WATERLOO --- When youth services librarian Kelly Stern discovered the picture book she wanted to read aloud for story time was checked, all was not lost. Stern simply projected an electronic version of "Stars! Stars! Stars!" by Bob Barner so kids could still 'ooh' and 'ah' over colorful illustrations of galaxies and planets.
Despite her appreciation for e-readers, Stern thinks there will always be a place for traditional books. For young children especially, learning how to page through a storybook, with its spine and paper, delivers developmental benefits and an experience that cannot be duplicated by touch screens, she said. Not to mention many titles by major publishing houses aren't accessible in electronic forms.
"I think becoming familiar with a physical book is a good thing," said Stern, who works at Waterloo and Cedar Falls public libraries.
Cedar Valley librarians say the digital world of literacy is a wonderful, confusing and ever-changing landscape. The technology offers both opportunities and limitations, as well as questions about access, quality, ownership and privacy, said Yolanda Hood, youth collection librarian at the University of Northern Iowa's Rod Library.
These issues will have to be sorted out.
"It's not going anywhere," Hood said.
A study released Jan. 14 by Scholastic, a children's publishing, education and media company, and the Harrison Group, a marketing and research consulting firm, found the number of kids ages 6 to 17 reading e-books has nearly doubled since 2010. The percent of children using e-books jumped from 25 percent to 46 percent.
The study suggested e-readers may motivate children, boys in particular, to pick up books more frequently. However, 80 percent of kids still primarily read traditional books for fun and 58 percent (down from 66 percent in 2010) of children ages 9-17 said they still want to use paper books, according to Scholastic.
Sixth- through eighth-grade students at Blessed Maria Assunta Pallota Middle School in Waterloo have access to iPads through the school's 1:1 program, said technology coordinator Sheila Miller. Miller, who also oversees media services, said 65 hard- and soft-cover books on average still circulate weekly.
"It's probably students whose parents have Nook and Kindle accounts are the ones that lean toward the electronic devices, and students that don't still go for a book," said Miller, adding that teachers also likely have influence.
Digital devices allow students to look up the definition of an unfamiliar word with just the touch of a finger, "which has helped some of our students who are struggling readers," Miller said. The read-aloud function can aid children who absorb information best by hearing.
"The learning actually takes place so those things are helping improve reading for some students," Miller said.
Other applications lean heavily on entertainment. Academics have questioned whether features like bouncing illustrations or games integrated into the book truly promote literacy.
"I understand that kids like the flashy graphics but that's no substitute for a good story," Stern said.
On Thursday afternoon, Charlotte Coleman of Waterloo browsed the youth section of the Waterloo
Public Library with her grandsons Jaimar Coleman, 8, and Jaivon Coleman, 7. The brothers have access to electronic books but also enjoy family outings to Barnes and Noble to add to their collection of paper books.
"I think they like the fact that they are sitting with one and turning the pages," Charlotte Coleman said. E-readers, she added, can seem like a more independent activity.
With all the applications and functions provided by the digital age, reading electronically changes what it means to be literate and how students achieve literacy, said Rick Traw, a literacy education associate professor at UNI and co-director of the Richard O. Jacobson Center for Comprehensive Literacy at UNI. It's important that schools teach students to use all forms of technology effectively, Traw said.
While some families have a soft spot for bedtime stories and traditional books, others may create memories curling up around a Nook or Kindle, Traw said.
"And either of those experiences are great for kids. The key is that children grow up in homes where literacy is valued and shared, whether it's digitally or with paper," Traw said.