Blind World Magazine

Reading is going digital.

December 27, 2005.
Mount Vernon News, Ohio.

MOUNT VERNON - Nearly half a century ago, in 1956, a magazine called Infinity Science Fiction published a short story titled "Someday." Written by Isaac Asimov, the tale featured a robot called the Bard. The machine told stories to children, and became outdated when visual attachments for newer models became available and the children could see a story as well as hear it.

With electronic communication and education all-pervasive, two children in the story, looking for a more secret form of communication, visit a museum and end up forming the Squiggle Club. Members used an "ancient" method to convey secret messages - writing on paper - and decoded the messages with a process called reading.

How prophetic was Asimov's image of a future with electronic media prevailing over hard copy forms of communication? John Chidester, director of the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, said that circulation figures in 2004 show that roughly half of the materials checked out were in an electronic format. He reported that 41 percent were videotapes or DVDs, with a significant portion being nonfiction such as The Teaching Company's lectures on DVD. Audio music materials accounted for 5.5 percent of the total, and 3.66 percent were books on tape or DVD.

The increasing popularity of audiobooks is turning the world of reading on its ear. (Photo by George Breithaupt)

Chidester also said a "huge" amount of electronic print media is used in the library, through computer access to electronic resources, reference material and databases. In discussing the popularity of audiobooks, Chidester said they are not just for the visually impaired, although that was the original purpose. For example, he said, many individuals listen to audiobooks during commuting times. Publishers are keying into that trend, Chidester said, and audiobooks are now being released simultaneously with the hard copy book.

Digital educational materials are also becoming more entrenched in the schools. The Knox County Educational Service Center, for instance, sponsors a Virtual Learning Academy for certain students. Dr. Lynda Weston, director of teaching and learning for Mount Vernon City Schools, said some electronic materials are used throughout the district, particularly for research. Successmaker is one interactive digital medium which reinforces basic skills such as reading and math, and Smartboards allow educators and students to expand upon and manipulate text and graphics.

Weston said some textbook companies are also supplying digital supplemental materials to go with the hard-copy texts. Some texts, she said, especially those literally heavy with facts, come with free discs which allow students to access the material online at home, without having to carry the books back and forth.

Chidester does not foresee that electronic media will totally supplant hard-copy publications. Printed media is still popular and is used in combination with digital mediums. He used the Web site as an example, where people use an electronic medium to locate and buy traditional books.

"There's something about words printed on paper that's really durable," Chidester said.

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