Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Do Books Make Us Human?

“Books are really part of what makes us human.” So says  Rosemary Agoglia, curator of education at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, in a New York Times article about efforts to teach children the merits and pleasures of the “pre-web page,” of books.

Do Books Make Us Human?In New York City, the Morgan Book Project seeks to “instill in children of the digital age an appreciation for books by providing authentic materials to write, illustrate and construct their own medieval and Renaissance-inspired illuminated manuscripts.”

The NYC Department of Education developed the free program for children in grades 3 through 7, in conjunction with the world-renowned Morgan Library and Museum, which houses a rich collectionn of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.  It also has a priceless collection of printed books, including Gutenberg Bibles.

Students who participate in the Morgan Book Project make their own illuminated manuscripts, even mixing the pigments using 16th century techniques. Cochineal — dried insects — makes red dye; malachite (a green mineral), spinach, fish glue, gum arabic, saffron threads and 22-karat gold are also used.

Agoglia of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art also says she thinks that “digital and physical content delivery formats will co-exist for the next generation of readers.” But she does describe those aspects of physical books that cannot be recreated on an iPad, the tactile pleasures of turning pages, marking them, folding down corners, writing your name or gluing in a bookplate. Books, she says, are more than just the text on their pages:

Kids working on the Morgan Library Project
It is those dog-eared pages, coffee-stained covers or where you signed your name in the front when you were 4 years old. That memory is attributed to a physical object. Books are really part of what makes us human.

What do you think?  Will traditional books fall out of favor and become a relic of the past? Will iPads and such last as long as books have?  I'd love to have some comments from you, dear reader. 


  1. Thank you for sharing this wonderful article and project. While I enjoy my iPad I still prefer the feel of holding a book in my hands, especially a picture book and reference books. I actually feel as people upgrade their e-Book readers books will not ultimately not get transferred to each new e-reader. I'm a visual person if something is not in my line of sight I tend to forget about it. I actually have a printed inventory list of what's on my iPad so I don't forget what's there.

  2. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, Donna. I agree with you about the tactile feel of a book. Nothing like it. It's going to be a difficult segue for many people from paper to another means of delivery. Will be interesting.

  3. I think that digital works are here to stay forever. Also I think nothing will ever replace the feel of a beautiful bound book. I think even children of the digital world still find comfort in the warm pages and delightful illustrations they can touch. For me, there is plenty of room for both.

  4. Yes, Susan, I hope that is the case. I. too, think there's room for both and only hope the digital and publishing worlds can and will come to such a happy marriage.

    Thanks for your comment. So appreciated!