Digital native or information alien?

Special report from IAALD 2010:

Are young people really the digital jugglers we’ve been led to believe? We’ve grown accustomed to seeing many young people as multi-tasking wiz kids who operate freely in technology rich space on the internet, free to interact with who they choose, and able to conjure relevant information at the drop of the hat. But new insights provided by Luti Salisbury of the University of Arkansas show that when it comes to undergraduates this doesn’t necessarily translate into useful science research skills.

They see the search engine as gospel, and Google as the highest god above all. Even other search engines may be overlooked in their quest to find material for their assignments, and many specialist collections may be a closed book altogether.

Is there still a value then in these collections? This was the subject of Professor Salisbury’s presentation at the IAALD 2010 congress – see the slides here 

Many librarians at least still recognise that themed collections have a lot to offer; well indexed, authoritative materials can be trusted much more, and when it comes to providing an overview of research on a particular subject, the stamp of quality still counts in many audiences. How then to re-engage with this lost generation of trainee young scientists?

The University of Arkansas sees the value in promoting the information literacy of students through training. According to Professor Salisbury, students need “to be given focus” to achieve improved skills; as little as an hour of training in use of specialist resources makes a student 10% more likely to use these collections as a first point of call. Three hours of training makes this 25% more likely. What then for the future of providers of specialist collections?  

CAB Direct and other collection platforms are taking into account the expectations users have of a search interface. Sophisticated relevance ranking is more commonly offered, and related and faceted searches are becoming the norm. However as library budgets become stretched, the specialist provider will have to respond to needs if they are still to find a place in the increasingly crowded marketplace.

Access and onward links to full text is increasingly expected, especially where this has been derived from the growing number of open access repositories and journals. Mobile technology-enabled interfaces should be standard, and content providers should look at their offerings to make sure that access is not strictly numbered by the number of simultaneous users; its all too easy for these young researchers to become disenchanted with having to wait to use a specialist service – it’s all too easy for them to return to their old ways and just go back to the generic search solutions.

One thought on “Digital native or information alien?

  1. peter May 8, 2010 / 12:25 am

    Very informative article. I love this blog.

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