Does Going Paperless Mean I Have to Trade in My Books?

Maybe it is the English teacher in me, but the increasing conversations about transitioning to a paperless educational system make me a little sad.

It is not that I resist such a movement from a practical standpoint. I deal with the constant frustration of jammed printers, broken copy machines, and dwindling paper supplies. As a teacher, I see the benefits of moving away from a traditional paper based school system.

I post assignments, handouts and discussion questions on my Collaborize Classroom discussion site instead of making handouts. I love that I no longer have to deal with organizationally challenged students claiming they “lost” an assignment. Resources are in one place online and can be accessed any time, which is convenient for everyone.

I have recently embraced online essay submissions using, which has also made the collecting, organizing and grading of essays a much simpler process. The drag and drop comments save valuable time and lessen the burden of grading 160 essays at a time.

Despite these transitions to an increasingly paperless- and greener- approach to teaching, I resist the idea of giving up my books. Instinctively, I believe literature should be experienced with a book in hand. As John Maeda says in The Reactive Square, “The sensation felt when touching paper differs from the coldness of metal or the perfection of plastic as it radiates a core warmth that we expect to come from a living object. Each fiber greets our hands in a comfortable, familiar tradition that we were introduced to as children, and constantly thereafter in school and at work.”

This idea that books are alive speaks to me. Maybe it is my own history of curling up on a couch and climbing into a book that takes me far from my own physical body to experience another world. This living, breathing quality of books does not translate for me in the same magical way when the words appear on a Kindle or computer screen. I miss the weight in my hands, the texture of paper on my fingers, the smell,  the anticipation as I turn a page or the physical promise of a story when looking at a book. Does this make me a bit of a dinosaur at 32?

I want to embrace technology and all the possibilities it holds for me, and my students, but I am unwilling to sacrifice my books. Will my students grow to love literature as I do if they don’t make memories that involve reading actual books? Will they explore the literature to the same extent without marking the pages with thoughtful annotations? Am I alone in feeling that there is a transient quality about words that appear on a screen as opposed to the permanence of words on paper?

As school districts in San Francisco and San Jose begin integrating tools like the Ipad into classrooms, I look forward to the innovations and creativity that will blossom. I also hope books- literature- will retain their value in our society as we embrace technology.

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