Over the past 3 decades I have taken great pride in continuously updating our Hand Surgery library. Starting with Dr Richard Smith’s collection of rare hand surgery and anatomy books as well as classic books by giants such as Paul Brand1 and Eduardo Zancolli2 among others, I continue to add contemporary texts as new editions appear as well as many newer texts on hand and wrist trauma, peripheral nerve problems, and elbow and shoulder disorders. I similarly provide the American Journal of Hand Surgery, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery Journal, and several other journals through annual subscription. It was thus a reality check when I learned from my fellows and residents that they basically no longer read books!
While I could try to relate my own experience of how much I learned from Graham Lister3 or Eduardo Zancolli’s text during my Hand Fellowship, it quickly became clear to me of the enormous advantages of information readily available through technological advances. Never before has information become so “democratized” to be available to all at one’s convenience or as a “need to know” basis.
It really was not very long ago that Peter James4 in 1993 challenged the publishing industry producing his book, Host, on 2 floppy disks. We now have an everexpanding wealth of information in multiple platforms including text, journals, video formats, study plans etc., for all surgical and medical specialties readily accessible via tablets, Android, or iPhone APPS. In fact, more than a few experts in the field of information access have suggested that printed books may become very scarce within 10 years. Libraries have recognized this phenomenon, as some new medical schools, such as the Frank Netter School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University, have established their libraries to be virtually electronic with few shelf spaces for “classic” texts.
Is there any evidence that “learning” and/or retention of information differs from electronic reading compared with the print version? I certainly have no expertise to even begin to address this question but some experts have. Maryann Wolf5 who is director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University has suggested that electronic reading can negatively impact the way the brain responds to text including comprehension, focus, and the ability to maintain attention to detail. A concern exists that the “short circuited” brain is excellent for gathering information but not necessarily for forming critical analytic deep reading skills.
I continuously am amazed at how easily our Fellows and residents utilize the electronic medium and virtually have information at their fingertips for conferences or case preparation. I accept the reality that my cherished library will soon go the way of clay tablets or ancient scrolls to be viewed primarily as collectors’ items.
1. Brand P. Clinical Mechanics of the Hand. Baltimore: Mosby; 1999.
2. Zancolli E. The Structural and Dynamics of Hand Surgery. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins; 1979.
3. Lister G. The Hand: Diagnosis and Indications. Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone; 1993.
4. James P. Host
. Villard Books; 1999.
5. Wolf M. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York, NY: Harper Collins; 2007.