Using nonprinted rather than printed materials can have a number of advantages. The first advantage most of us think about is probably the trees saved by using an electronic format rather than publishing via ink on paper. As the number of nonprint formats proliferates, institutions such as libraries must continue to evolve, adjusting the mix of print and nonprint materials and fulfilling the changing needs of their patrons.

Searching a document in nonprint digital format on DVD is faster than searching a print book, even one with a first-rate index, because you can skip ahead to individual chapters with just a touch of the remote control.

Health Literacy

Health care providers sometimes learn that a patient did not follow the directions included with prescription medications, and the instructions for diet and exercise, because of limited language skills. Verbal directions and the readability level of instructional materials must match the health literacy of the patient. When these and similar issues arise, the health practitioner can consider the advantages of nonprint teaching materials, such as DVDs, CDs, videotapes, audiotapes and three-dimensional models.

Nonreader Education

Adults who cannot read, or who are just beginning the process of learning to read, can use video documentaries for education and self-help. They are not able to use most printed books for these purposes.

Theatrical plays, movies and TV comedies, dramas, game shows and reality series on DVD can entertain and educate nonreaders, whereas print novels and scripts cannot.


Nonprint materials can be available via the Internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. Print materials that are not in your personal collection, or in that of an immediate family member, aren’t likely to have this type of availability.


Libraries do not need to replace novels because of obsolescence. Librarians, however, do replace paperback novels that are tattered and worn. Users can read and enjoy a novel many more times when it is in digital than in print format, reducing its overall acquisition and maintenance cost.


Subscribing to online databases costs less than acquiring and maintaining multiple copies of multivolume reference books and encyclopedias.

Income Generation

Public agencies can choose to generate income from the rental of video materials, such as DVDs, and from subscription sales of database access. Income from books is usually limited to used book sales and fines for late returns.

Emotional Impact

Print versions of history tell stories that engage their readers. These same histories, captured orally from their subjects, can leave a deeper impression on listeners because of the immediate impact of the emotion heard in the voices of the storytellers. Listening to—rather than reading about—a person recounting the joys and sorrows of his life can provide additional insight into the world and life of the subject of autobiographical material.

Space Requirements

Nonprint materials require less shelf space. For example, multiple DVDs require much less shelf space than a multivolume encyclopedia.