Don’t Throw Out That Dictionary; Making the Case for Physical Books


"Physical books require you to literally hold some of the context of what you are reading, and that is a crucial dimension of understanding."

Maria Bustillos, "Letter of Recommendation," New York Times, July 2, 2015

I never know what is going to make my brain itch so I was and was not surprised that I found something to say about the importance of physical play while reading an article on the "The Oxford English Dictionary."  Coming in at 20 volumes and 140 pounds, The OED, as it is called, is the largest dictionary of English and possibly of any language in the world.  

What I found interesting was what Ms. Bustillos had to say about holding a book in one's hands.  First she gives digital research vehicles their full due when she states:

The advantages of digital reference materials are blindingly obvious. The capacity to perform instantaneous searches is by now an essential feature in standard reference works…

But then she goes on to make a case for words encased in books:

Reading on-screen tempts us to see things only through the pinhole of our immediate curiosity. I don’t mean to sentimentalize the Reading of Books, but as a practical matter, when you hold a book in your hands, it is very different from what happens when you are typing something onto a glassy, featureless screen. Online, your experience is personalized, but it is also atomized, flattened and miniaturized, robbed of its landscape.

As I understand her words, she is not so much saying one is better than the other but that they both have a reason to be.  What this says to me is that we should be careful to make sure that future adults are as fluid finding their way around an ink on paper book as they are about a digital one.  If  a culture can forget how to write in script (and we are) we may also lose our ability to understand how to use an index, end notes and a bibliography.

How does this apply to toys and play?  That in my next posting.

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