In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need print books more than ever

by Charlotte Siohan, Staff Writer

As work and methods of communication have rapidly shifted online in response to stay-at-home orders across America, the time spent in front of a screen has majorly increased as well. The importance of taking time away from our devices to enjoy other activities has never been as central as now. Reading has become especially helpful during quarantine, as books have brought comfort and entertainment to many during this time. Despite this, many libraries are under temporary closure, including the Glen Rock Public Library, causing library resources to become almost exclusively electronic. However, I believe there is a safe, clean way to continue distributing library books in print which would allow for necessary time away from the screen. 

While in confinement, many have shared their own quarantine reading lists and recommendations to ease the worries and general boredom of the public. This does not come as a shock, considering books have brought consolement throughout difficult times for many years. However, the feeling of a hardcover book and its pages in my hands is much warmer and comforting than that of an e-reader with buttons or a computer with keys. There is a tactile sensation which enables readers to emotionally connect with a story and its characters if they can feel the realness of it in their hands. Books have weight, and texture, and even a smell that many people love. So many, in fact, that there is a term to describe the enjoyment of the smell of print books– Bibliosmia. The physical pleasure is greater with a print book than with an electronic device, and there are even considerable health benefits.

According to a study from Harvard Medical School, using e-readers caused people to generally feel less sleepy at night, have a more difficult time falling asleep, and reduced levels of alertness in the morning. More drastically, the light emission caused melatonin secretion. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep cycle, and chronic suppression of melatonin secretion has been linked to increased risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and prostate cancer. This may be an extreme, but it prompts consideration of whether our screen time levels are too high, especially if work and school have moved online.

If the risk of cancer isn’t enough, print books also draw stronger focus and increase content comprehension and retention. A study published by the American Psychological Association found that subjects had lower comprehension of material that they read digitally than in print after giving them reading comprehension questions. While this does not apply when people read for pleasure and entertainment, the study made a point that readers skim through digital text and spend less time reading it. Print books encourage readers to take their time and soak in information as well as analyze and understand content. There is almost too much time on our hands while in quarantine, so print books provide the optimal distraction from the stress many of us, including myself, are facing.

But perhaps the most basic reason for why print books should still be distributed during this time is because in general, people seem to like them better! According to Pew Research Center, 37 percent of Americans claim to only read print books, while only 7 percent claim to only read books digitally. At this point you may think the percentage of solely print readers consists of members of older generations who grew up on print books only. However, another study by professor Naomi Barron found that out of 420 college students, 92 percent preferred print books over e-books. Even younger generations that grew up with the electronics through which e-books are read seem to lean towards print.

And for the readers who avidly prefer e-reading, I am glad they can enjoy the library resources through their preferred media. But for myself and other readers who lend print books from the library, access to these books is something we would be excited to have during this time. I recognize that safety is the priority which caused these measures to be taken, so I do not propose that the library should be open for visitors to gather in, or think that the events that the library planned to run should be reinstated– all I ask is for the book borrowing service that the Glen Rock Public Library provides to be opened again in a safe manner. 

Other establishments in town have continued offering their services and products without opening their actual storefronts, so I don’t see why the library couldn’t do the same. If readers could virtually request a book and be able to pick it up at the doors of the library, danger would easily be avoided. As long as the library workers carefully and cleanly handled the books, I think many library card holders would be willing to go out and pick up something to read. This is by no means a radical idea- restaurants have been offering food pickup and delivery services, so why not do the same with books?

Books may not be a necessity like food, and we don’t need them to survive, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels in need of comfort as we experience the troubling realities of a global pandemic. There are more dire concerns than being able to take out library books during this time, but finding solace in good writing could help us all more than we know.