Shelf Awareness with Julia Engel logo

It seems that nowadays readers identify themselves as either passionate print or e-book enthusiasts. I’m certainly not the first to weigh in on this dichotomy, as this is a discussion that has now spanned multiple decades.

As the debate wages on, print books have yet to disappear despite the doomsday predictions that emerged when e-books first came on the scene. Print books are still selling well and in fact print book sales rose 8.2% in 2020. Last year was unique in many ways, I imagine some of the rise in print book sales could be because people were reading more in general due to lack of alternative activities they would have engaged in during a “normal” year. 

Some of the rise in sales of print were because people were “screened out” from all the virtual meetings and classes and wanted to give their eyes a break with a printed page instead. But the effects of COVID aside, this seems to be consistent with trends from prior years as well, according to a Pew Research Center survey in 2019, print books were still the most popular format for reading.   

I am a recovering print book purist but have recently begun to understand the appeal of e-books. Frustrated when I noticed time and time again that a title I wanted to read was readily available in digital format but the waiting list for the print copies was a mile long, I broke down and tried it out. I tested the water by using my old laptop which had the capability of transforming into a tablet.

After fiddling with it for what seemed like an eternity to get it set up just the way I liked it, I was finally able to get comfortable with the new format. I realized that the awkwardness of the experience could probably be attributed to the fact that I was reading on a device not really built for holding like a book, so I took the plunge and got a tablet designed for just such purposes. After reading a few books on my new device I learned there is a place for e-books in my life. While my first choice is still print, I enjoy a few features of reading books on my tablet.   

Print books offer the luxurious tactile experience an e-book does not. I enjoy the feeling of holding the book in my hands, the texture of the paper, the smell of the ink on the page, and of course — the glorious cover designs. I feel wealthy when I gaze upon the spectacle of my carefully curated home library. Books can be a lovely element of home décor.

I also prefer the print book experience for more practical reasons. I have a terrible memory for details, so I frequently must refer to earlier portions of a book to remember a piece of information about a character; I have found it is much easier for me to do that with a print book because I can approximate the place information was mentioned based on the size of the chunk of pages. A print book is also not dependent on access to electricity or internet connection, so it can be easier to use in different environments such as camping in the woods, at the beach or on an airplane.  

On the other hand, an e-reader can be preloaded with several selections at a time, making titles more portable than having to lug around a cumbersome stack of books. You can download them to the device in anticipation of being in a place where you don’t have connection to the internet, as long as you’ve got a full charge you can take them anywhere. It may take a little bit of planning ahead but in this way, e-books can be more portable than print books. And if you don’t like the book you can return it and check out another pretty easily, as long as you have access to an internet connection. This is hugely beneficial for people on the go, especially those with as fickle reading tastes as I have.

Print vs. e-book
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It is freeing to take a slim e-reader than lug a pile of heavy books around in a suitcase. Devices may also prove slightly more durable than a fragile paper book, there are new models of e-readers coming out that are waterproof, which alleviates some of the anxiety of reading near water, and sturdy cases can be added for extra protection. E-reader surfaces may also be easier to wipe down than paper pages, if a smudge of jelly or smear of chocolate gets on the surface it may not spell disaster in the same way as with a porous paper page.  

Another wonderful thing about e-books is that they offer accessibility features for users to customize their experience and accommodate their individual preferences or needs. Readers can change size of font, line spacing, brightness and many even offer dyslexic-friendly options.

But technology tools aren’t without their downfalls, too. I find the touch screen on my tablet to be a bit finicky and can jump around too much for my liking at times. There may be some e-readers that don’t suffer from this problem though. I do appreciate being able to use the dictionary and maps features on the tablet, as I often need to look up words I don’t know and enjoy looking at geographic places mentioned in the story I’m reading, but sometimes those features serve as a distraction and I find I can focus better on a print book.

There is also a lot of debate when it comes to how to use e-books safely and effectively with young children. There are merits to using digital devices with children who are learning to read, but perhaps a balanced diet of both print books and e-books may be the best approach. A lot of the pros and cons of print and digital I’ve listed already also apply to use with children.

With print books children benefit from the tactile/sensory experience of holding a book and learning the mechanics of how to turn the pages. Turning the pages may be a more engaging experience than clicking buttons on a device for very young children. A huge benefit of reading print books with parents is the bonding experience which is an important factor in growing a positive association with reading and learning.

This isn’t exclusive to print books, but sometimes children’s e-books feature the option to have the program read the book along with them, which doesn’t provide the same rewarding experience as when the child reads with a loving parent, family member, friend or other trusted adult. E-readers may also provide more distractions to the young reader with other apps to open, bright colors, animation or sounds, so a print book may be easier for them to focus on.

Conversely, an e-reader can sometimes give children the ability to highlight and define words they don’t know more easily, which can be helpful for expanding their vocabulary and aid in retaining what they’ve learned. Another possible benefit of an e-reader is that it can cater to different learning styles. There is much, much more to learn about the topic and I have barely scratched the surface, so for some further reading check out these resources from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Scholastic and Harvard Health Publishing.  

So now that I’ve pontificated on the merits and drawbacks of each format, I’m going to show you how you can try out an e-book from our library collection. If you haven’t tried it yet, you may find that it opens up a whole new world of reading options to you. Most of our titles we own in print and e-book format but every once in a while, we only have the downloadable version, or the print version is checked out but the digital version is available.

There are two platforms we use to host the downloadable e-book, audiobook and digital magazine collections. They can be accessed using apps on a device such as tablet or smartphone but can also be viewed through a web browser. These platforms are Overdrive/Library2go and CloudLibrary.  I will give a brief rundown of how to use these, but we also have a wide range of tutorials broken down by type of device for each of these platforms available on our website here.  

To begin, if using a device such as a smartphone or tablet, visit your app store and search for either Libby (for the Overdrive/Library2go collection) or CloudLibrary. It is best to install both apps if possible, as each one hosts their own collection of titles, some titles are available through only one of the platforms. Once the app is installed, open and sign in using your full library card number, the PIN will be the last four digits of the card number. You will need to select the Corvallis-Benton County Library System as the library, for the Libby/Overdrive app it may also be listed as the Oregon Digital Library Consortium.

Some of this process may vary based on which device you are using, so make sure to check out the individual instructions on this page for full details. Once the app is all set up you can go in and search for specific titles or browse curated lists within the app, or titles in the downloadable collection will come up when searching our full library catalog. To borrow a title just click on the cover image and click the Borrow button. Titles check out for 21 days and return themselves on their due date, or you can return them early if you wish. We have a fantastic collection of materials available through these platforms, there are also a few other great ways to find free e-books such as Project Gutenberg, OpenLibrary and Internet Archive.  

As always, if you need assistance accessing the downloadables or any other items from our collection or have questions regarding any of our materials or services please don’t hesitate to call or email! You can reach the Philomath library between 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Fridays at 541-929-3016. Or, visit the Contact Us page on our website for more ways you can get in touch with a staff member for assistance.  

Happy reading!

(Julia Engel is a reference librarian at Philomath Community Library. She can be reached via email at or by phone at 541-929-3016.)