Loughborough University
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Books with pictures and conversations? A study of electronic books for children and their readers

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posted on 2010-12-07, 16:29 authored by Sally Maynard
For the past 500 years, the printed page has served as the basic and major means of storing and presenting information and has become an everyday tool which most of us take for granted. Despite the obvious usefulness and universal nature of the printed book, however, the development of electronic technologies has led to the evolution of the concept of the electronic book. This represents a significant new medium, which offers added value to the printed book through its potential for including other media in addition to text on its pages. The thesis takes the electronic book as its main theme, putting particular emphasis on its relevance to children. The thesis includes a discussion of whether electronic books can encourage children to read both more electronic and printed books, which establishes that television, film and audio versions of texts do encourage the reading of printed editions (and vice versa). The conclusion is reached that electronic books may have the potential to exhibit the same effect, depending how similar they are to television, film and audio. The nature of classic texts and their currently decreasing popularity are considered, in addition to whether the electronic medium can and should encourage children to read more classics. An increasing awareness of the classics derived from media other than print is identified, leading to children having misconceptions about the texts. It is concluded that electronic books might have the power to bridge the gap between print and other media, introducing children to the classics in a form which is closer to the original text. An attempt was made to identify the elements which make an author popular in order that these could be incorporated into electronic books to make them more desired as reading material. Emphasising the views of children themselves, rather than critics, parents and other adults, a study investigated the popularity with young readers of the writer Roald Dahl. Participants found some qualities and characteristics in common between works by Dahl, thereby rendering them different from other books. Identifying what children like about a certain author would enable the inclusion of the desired elements into electronic books, thus encouraging children to read such books. Leading on from the potential increase in children reading electronic texts, the proposition is investigated that the medium on which a book is presented affects the reader's comprehension of, and satisfaction with the book. In order to investigate the effect of the electronic medium on comprehension, reading ability and speed, a study of user interaction with electronic books was carried out comparing children reading an electronic book incorporating the book metaphor with children reading the same text in two different printed versions. No evidence was found to suggest that the added effects and visual dimension offered by the electronic book reduced participants' comprehension of the text. Indeed, there was an indication that electronic books of this kind might actually aid the reader's comprehension of a text. If children are to read electronic books, where will they get them from? The embracing of the technology of electronic books is likely to have an effect on the principal book suppliers. The thesis therefore reports two questionnaire studies. The first investigates the opinions of children's librarians on the subject of electronic books, and the second concentrates on booksellers. Notable conclusions were that there is a positive attitude towards including electronic books as part of the children's library service, and a high proportion of libraries offer access to them, the majority through main libraries. Smaller book shops had not entered the field of selling electronic books in great numbers, and that there was general uncertainty about the place of such texts in such outlets. Respondents to both surveys believed that electronic books are durable, and can exist alongside the printed items within their concerns. Lastly, parents and schools have a role in making electronic books available to children. Due to the lack of research on the attitudes of parents and representatives of schools concerning electronic books, the thesis includes a discussion of existing surveys and studies of computer equipment in homes, schools and public libraries in order to gauge the involvement of parents and schools. This research shows that the picture of access to computer equipment for children is fairly inconsistent across the three sources under consideration. A general discussion follows, and overall conclusions are drawn, including that: the suggestion that electronic books can encourage children to read represents an area that is lacking in research and which would merit further work; the relationship between the printed book and its electronic counterpart is a symbiotic one; and the portability of electronic books is currently not of major significance, although this is likely to change with the increasing prominence of dedicated e-book readers.



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© S.E. Maynard

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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