Books have been around in various forms for thousands of years, going through a steady evolution from clay tablets to digital books. Until the dawn of the computer age, printed books were the main way that mankind kept track of important events and passed on knowledge. It has only been in recent years that books have seemingly diminished in importance.

What has caused this apparent fall from grace? I hear all the time that today’s learners prefer videos and that learners’ attention spans are so limited that short videos are all they want. I also hear that books are for baby boomers, but millennials prefer videos.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on which side of the debate you are on), the data doesn’t support these popular views of the demise of books. Rather than being relegated to a “has-been” learning modality, books are still an important part of the training mix.

What Does the Data Show?

In late 2016, Skillsoft conducted an extensive research project to determine if books were still a popular way to learn in today’s cutting-edge digital age. The survey asked 2,000 learners across a range of generations about how they prefer to learn. The respondents provided input on a variety of learning modalities, from videos and books to online courses and classroom learning. Researchers followed up with in-depth interviews to develop a better understanding of the survey results.

The findings revealed that video is a popular way to learn today — but it is not as dominant as many believe. The study also debunked the theory that books are for baby boomers, showing widespread demand for books across generations. About 80% of respondents said books are an important part of their learning, and millennials said books were “an important part of learning new IT skills” than baby boomers or Generation Xers. The majority of respondents also said they like to learn first through courses and then supplement that learning with books.

The Evolution of Books

Like other media markets, such as the music and movie industries, the book publishing industry is evolving to take advantage of digital technologies. Although many people still prefer a printed paper book, readers in the IT industry are increasingly replacing print books with digital copies. Some traditional print publishers like O’Reilly have even moved to a “print on demand” model so they don’t end up with unsold print inventory of their titles.

The definition of what a book is — and what it could become — is changing rapidly. Digital books are taking on exciting new formats and often incorporate other modalities, such as video and audio.

If books are not a part of your IT training mix today, you are omitting a powerful and desirable source of learning for your teams. The solution isn’t to allow everyone to buy books and expense them; that approach is expensive and not scalable. Instead, look for libraries of digital books. A good online IT library will provide instant access to tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of books for the entire IT team at a fraction of what you would pay for the printed books. Plus, a digital book library should allow learners to search every word in every book to find the content that will answer their question, teach them how to fix a problem or help them learn a new skill.

What to Look for in a Digital Book Library Offering

The major players in the digital book library space for technology and developer professionals offer extensive libraries with both broad and deep content coverage. Different people may have preferences for different publishers, but you can find in-depth topical coverage to meet your needs across a range of publishers.

Another consideration in addition is how easy it is to integrate the books into your learning experience. You don’t want to have learners search one system for courses, another for videos and another for books. Ideally, you should be able to offer a learning experience that gives employees instant access to all relevant learning assets, regardless of modality.

Another desirable feature is the ability to read the books “offline.” Because reading while commuting or outside of the office is popular, it’s important to make sure your library allows people to access books even when they aren’t connected to the internet. Options such as downloading sections or entire books to a mobile device are becoming popular.

What Should You Do Today?

Start by surveying your technology and developer teams to gauge their interest in having access to online technical books. Assuming they are interested, the next step is to see which topics are of most interest and then evaluate the major online book providers to see which has the topics you need.

Make sure that the book provider will work in your learning environment and provide an easy way for your teams to access the books along with the other learning modalities you provide. Finally, don’t neglect cost; find out how the provider licenses its libraries and what, if any, are the incremental costs of adding digital books to your learning resources.