The contrast of pixels, the layout of the words, the concept of scrolling versus turning a page, the physicality of a book versus the ephemerality of a screen, the ability to hyperlink and move from source to source within seconds online—all these variables translate into a different reading experience.
Maria Konnikova lays out a wonderful description and explanation of the differences between online reading and reading a tangible book. Although she doesn’t really delve into how to be a better online reader. She does cite a number of different studies and report that discuss the negative impacts of digital reading and the loss of overall reading comprehension and deep reading.
When Ziming Liu, a professor at San Jose State University whose research centers on digital reading and the use of e-books, conducted a review of studies that compared print and digital reading experiences, supplementing their conclusions with his own research, he found that several things had changed. On screen, people tended to browse and scan, to look for keywords, and to read in a less linear, more selective fashion. On the page, they tended to concentrate more on following the text. Skimming, Liu concluded, had become the new reading: the more we read online, the more likely we were to move quickly, without stopping to ponder any one thought.
Skimming is the new reading. But I wonder if it’s really knew? In high school, 15 years ago, well before the Internet was the juggernaut of information it is today, I was taught to skim on reading throughout my textbooks. Read the headline, read the first sentence and there ya go. Look at the highlighted text and glossary and that should give you a preview, or a rough idea of the content of the text. Is this very different from how we read online today? I think the biggest difference is that its much easier to get distracted and jump from hyperlink to hyperlink when online, losing that traction and concentration that you can’t avoid when you have an actual book right in front of you.
We see the studies and reports almost weekly know. The number of people reading is steadily dropping. The number of people reading online is steadily increasing. We, as librarians, need to be aware of these shifts and be ready to help with the transfer, but still trying to figure out how to bridge the gap on comprehension levels between the two methods. Libraries are investing more and more into ebooks, which is what the community wants. We should be aware of the repercussions of supporting this movement.