Column: Reading changes our minds, especially through printed books May 5, 2022 by Editorial staff Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! As a school volunteer, I was just a little surprised recently to learn that digital textbooks are the norm for many courses. As I packed hundreds of printed textbooks to ship to the Philippines, I wondered how much those books cost, how much course content had changed since the books were published, and why some looked new or barely used. Was relying on computers an educational, financial, or convenience decision? In the middle of my 43 years as a high school teacher, large computers appeared, which over time became smaller, personal, and ubiquitous. The death of the printed book was predicted as if its best before date had passed. I was stunned when students began to rely primarily on computers for their research. Yes, I understand the benefits of copying, pasting and generating quotes with ease. I asked myself, “Am I just an old misty who can’t handle it?” I remembered all the educational changes that teachers of my generation have experienced, and I rejected that idea. In addition to ever-changing technology, our entire career has been full of change, including changing pedagogy. To explain my preference for print, I turned to science. Yes, I have used a computer for research but have printed relevant articles for reference. I found that when asked, people often say that they simply like the look of a book in their hands. For our brains, however, printed books are better for many reasons. When reading printed books, we understand and store more information. With eBooks, distractions are just a click away and disrupt focus. “Screen-based reading” includes browsing and skimming rather than in-depth reading as with printed books, which keeps us focused and attentive. Reading digital text affects cognitive functions, including the loss of ‘deep reading’. Printed books are also easier on the eyes. Know someone who walks away from a computer or other digital device as directed every 20 minutes? Printed books hold our attention, promote concentrated reading, and are more emotionally absorbing because they awaken multiple senses—feel, smell, and see. Children understand it less well when parents read to them from an eBook; the digital reader is a distraction. Students themselves prefer printed textbooks. Four in five students prefer to read in print for long passages, and 94% say they concentrate better when using printed text. More than 72% of students have trouble focusing on homework on a computer or tablet, and 93% of college students agree that paper is essential to achieving their educational goals. During the COVID-19 school closures, many observant parents likely discovered the negative aspects of their children’s reliance on digital reading that may have contributed to lost learning. To be fair, there are advantages to eBooks and digital texts. They make information available to everyone and worldwide and ensure that books are accessible to people who have no or limited access to printed books. However, predictions that eBooks and digital textbooks would cause the death of print books have proved unfounded. Recent statistics show that 72% of American adults have read a book in some form in the past year; 37% read only print books, 28% read both printed books and eBooks, 7% read only digitally and 27% read no books. Given all the evidence, it’s clear that the way we read is literally changing our minds – for better or for worse. What to do as educators, parents and readers? The seed for this comment was planted when I read about an online book program that allows kids to pick one free book a day — what, when I was young, would have been starvation diets, digital or otherwise. Few things in the modern age are more egalitarian than our freedom to browse the piles of our public libraries, including school libraries, which are home to thousands of printed books, all crying, “Choose me! Choose me!” They are free to read and I am absolutely sure we can choose many more than one. Martha Robertson, a retired public high school teacher and librarian, is a founding member and current board member of the Kalaheo High School Foundation.