Thursday, February 5, 2009

Are the Print Versions of Encyclopedias Still Needed? Part 3

By Dr. Enrique T. Cayaban
Director of Libraries
Saint Mary's University
Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya
Philippines

Reference Sections, has dropped considerably, conspicuously and consistently since computers came of age. Our University Library has not been spared from this hard reality. Based on my observation and library statistics, the attendance in our library decreased steadily since the early 90s. This trend is still continuing in most parts of the world. A very recent study (2006), about students in a college, reveals this one significant finding (this is from a thesis donated to the SMU library):

“Very few students use the library. In general they do not find using the library resources as necessary in their studies. They can go on with their schooling without Book Loans. Using the library has not become a culture in their college students’ academic life. This is equally true for students regardless of college enrolled in, academic year, sex, and residence while studying, house staying in while studying, house staying in while studying and academic classification.”

These are colleges students, indeed! The study also revealed that more than 60% of these college students are non– library users. A grim scenario for academic libraries in the country.

It is however, gratifying to note that in out university the trend has slowed down - the percentage of attendance has painstakingly increased from 8% in 1996 to 13% in 2005. We hope we could maintain and sustain this increase in library attendance and library use, at least, here at St. Mary’s University.

Answering the above question, indeed, is no mean feat nowadays. But the answer is a resounding YES! In spite of the $100 price of the newest (2007) and sleekest PC now being marketed in the USA, there are more people who prefer the hard copies, not the soft copies, of reading materials. Many prefer the soft touch of paper as one flips the pages not the cold and glaring brightness of the PC monitor. Many prefer to ponder and savor the meaning of what has been read while the book lies on their laps; or, even sleep with that new found profound meaning of a line not worrying that the computer might overheat or about the cost of spent electric current. Consider one finding of the most recent study on print and digital versions found below:

Even though users are increasingly demanding electronic resources, more than half of the librarians surveyed disagree that electronic resources make print unnecessary or that electronic resources replace print. Further, almost half disagree that the library's materials will be primarily electronic in 5 years. Most do agree, however, that electronic resources diminish the use of print resources. The top reason librarians say print is still necessary is that in many cases print is preferred by users. Users often prefer print because it is easier to handle, easier to read, and it has better graphics. Surprisingly, given their previous answers, less than a third of librarians listed "ensured archiving" as a reason that print is still necessary.


…electronic publications incur costs that are not present with print publications, including hosting costs (for the servers, storage space, etc), access control costs, customer support costs, subscription management systems, providing usage statistics … . (http://www.epic.columbia.edu/)

The above is an epic reason of using the print medium. It is a truth that reading the encyclopedia is needed, more cost effective than the much “ big talk” or bragged - about commercial on cheaper value of using the digital medium. Moreover, it has become difficult to choose from the “hit” that the search engine gives. While in the printed encyclopedia, one can delve into the finer points of a research question or problem right after having read the necessary background information. One can immediately refine a cross reference search which cannot be done in the internet or even the latest wikipedias.

With the above reason alone, I do believe that the print version of encyclopedias and their latest editions are a worthwhile library investment.

Another contention about electronic formats is that they offer the advantages over print in graphics, sound and animations. Sound and animation, perhaps, but not graphics! However, there are also people, kids and adults alike, who don’t like to be disturbed by sounds or animations when reading – styles of learning experts will tell you these.

Try also to consider these sentiments:

Funny... I was going to just answer, "yes and yes" but it appears I was beaten to that answer; so, I do still own a more recent hardcover set of encyclopedia's. I got them for my children about three years ago. Even if we can use the computer for research, we all are in the habit of using them in an almost daily basis.

Yes, I grew up in a house with 3 sets of encyclopedia. One that I always remember being there and two that were inherited from grandparents. I bought my own first set of encyclopedias 17 years ago when I found out I was pregnant with my oldest child - she still has them and I make sure that she uses them for her school work, along with her computer and the local library. I assume that she will take them with her to college and we will need to purchase another set (several more kids you know). I have to say, it is the best purchase I couldn't afford! Also, I have dibs (?) on the very antique sets of encyclopedias that my parents still have on the shelves in their home.

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