For traditional book lovers who have always held e-books in disdain, modern trends of downloading and uploading e-books and conducting book search operations on Google inevitably cause deep despair. Generations of bibliophiles who have spent hours wandering admiringly amongst musty shelves of high-ceilinged libraries can’t understand Gen Z “wasting” an equal number of hours gaming on their devices or obsessing over social media likes. Library software is alien to the purists and not in any way connected with library management.
A hard-core bibliophile myself, I have often been confronted with the painful tussle between soft and hard – e-libraries vs. physical libraries, e-readers vs. good old books. While I am a lover of the latter, I am increasingly aware of the edge softer versions have in terms of ease of handling, mobility, space and, above all, the fun element.
And it is this convenience and fun that the new generation seeks out when it opts for soft versions. But what of children or young adults who would prefer to avoid reading altogether. How do we get them to read?
The solution lies in giving them not just the reading matter but also the freedom to read what they want, at their time and pace, in the manner and format that they would be most comfortable with. In brief, books need to be presented differently – not necessarily as bound paper to be sought out in conventionally catalogued libraries, but, if they so desire, as downloadable EPUB or Kindle books, that can be found at the click of a button and borrowed or bought at the next click!
The ease with which e-books are procured appears to add to the fun of reading. Looking for it by typing a couple of keywords into an e-catalogue can yield many new names and references, exciting information on authors, reviews and more.
The e-book sits lightly on the hand, being as big and heavy as the device it is on. That’s convenience! It is also gentler on the pocket. That’s practical! It helps with attention deficit – a rather common disorder in modern times. The child with poor attention spans would sooner read an e-book with its zoom in zoom out facility and adjustable fonts. A page at a time is kinder to attention deficit, than a heavy tome or too many words on a page. By allowing a child to zoom in on a text, we can stop him from zooming out of reading altogether. And some fonts do not hurt the eye.
To draw children to books in the digital age, we need to make reading a more pleasurable experience. What constituted reading pleasure for the traditional reader was essentially the layered content of the book. But it was also about the heady scent of paper, the quaint mustiness of libraries and bookstores, the texture, colour and feel of aging pages. Younger readers brought up on a steady diet of smartphones and apps would be more sensitive to the digital aspects of an e-book – its font (which could also be a thing of beauty), its features, its accessibility and its flexibility. I believe that children will be more open to reading when adults understand and accept this simple fact and let go of value-based judgments.
As for libraries, their automation with the aid of library management software is another enterprise altogether. Most advanced library software systems are today embedded with multilingual fonts, Barcode and QR Code fonts. They also support the latest technologies such as cloud hosting, smart phones, tablets, SMS, email, payment gateway, etc.
I would like to point out that there is something in this digitization of libraries for readers of the most ancient classics…as well as for the most unconventional young adult. Books of all eras can be preserved in digital format – keeping their content accessible for future generations. The RFID tag attached to each book allows for circulation of several books simultaneously, performs identification and anti-theft in a single operation and scans and identifies book details in double time. For children and young adults, the thrill of independently finding a book with a smartphone app for book search, of issuing or returning books at a self-check kiosk without an adult in tow to recommend or disapprove, of researching book details and chancing upon facts that are stranger than fiction could all add to the joy of frequenting a library and picking up a good book. It shouldn't be difficult to get a child to enjoy reading. And it is this reading for pleasure that will one day lead the child towards greater literacy and better learning outcomes.
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