Technology is great but there’s no doubt that as we rely increasingly on digital devices, such as smartphones and iPads, fewer of us are reading physical books for pleasure than our parents and grandparents once did.
And while recent research from Nielsen shows a slight uptake in actual book sales compared to ebooks – driven in part by popular fiction titles such as Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee – the reality is that ebooks still hold a 25 per cent share of the market, considerably higher than 5 years ago when it was just 18 per cent.
At the same time, we are seeing a shift from people consuming ‘written content’ on ebook readers such as the Amazon Kindle and Nook, towards more engaging interactive content on multi-function devices such as iPads and smartphones. That’s perhaps understandable given some of the technological limitations of the ebook devices.
And while there is is some evidence of older children and young adults reading more physical books than a couple of years ago, partly because of the continued success of Harry Potter books, for younger children the picture is less clear. What’s more, the overall trend is undoubtedly towards digital.
Nielsen’s 2015 UK report shows that nearly two-thirds of children aged 0-17s read (or were read to) for pleasure on a weekly basis, with two in five doing so daily. But more worrying the proportion of children (0-17) reading weekly fell 1% point from 2014 to 2015 and was 7% points lower than in 2012.
The decrease was seen among girls and boys and was most marked among children aged 3-10, dropping the most for boys aged 8-10.
Meanwhile in the period since 2012 the proportion of children using YouTube has increased by over 18% with viewing of TV/films on mobile devices up 19% – and the use of games apps up 23%. Is it simply that young children no longer find the time to read that they once did?
Perhaps even more worrying is that access to physical libraries has fallen considerably. According to research from the BBC, almost 8,000 jobs in UK libraries have disappeared in six years, about a quarter of the overall total.
Over the same period, some 15,500 volunteers have been recruited and 343 libraries have closed completely, leading to fears over the future of the profession. No wonder children’s author Alan Gibbons recently told the BBC the public library service faced the “greatest crisis in its history”.
Rise of the digital library?
Clearly there is an appetite for digital technology among children. But how do we harness this technology to encourage our young to start reading more books and expanding their creativity?
One way may be through apps such as the recently launched Library of Miss Gadish. Created by US entrepreneur Tali Gadish, it’s a virtual library where children can go and meet various characters including Miss Gadish who is the librarian (see picture above), Theo the Lion who is custodian of the library, a know-it-all parrot named Professor Tuki and EB the Cowboy Spider.
The characters are designed to bridge the gap between the physical and digital reading experience, and can help navigate the child through the whole reading experience. Importantly, each youngster is able to read at their own pace with each interactive story featuring an game to enhance concentration, direction, verbal skills and hand-eye co-ordination.
Carmen Olivier Gryn, a psychologist and founder of Pattern Recognition Therapy, Israel, explains the fascination with the characters: “This magnificent world brings stories to life in the most magical way. The interactive world of Miss Gadish intrigues children’s imagination and introduces books in a 21st century feel.”
Various book bundles are already available via the app (Apple iOS or Android), the first of which – The Lion and The Mouse – comes absolutely free with the app. Based on the Aesop’s Fable, it’s a lovely little story about a mouse whose life is spared by a lion after the mouse convinces him he will one day save the lion’s life.
The lion initially laughs at the suggestion but then when he’s caught in a hunter’s net, he’s mighty grateful to the mouse who is able to gnaw through the netting and release him. In addition to the digital story, there’s an interactive version where youngsters can take part in various activities such as eating through the net to release the lion.
Other digital bundles, which are available at a cost of $4.99, include a tale about going to bed called The Boy Who Never Sleeps, Dry Pasta and Toast (about eating and trying different foods) and The Ugly Duckling which is of course about accepting and embracing differences. There are also two physical books lined up, Turtle Teeth and The Fisherman And His Wife. Each physical book has a code on the cover which you can enter and then get the digital story for free automatically in your library collection.
While books definitely aren’t going to disappear any day soon, the future will definitely see more more ways of engaging in content than ever before with physical books sitting alongside e-books and interactive media, in much the same way that people enjoy music on vinyl and CD as well as streaming it through services like Spotify.
To download the app visit https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-library-of-miss-gadish/id1117385600 (iOS) or https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.missgadish.childrenslibrary (Android)