Millennials in the Library


This afternoon’s Digital Trends track was also packed, but fortunately it was held in a larger room, so there were ample seats for everyone.  It featured a trio of presentations on varying but related subjects.  Marshall Breeding, familiar to many readers of Computers in Libraries, and a long-time attendee of the CIL conference (he has been to all 22 of them!), kicked it off with an interesting talk on Millennials and the Library.  Generational changes have made a significant difference in library services.  Here are the commonly accepted definitions of the various generations:

  • Born between 1925-1945:  The Silent Generation
  • 1946-1964:  The Baby Boomers
  • 1965-1980:  Generation X
  • 1981-2000:  The Millennials

Millennials have an innate ability for technology and are prone to frenetic multitasking.  They are comfortable with diverse types of digital media and a highly interactive style of working.  They are also creative, innovative, organized, independent, and open to innovations.  They may be impatient, skeptical and sometimes arrogant in relationships with others.  They tend to be visual learners and do other several things at once, a phenomenon called continuous partial attention.  Libraries must consider these traits when designing services for the Millennial generation.

Some collection possibilities for libraries include electronic journals and books, podcasts of lectures, video libraries of stock footage, news archives, and datasets.  The best opportunity for an impact is in providing access to collections.  Millennials come to libraries with expectations set by their experiences using the web.  Dealing with large and complex bodies of information is nothing new to them.  They have a very low tolerance for clunky and ineffective websites, and the status quo may not meet their expectations.  See this amusing video on trying to find Time Magazine on a library website for an example.

Marshall has an optimistic view of the future.  He feels that change is underway, and there is widespread dissatisfaction with library OPACs.  Some OPACs are becoming more comprehensive information discovery environments with more powerful search capabilities and a more elegant presentation. Some common features being provided include a decoupled interface, mass export of catalog data alternative search engines, and an alternative interface.  Traditional notions of the library catalog are being questioned:  the catalog cannot be limited to can’t be limited to print resources, and forcing users to use different interfaces depending on the type of content is becoming less tenable.  We must assume that users start their searches on the web, and make library search a destination.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and CIL 2007 Blog Coordinator

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