E-books and Hard Copy Books: The Pros and Cons of Each

Physical books and e-books are both popular methods of using textbooks for classes. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a change in accessibility for both e-books and physical books (Photo by Samantha Semerau).

Having an on-campus semester feels like a move toward  normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are still health and safety barriers to keep students safe. With this, students have a new array of options for purchasing books digitally. 

With these newly emerging options, students may feel confused on whether they should opt for e-books or physical books in their classes. In either case, there are benefits and drawbacks. 

E-book Pro: Increased Accessibility

When libraries across the United States closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans may have been cut off from renting physical books, but they were not cut off from reading. The public had more access to free digital books than ever before through projects like Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library and TIME for Kids’ free digital library.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, people could access thousands of e-books through free services like Project Gutenberg, which seeks to digitize works in the public domain and release them for free digitally.

For Albion students, a variety of e-books were already accessible through the Albion College Library website, which students can reach at any time from any location using their network account. In addition to its already extensive archive, the Albion College Library has increased its number of digitized works since the pandemic began. 

“Many vendors are providing access to resources that would not otherwise be available,” said Jill Marie Mason, associate director of the library and head of library systems and technology, via email.“Also, we are exploring ways to expand our e-book, e-journal, and streaming video/audio options. The majority of our budget has been, and will continue to be, allocated to electronic resources.”

E-books do not require sanitation between uses, which ensures  a safe learning environment during the pandemic. As a result, the Albion College Library has been working to provide books on course reserve digitally. Faculty are able to request a digital course reserve that the Library will complete and provide a link for the faculty to share with students. 

“In order to mitigate risk, any circulated materials must be quarantined between transactions, making short-term checkouts impossible,” said Mason.“We have done our best to provide electronic versions of course reserves where available.”  

E-book Pro: Easy Searchability

Depending on the format of the e-book, individuals can utilize multiple searching methods to find specific words and phrases they are looking for. This is especially useful when individuals are interested in reading about a specific topic while using textbook e-books.

“The cool thing about e-books is that you can search through the entire text for keywords,” said Mason via email. “This is a great way to study for exams.”

For most PC computer systems, an e-book’s text can be searched using the Ctrl+F function. On Mac systems, an e-book’s text can be searched using Command+F. 

E-book file readers such as Amazon Kindle, Adobe Digital Editions and the Adobe Acrobat Reader also offer options to note on e-books through highlighting, annotating  and bookmarking. Options like these make studying and understanding important topics easier.  

Hard Copy Pro: Security in Accessibility

While there has been an influx in e-books available to students both online and through the Albion College Library, there is not always the guarantee that an e-book edition exists for every book. When a professor assigns a text to a course, however, students can be certain the text will be available through the Albion College Bookstore. 

Likewise, books students may not be able to find as an e-book online may be found physically within the library. 

“We have a large collection of physical books in the Library,” said Mason via email. “Print books can be checked out to students for an entire semester and to staff and faculty for an entire year. They can be searched easily in LibrarySearch.” 

If individuals choose to use an e-book, they are more than likely using a device that will need to be charged at some point. If they need to reference that text physically in class, this will either require them to make sure the device is fully charged before class or make sure to have a charger with on hand and an outlet nearby. Oftentimes, especially in older classrooms on campus, this can be hard to do. 

Print books, on the other hand, do not require any electricity or internet to be used. Whether the book is checked out from a library, rented or purchased, that book is available to be read at any time. 

Hard Copy Pro: Easy on the Eyes

Hard copies do not endanger eye health with artificial light. The blue light from most digital devices has been known to negatively impact vision and ability to sleep at night. When combined with the time using digital devices for online class, homework and recreation, reading via e-book could potentially be more harmful. 

Unlike the harsh blue light emitted from screens while reading e-books, the paper pages of a hard copy give the eyes a break from the strain of technology. This is beneficial for night owls and study sessions before bed as the lack of blue light will not interfere with melatonin production. 

Sticking to paper copies can also help prevent other health concerns from e-book reading. The text in a paper book is stationary on a page as opposed to a digital page which may require scrolling can lead to “cybersickness.”

About Samantha Semerau 15 Articles
Samantha Semerau is a junior at Albion College from Oakland Twp., Michigan. She is double majoring in English and History. She is also member of the Prentiss M. Brown Honors Program and is involved in many organizations on campus. Following graduation, Samantha intends to enter the field of editing and publishing.

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