Following the path of digitalization in Slovenia and Europe: How have books adapted to the modern, digital world?

Books have survived quite a few tests in their long history and, despite everything, have stuck around to this day. Nowadays, however, they are threatened by a new challenge, that is, general digitization, which is moving our lives and work online and further into the “cloud”.

In such a world, it is increasingly difficult to find time to sit down and pick up, not a phone or a computer mouse, but those sheets of paper and a cover that are included in a “classic” book.

Books have found their way throughout history, and today is no different. It started with selling books online, followed by e-books and audiobooks.

What are we talking about here? It is about books that have been converted from a physical medium into electronic form and then stored on a certain portal, called an e-library. An e-library, or digital library, in addition to the storage itself, also enables access and management of a wide variety of digital documents, from books and magazines to audio files, images, and videos.

E-books can be read on an e-reader. Photo: Bookprinting.
E-books can be read on an e-reader. Photo: Bookprinting.

Advantages of e-books and e-libraries

The advantage of digitization is quickly noticeable, especially in the access and organization of these documents. We can access them anywhere and anytime, and we can also find a specific book or magazine much faster than in a “traditional” library.

Digitization of books naturally also brings advantages in administration. For example, if a library had only two copies of a certain book in stock, only two people could read that book at a time. There is no such limit with an e-library, as the number of copies is virtually unlimited.

To borrow a book, users do not have to get into their car and look for a free parking space near the library but can browse through the books right on their sofa. At the same time, it should be noted that with this, of course, the feeling of being surrounded by books on the bookshelves is lost, which many people would miss.

The possibility of accessing content from home particularly bloomed during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, when libraries were closed during lockdowns, and face-to-face contact was at least partially discouraged for a longer period.

Even though we have hundreds of years old books stored nowadays, there are many of which no surviving copies are known to exist. This is the vulnerability of traditional libraries, which do not always manage to preserve valuable knowledge and stories for future generations. Digitization, however, eliminates this vulnerability with the help of Cloud storage, which keeps data a lot more secure.

Digitization has also enabled various institutions, such as the European Parliament, to present their documents, books, and publications to a much wider public than before. The EP Library is thus an open online library that provides public access to thousands of knowledge sources about European Union services and the work of the European Parliament.

The EP Historical Library in Luxembourg. Photo: EP.
The EP Historical Library in Luxembourg. Photo: EP.

Book rental applications

In Slovenia, one of the most widespread ways to access digital books is the Biblos platform. To borrow books, a user needs to create a personal account.

After registration, one can borrow up to four books at once and can read each book for up to 14 days, after which the file is locked. Therefore, in this case, there are no late fees, because after the loan expires, access to the book is automatically lost.

Many international applications are mainly aimed at mobile phone users. In this case, we mostly access books in the English language. To use those apps, we will have to pay a monthly subscription, which allows us to read all the books in a specific application for as long as we want.

What about audiobooks?

In recent years, audiobooks have also experienced a great expansion. In most cases, it is an audio recording of a person reading a book, and the user listens to it at home, or while driving instead of the radio, etc. Audiobooks are especially popular with those who do not like reading books or do not have time for it. There are often also available shorter audio recordings in which one can listen to the summary of a book.

Digital books can be read or listened to. Photo: Getty.

Digital books can be read or listened to. Photo: Getty.

Audiobooks can be found on a wide variety of portals. They are often found next to digital music and videos, such as on some of the popular applications for playing music (Spotify, Tidal, etc.). Many libraries have decided to convert at least some of their books into audiobooks.

We do not need any special equipment to play an audiobook. Wherever you can play music, you can also play audiobooks in most cases, since they are stored in one of the same formats that music is also stored on. This means that we can listen to audiobooks on mobile phones, computers, tablets, and televisions.

Although audiobooks have become extremely popular, especially in the last decade, they can already be found in the 1930s. They were mostly intended for the visually impaired, but they were also used as an educational medium in schools and libraries.

Today, audiobooks are available in digital format, but they used to be sold in physical form on analogue cassettes or vinyl records, and of course on CDs.

How effective are audio and digital books?

“I was a fan of audiobooks, but I always viewed them as cheating,” says Beth Rogowsky, an associate professor of education at the Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.

In 2016, Rogowsky conducted a study involving three groups. One group read sections of Unbroken, a nonfiction book about World War II by Laura Hillenbrand on an e-reader, while the other group listened to the same parts. The third group both read and listened to selected sections at the same time.

A selection of books on the online portal, Biblos. Photo: Biblos screenshot.

A selection of books on the online portal, Biblos. Photo: Biblos screenshot.

Finally, all three groups took a quiz designed to measure how well they had absorbed the material. As the findings showed, there were no significant differences in comprehension between the three groups, regardless of whether they were reading, listening, or reading and listening simultaneously.

Key information is hidden in the use of e-readers. An Israeli study from 2014 indicates that the effectiveness of learning and understanding deteriorates if a book or magazine is read on a screen rather than in physical form.

University of Virginia (US) psychology professor Daniel Willingham believes that reading on a screen reduces learning and comprehension compared to reading from printed text. With e-books, we do not have a sense of how much we have already read and how much we have left. As you’re reading a narrative, the sequence of events is important, and knowing where you are in a book helps you build that arc of the narrative, Willingham explained to Time.

Research from 2016 also suggests that anchoring certain words to the pages of classic books can help us remember what we read more easily.

Author: Marko Želko

Keywords: digitization, e-library, e-books, audio books.


This article is part of joint project of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and the Anton Korošec Institute (INAK) Following the path of digitalization in Slovenia and Europe. This project receives funding from the European Parliament. 

The information and views set out in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union institutions/Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies/ Anton Korošec Institute. Organizations mentioned above assume no responsibility for facts or opinions expressed in this article or any subsequent use of the information contained therein.