"Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future" is a 35 page PDF you can download from http://www.bl.uk/news/pdf/googlegen.pdf. This study has caused much shaking of heads and predictions of doom:
Oh my. Our children have no skills. "O tempora! O mores!", lamented Cicero..
And I'm sure you know that already.. isn't it obvious when that Walmart checkout kid can't make change for a twenty without electronic help? Oh, the world is going to hell in a hurry, isn't it? If we only had whipped our kids more instead of coddling them..
First of all, the study itself acknowledges that skimming and lack of good research skills are nothing new: these things predate the Internet (remember Cliff's Notes?). They also note that (page 14) "people have different information needs at different points in their lives" - well, duh: struggling to get through academic stamping is far different than working in the real world, isn't it?
The study says that young people have "unsophisticated mental maps of what the internet is" - they think that if Google or Yahoo sends them to a particular page as the top search result, that page must be the best place to go to. Well, that may be true, but sophistication comes with time and experience. My generation probably thought that TV news was accurate and trustworthy - until we learned better. This study admits it is impossible to say what will happen with these kids in the future (page 13) - my bet is they'll learn just as every generation before them learned.
Basically, the study finds it disturbing that "skimming and bouncing" are the norm rather than deep research. I think that's nonsense: students have always skimmed, bounced and done whatever they could to do as little deep research as they could get away with. The Internet has just made it easier.
By the way, I found it amusing that the researchers themselves relied on Wikipedia to define terms like "Google Generation"..
The study concludes that the "Google Generation" use libraries less, and of course (as the study was commissioned by the British Library) they find that a dire portent. Page 9 warns that there is a "real danger that the library professional will be swept away by history". The implication is that the loss of these professionals would be catastrophic to society, because these kids don't know how to search for information on Google or anywhere else. They use natural language questions "rather than analyzing which key words might be effective".. oh my.. but wait: on page 15, they note that this predates the web: people never did know how to search. So what's the problem again?
Oh, yeah, we need those librarians. Page 16 complains about money spent on access to expensive copyrighted material - but ungrateful users don't realize that the library provided it.. and in general, your average student is uninterested in the library in general. Well, except the elite students, apparently. Some kids do make use of library strengths.. well, again, I have to give them a big "Duh!": there have always been those who really wanted to learn and those who just wanted to get the damn degree and get on with their lives. Always. Even Cicero might have agreed with that.
Pages 18 to 20 summarize the findings - to me, it reads like any generation whining about the previous. Only 27% use IT. 20% dislike and avoid technology. 100% use word processors but only 25% build web pages. Again, what's different? The majority has always been slackers, and always will be. Some kids strive to achieve, some don't. The Internet hasn't changed that.
At one point, the study notes "We are all librarians now" - perhaps with sarcastic intent, but the reality is that this is true, at least for some of us. Some of us really do NOT need "information professionals" to find our way around the web or a physical library. Others do need help in either place.. so?
I'm not worried about the young'uns. They'll do just fine.
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2011-03-21 Anthony Lawrence
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