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Diane Mufson: Despite technology, print books still wonderful

Aug. 13, 2013 @ 11:20 PM

Last week, my husband and I spent a few hours sorting through thousands of books at the Huntington Museum of Art (HMA). Dozens of volunteers and museum staff are readying boxes of donated books for sale to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18, at the museum.

It was a bit ironic that while having my coffee and reading this newspaper just prior to spending a morning with these pre-owned books, an Associated Press article appeared, stating "All public school students in Raleigh County will use iPads in the classroom when the new academic year begins."

In West Virginia, across our nation, in developed countries and even some third-world places, technology, in the form of iPads and tablets, is being used in place of traditional textbooks. To many of us, print books represent the road to education, knowledge and entertainment. They have been a constant in our lives from the time we heard our first stories or encountered "Dick and Jane."

But living in the technology and information age means that we must adapt to new ways of doing things. Blackboards and screeching chalk are disappearing. Smudged purple mimeographed tests and 8mm film projectors are history.

Schools are finding that using iPads and tablets can save students' backs and taxpayer monies at the same time. In a West Virginia Public Radio interview by Suzanne Higgens this past spring, Raleigh County estimated that it would cost only about $135 to equip each child in the school district with his or her own iPad.

E-teaching tools can be adapted for individual students, but most importantly, they can be updated at a flick of a switch. Textbooks are generally replaced on a five- to seven-year cycle, during which major scientific discoveries are made, countries change their borders and world leaders come and go. Imagine if you did not have access to new information for the past five years.

Electronic learning in schools offers many advantages. Even if some are not ready for this change, the tide is coming in. Teachers, students and their families will have to learn to swim. While school personnel often need additional training to competently work with the new electronic devices, kids today have been familiar with them since infancy.

But, back to books. All kinds of books -- children's books, paper backs, hard covered, leather-bound editions, coffee-table books and others that defy categorization. There is something magical about them. They are links to the past, sources of knowledge and escapes from everyday life.

Books can be costly, but the upcoming sale at the HMA is a thing of beauty. In the rooms behind the main museum some of our favorite fiction authors like Dan Brown, David Balducci and Nora Roberts, and non-fiction, including biographies, histories and self-help, will soon be ready for sale. In other rooms, there will be books on cooking, gardening, antiques, religions and, of course, children's books. It's a book-lover's paradise with prices starting at 50 cents.

For just a small amount of money you can indulge in a vast assortment of books. Plan to get your share of time-tested reading material at HMA's book sale Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 17 and 18.

As the next generation becomes reared on electronic books, there's no telling how they will feel about print books when they mature. Technology may be taking over the schools, but for adults today, print books are still wonderful.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

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