A recent New York Times blog discussed a school library where all 20,000 books were discarded and replaced by digital media because apparently the librarians designing the place do not see any value whatsoever in physical books. So much for the middle way.

Why do I like books? I can read one outside in the sunlight without causing a carbon footprint and get it sandy at the beach yet still have something I can pass along to my public library or a Goodwill so it can be read by someone of low income.

I can hold the book in my hand and have the pleasure of seeing how far I’ve read by tipping the spine and looking at all those signatures I’ve worked through in one sitting which is very satisfying.

I can run my hand over the beautiful jacket and pages (if it’s a well-made book–the ones printed on newsprint with hideous covers? not so much). If I’m reading electronically, every book offers the same visual/tactile experience.

If it’s nonfiction, I get a lovely linear reading experience. If it’s light reference, I can bounce around at will guided by the table of contents, the index, and my eye which catches sidebars and illustrations as I thumb through it. If I am reading electronically, I am dependent on someone else’s navigation, and I’m less likely to happen across text that catches my eye (“Search inside this book: Surprise me with a random page” doesn’t offer that option).

I can easily see the organization of the book’s information when I have a tactile object. I know I’m towards the self-help book if I pop into it at the program section, and I know I won’t understand that section completely unless I go back into the beginning of the book where the problem is defined and the author explains how we came to have this problem. When you access information nonlinearly through digital means, you don’t see these structures. You just pop in and pop out without context.

I’m not against electronic delivery of information by any means. But without access to physical books, will kids develop the valuable skills that are honed by reading a physical book?