The Great Debate

That’s right, it’s time to talk about the great debate of library school students (and all readers, for that matter). The topic that leads to the most personal of classroom arguments. The irrevocable wedge driven into longstanding friendships. The most controversial of all library school issues…

eBooks, or physical books?

If you haven’t come across this argument at least half a dozen times throughout your library school career… well, then you definitely weren’t in my classes. The topic of eBooks vs traditional, physical books has arisen countless times over the course of my MLIS, and the traditional book nearly always wins out. For some reason, future librarians are awfully protective over their books!

As a proponent of the “eBooks rule!” school of thought, I have found myself on the losing side of this argument, over and over again. Classmates speak fondly of the smell of books, and the feel of turning the pages, and the pride they take in their expansive, neatly organised book collection. Lecturers remind us that we can’t provide the same level of service to digital-only patrons, and that eBooks tend to be more of a burden on collection budgets, anyway. News articles triumphantly announce that the eBook is dying, convenience losing to the tactile and visual appeal of the on-paper version.

During these discussions, I sit their stewing, thinking about the dozens of books I have stored in my tablet, and the hundreds more I have borrowed (and will borrow) using Libby. The books I can read while travelling, whether across the world or on the bus to class, taking up next to no space in my bag. The books I can download with the press of a button, and be reading seconds later– instant gratification! The time I save every time I move, and I don’t have to pack up hundreds of books or make painstaking decisions over which ones get to come with me, and which ones sit in a box in an attic somewhere. For me, at least, eBooks are the clear winners.

Any argument that others offer in favour of the traditional book, I can shoot down. “You can’t tell how much of the book you have left on a tablet!” There’s a little bar at the bottom of the screen, that tracks your progress. “Swiping isn’t the same as actually turning the page!” That’s right– it’s easier. “The glare of the screen is so bad for your eyes!” Not if you use one of those lovely e-ink eReaders, with no backlight! Many a heated discussion was had over this issue, and many a time I was outvoted– like I said, library school folks are awfully protective of their books.

Last semester, my class read a series of articles and chapters that focused on this very topic. The first of these made my blood boil; it was an older article, full of gloom and doom and tirades against eBooks as a great threat to libraries, the murderers of the traditional book, etcetera, etcetera. The exact sort of article I hate, and I was left wondering why the professor had selected it. To spur discussion? Well, there would be plenty of that!

The second article fortunately improved my opinion of the professor’s choices. It still had a pro-physical book slant, but made a very valid point that, for some reason, no one had really touched on throughout all of these debates:

It doesn’t matter.

Maybe you love the tactile sensations of opening a brand-new book, the scent of the paper, the look of all your purchases lined up on a shelf. Or maybe you prefer the convenience of digital books, carrying thousands of titles with you wherever you go. It really doesn’t matter. You can love one, and hate the other, or be perfectly happy with either– it isn’t a competition! eBooks aren’t a threat to physical books. They’ve been around for over a decade and libraries are still standing. Nor are physical books a threat to eBooks. Yes, digital books sales have dropped a little. But at the same time, more libraries than ever before are offering access to eBooks. The two formats can co-exist just fine!

I love the convenience of having seemingly endless reading material in my pocket. Truth be owned, though, my favourite method of reading is actually listening to audiobooks. I like being able to “read” when I’m driving to work or walking to class or cooking dinner. I also really do enjoy physical books. And that’s fine; I don’t have to choose! There’s no need for debate; all reading is good, and all books are good. The end.

Featured image by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash


Kait is an MLIS student at Western University in Ontario, an intern librarian at her local community library, and an avid traveller. Currently, she is wearing two scarves, shivering, and looking at flights to Fiji. Connect with her on LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter, or visit her website.

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