Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Google Generation

I am finally getting around to reading the CIBER briefing paper entitled "Information behaviour of the researcher of the future" (Jan 11, 2008). It discusses the "Google Generation," which it defines as including those born after 1993.

It contains some interesting information:
Users assess authority and trust for themselves in a matter of seconds by dipping and cross-checking across different sites and by relying on favoured brands (e.g. Google). (p.10)
Some of the information is completely unsurprising (i.e. I see it in college students all the time):
young people have a poor understanding of their information needs and thus find it difficult to develop effective search strategies. (p.12)
faced with a long list of search hits, young people find it difficult to assess the relevance of the materials presented and often print off pages with no more than a perfunctory glance at them. (p.12)
Which often leaves them in trouble when they go to write the paper the night before and find they have a bunch of unrelated articles that they need to use to write a coherent paper.

The study also examined a number of characteristics commonly associated with the Google generation. For example, "They have zero tolerance for delay and their information needs must be fulfilled immediately" (p.19). This particular example was found by the report to lack hard evidence in support of it. Interesting, because I would have thought this was particularly true. However, the idea that they are a "cut and paste" generation with lots of plagiarism seems generally true. Also, the idea that the Google Generation consists of "expert searchers" was examined. Ciber's conclusion:
This is a dangerous myth. Digital literacies and information literacies do not go hand in hand. A careful look at the literature over the past 25 years finds no improvement (or deterioration) in young people's information skills. (p. 20)
Also interesting is the idea that students really need to have "exposure to basic library skills" earlier in life - from parents, school libraries, public library, or classroom. I'm not sure what all is included in these basic library skills, but I think even the most basic exposure (being in a library, talking with a friendly librarian, etc) increases future library use. For some reason, libraries are often viewed as intimidating places (and those librarians, they are scary as can be!), and early exposure would reduce this library anxiety (unless of course they encountered a crotchety shushing librarian). This then makes for college students who would perhaps be far more receptive to the library and use of the library, and more open to learning advanced library skills.

Of course, another reason (and the one mentioned by this report) for early exposure to basic library skills is to prevent the development of poor skills which would be hard to overcome. The whole "I'll just find everything through Google because everything there seems pretty reliable" mentality.

Some interesting implications and some big hurdles. It seems to me that it's getting less and less likely that younger children will get basic library skills exposure. This is particularly true with the school library, since they keep firing all of those librarians.

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