The Guardian’s “Libraries of the Future” Supplement
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 22 April 2008
Lorcan Dempsey has picked on on a post in the eFoundation’s blog about the “Libraries of the Future” Supplement in today’s Guardian. And it’s good to have the article in the supplement available online.
The thing I find interesting about the first page is how the JISC-funded report on Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future is being interpreted. The introduction to the supplement begins with a statement that the report “found young people lacking in critical and analytical skills“. And the main article on the first page entitled “Information alert” has the byline “A recent survey shows many students from the so-called ‘Google generation’ lack the basic skills needed for online research“.
What are we to make of this? Clearly we (the information professionals, the institutions, the policy makers) need to take action to address the deficiencies of our students.
But if you read on you’ll find that the report says “From undergraduates to professors, people exhibit a strong tendency towards shallow, horizontal, flicking behaviour in digital libraries. Factors specific to the individual, personality and background are much more significant than generation.“.
Now this presents a very different picture, I feel. Indeed that headline to the supplement could equally have read “the report has found that researchers, academics and lecturing staff are lacking in critical and analytical skills“.
But does surfing of Web sites and an emphasis on Google for searching necessarily demonstrate a lack of critical and analytic skills? I myself use Google many times a day. Recently I used it to find hotels prior to travelling to conferences in Taiwan and Montreal. I used Google to find hotel bookings sites and Google maps to find hotels close to the conference venue. And, for my first trip, once I’d found a possible hotel I used the Google Taiwan search engine to find other ways of accessing the information – and discovered I could get the hotel for a cheaper rate using a local company rather than the US-based Web site. Before booking the hotel I, of course, checked that a secure connection was being used.
We should all be developing skills in using search engines such as Google and in interpretting the results we find, as the vast majority of us will turn to the Web to support our social activities, personal finances, etc. And to suggest that a quality, peer-reviewed and safe environment will solve all of our needs is clearly wrong.
The Guardian supplement includes article on “Quiet revolution” (a heading based on a library cliche suggests Phil Bradley) Dame Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library says regarding your scholars “Their ease with computers and technology hides the reality of their information literacy skills: lacking analytical, effective search strategies, they rely on simple solutions for their study needs – parking their critical faculties.“
I would agree with this. Rather than focussing on the building of alternative services, there’s a need to develop and implement new media literacy strategies – and the new services that we will be building shouldn’t be regarded as providing alternatives, but providing complementing services aimed, perhaps, at niche areas. And let’s remember the growing body of evidence which suggest that users seem to prefer simple search interfaces – a recent post by Jennifer Trant comments on this from the perspective of searching museums’ collections.
It is also important to remember that new media literacy strategies need to address the professors, researchers and policy makers and not just the students. And this provides me with a timely opportunity to mention a book on “Information Literacy Meets Library 2.0” edited by Peter Godwin and Jo Parker. I should add that I contributed a chapter to this book (on Web 2.0 Tools). However the hard work was down to Peter and Jo, and the fellow contributors who provided a range of case studies illustrating a wide variety of approaches to information literacy which are being taken using Web 2.0 tools.