Print Nonfiction vs. Databases

For years I have heard librarians talk about the debate between print nonfiction and databases in their collections for research. With my library closed to students still and no end in sight, I thought it might be time to dig deeper into this quandary and see if some massive weeding needed to be done.   

Perks to Print

When I first switched from elementary to high school libraries five years ago I was pulling carts and carts of nonfiction books for research. At the elementary level the students were learning to read and explore nonfiction text features in research, and physical books were crucial to that learning. In high school social studies, English, and science were my biggest subject areas requesting physical materials. Slowly the requests for book carts have gone down over the years, and now with our current COVID situation databases have been a huge part of my weekly teaching schedule. Print nonfiction has the advantage in one simple and huge way: many students just don’t like to read and research on a screen; they work better with physical materials in hand. 

Growing Popularity of Databases

In this new era of remote teaching and learning, databases have grown in popularity and demand. Students and teachers want to be able to access quality information anytime day or night from work or home. Databases allow us a freedom and flexibility that many students enjoy. The biggest drawback, by far, is expense. These are not inexpensive services and depending on your library budget you might not be able to get enough databases to cover your most researched areas.  

Each year I watch research librarianship grow and change. Until the time when my budget is hefty enough to support all of my content areas, I will always need print nonfiction. I’ve decided to do a considerable amount of weeding to my nonfiction books, but I will advocate for more database subscriptions as well. Maybe the answer isn’t one or the other, maybe the answer is a little of both together.


Author: Elizabeth Libberton

Elizabeth Libberton is the library media specialist at St. Charles East High School in St. Charles Illinois. She currently writes book reviews for School Library Journal. She is a member of the ALA Awards Selection Committee. Also, she is a member of the steering committee for the AISLE Lincoln Book Award.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development

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