Digital vs. Paper?

Library holdings face challenges between formats

Since the dawn of time, human beings have sought a source of light to guide them through the darkness that is the unknown. Nowadays, there is an app for just about everything — including a flashlight!

In an effort to modernize the world around us, many libraries are facing a controversy regarding the need of physical copies of resources instead of digital. John Cook Wyllie Library of UVa-Wise also faces this issue.

In a digital age, UVa-Wise library staffers and students alike are finding that bound volumes have more life than some of their digital counterparts because of changing technology or even publishers’ whims Photo: Madison Ray | The Highland Cavalier
In a digital age, UVa-Wise library staffers and students alike are finding that bound volumes have more life than some of their digital counterparts because of changing technology or even publishers’ whims
Photo: Madison Ray | The Highland Cavalier

“There has been a difference in opinion with the administration and the library’s faculty on whether or not we should get physical books or electronic resources,” said Angie Harvey, library assistant director of public services. “There are a couple of advantages in getting physical books. Technology gets outdated and some of the databases they used before I got here were on CD-ROMs, which most computers do not have a CD-ROM drive anymore.”

“Right now the problem we are running into is that some of the books we buy in big groups can be removed from the group by the publishers even though we had already paid for them,” Harvey said. “Whereas if we had a physical copy, we would be able to keep it.”

“The eBooks are not always owned by the library; a lot of the e-books are leased, meaning the publisher can withdraw the access to the availability of that book anytime,” said Robin Benke, library science professor at UVa-Wise. “This has happened recently. A student found the electronic book in our catalog, but the copy of the eBook wouldn’t come up. So the student went to one of the librarians, Mrs. Harvey, and she discovered that our copy has been pulled by the publisher. You don’t always have access to your eBooks or electronic sources, but with a physical book we will always have that on the shelf.”

Although there are setbacks that can arise with using a digital copy, the academic advantages that digital copies have over physical books are impressive.

“I think there is a lot of potential to do things with eBooks that are not possible with regular textbooks: embedded movies, dynamic content, and so on,” said Mathew Harvey, associate professor of mathematics at UVa-Wise and author of “Geometry Illuminated: An Introduction to Euclidian and Hyperbolic Geometry”. “Most textbook authors do not have the expertise to create this kind of content. As long as a book exists in both digital and paper form, there is a desire to keep the two versions similar.”

“I think that it is imprudent to rely solely on one form of technology or source for your information,” English major Rachel Rockwell said. “Servers crash and are overloaded all the time, even for large corporations.”

It seems as though the thoughts shared by Rockwell are popular among other students around the world. A study performed by an American University linguistics professor, Naomi Baron, surveyed over 300 universities and found that 92% of students prefer paper books over electronic books.

The library on campus offers an online database that allows students access to online copies of articles, academic journals, books, and interlibrary loan requests. Students find that asking a librarian to offer their expertise in finding respected and reliable sources is most helpful.

The resources that can be found in the library, such as the vast collection of newspapers, documents, and books, are exceptionally helpful for students and their work. Accompanied with the calm and quiet ambiance, the library is not only the ideal place to study, but a pleasant place to unwind during a hectic day of classes.

“I like to wander through the aisles of books and peruse the titles,” said sophomore Lorraine Dresch. “There’s an atmosphere of safety and tranquility among the books. I even have my favorite shelves, and I visit those to learn about topics I hadn’t realized existed until my library adventures. Physical books are knowledge you can feel, smell, stub your toe on – they’re an immersive experience.”

In May, the new library will be open to students and faculty. The multistory complex will include new study rooms, a coffee shop, and a new learning environment for UVa-Wise.

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