Baby boomers v MySpace generation

Many conference sessions were devoted to dealing with the expectations and challenges faced by the new generation of school leavers. Never has one generation had so many names! From digital natives to Bebo generation to screenagers – it seems like a new title is coined with each presentation.

We are presented with lots of anecdotal stories concerning the behavior of these kids. They have the attention span of a gnat, they learn by play and experimentation and they view anyone older than 25 as well past it. What’s more, we are urged not only to design our new products with them in mind, but to go further: to give them the reins and let them design the products themselves.

That’s absolutely great, but I had to smile to myself when a guy from Airbus, who asked how best to encourage take-up of Web 2.0 technologies in his organization was encouraged to "just let them play with it" because you learn most from failure. I just hope they get the bugs fixed before I take my next Airbus flight – that’s one lesson to learn too far for me.

Seriously though, it was good to hear about some real research done into the information seeking behavior of the Millennial Generation (oops, there’s another one). Folks from OCLC and ProQuest have done some sizable research into the behavior, media choice, patience and trust levels of young searchers as well as their knowledge of existing resources.

John Law of ProQuest reported that in contrast to the conventional wisdom that Google is the only search that students will attempt, there is a much greater awareness of, and respect for the quality of, conventional library-provided electronic resources. The bad news is that although students appear to know that the library holds lots of ‘good stuff’, library web pages and information literacy education is so poor that finding the best available resource is a nightmare for them.

Students had their page history tracked while researching for a project. The ones that did the best were those who had had specific resources recommended to them at some time in the past by a course tutor or those who had benefited from a recent library outreach program. Those who tried the ‘play with it and see what happens’ approach either gave up in frustration, determined that there is nothing available or found a couple of things while missing the best material.

Personally, I don’t think there’s as much difference between the generations as some make out. A little education, some sensible design of library web guides, a campaign to ‘big up’ the image of librarians and information professionals could go a very long way. But then, I’m a Cohort 1 Baby Boomer without a MySpace profile so what do I know?

Click here for information on OCLC studies

Click here for details on ProQuest research

Jim Ashling

Information Today, International Correspondent

 

 

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