive to reading longer form text without distractions.
“A lot of technology has become a distraction,” Cooper said.
Cooper said she doesn’t believe the college could require digital textbooks in the near future because while most traditional students are digital natives, many “students aren’t as technologically savvy as we think they are.”
Publishers have a long way to go before the college could ever recommend going fully digital.
“When they publish their textbooks, we talk about how much they are going to cost and what the published text is going to look like,” Cooper said. “The ones that appeal to students have color.”
Whether reading for pleasure or for class, Cooper said students should be flexible in their reading habits.
“It just depends on the person and what you’re comfortable with,” Cooper said. “But I think as a student what’s important is understanding what works best for how you learn and for the discipline that you’re preparing for.”
Cooper warns that if students do choose e-books, using their phones may not be the way to go.
“A phone is a device that will do everything, but is it conducive to learning?”