Pleasing Children of the Digital Age

Anyone in the library and information science field who’s been paying attention in the last decade knows that libraries need to embrace new technologies in order to stay relevant in this information/digital age. In Meredith Farkas’ article “Skills for the 21st Century Librarian,” she says that modern librarians must absolutely have some tech skills, such as:  ability to embrace change, comfort in the online medium, ability to easily learn new technologies, ability to keep up with new technologies, etc. While reading her post, I couldn’t help but think how her claim is especially true in academic libraries. Most of the students (especially undergraduate) they serve do not remember a time before the Internet. These students, often called “Millennials” or “Digital Natives,” approach information searching in different ways and have high expectations of the tech mechanisms (i.e. search engines) that help them find the information they need. Google has, unsurprisingly, had a profound effect on their research methods, with students often consulting Google first with shallow, simple searching for their research needs (Holliday & Li 2004).  Many students value quick results and convenience, and view the online library catalog to be too confusing to use.

Not only does this have implications for instructional activities/programs, but also in libraries’ electronic resource delivery models. Librarians, especially collection development and electronic resource librarians, are tasked with assessing the most optimal methods for students to reach the information they need. That translates into thinking creatively and embracing new technologies that may enhance students’ experiences with and perceptions of the library. OPACs really have come a long way in the last decade, with faceted classification and relevancy ranking features being incorporated in their system, but maybe OPACs also need to adopt some of the same searching features as popular search engines like Google, such as single search box searching where a jumble of words can be typed, and automatic spelling correction. It’s also important for mobile technologies and Library 2.0 initiatives to be on librarians’ radar.

Modern technologies do not replace the unique, knowledgeable assistance librarians traditionally provide patrons, but they definitely enhance our capabilities in getting the information we need, as well as foster user independence. One of the primary professional values of librarianship is to ensure access to information for all library users. Well, it seems that Millennials have spoken, and it is up to us to adapt and think of innovative ways to provide the same services we have been for centuries: to open the world of recorded knowledge to users and foster information discovery.

– Jacline

References:

Farkas, M. (2006). Skills for the 21st Century Librarian (Blog post from Information Wants to Be Free)

Holliday, W., & Li, Q. (2004). Understanding the millennials: updating our knowledge about students. Reference Services Review, 32(4), 356-365. doi:10.1108/00907320410569707

2 thoughts on “Pleasing Children of the Digital Age

  1. This is a great post! I think that tech skills are also essential for academic librarians not just because of millenial students but also the large percentage of non-traditional students who may not have the same technology skill set. I believe librarians can serve as an invaluable resource to these students by helping them learn more technology and directing them to resources that can improve their skills.

  2. Librarians have certainly faced a challenge in keeping up with the technology that their library customers expect. Librarians also face a challenge in helping many library customers catch up to today’s technological standards. One thing we can count on is continual change. The learning we must do will continue long after library school.

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