Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)

The Google generation and information literacy

A report has just come out from JISC, Information behaviour of the researcher of the future. The report is an investigation of how user information needs are already changing and likely to continue to change over the next few years. ‘Researcher’ is used in its broadest sense as seeker of knowledge rather than as a postgraduate researcher.

Most summaries of the report have seized on its conclusion that although the ‘Google generation’ (ie people born after 1993) are used to using the Internet, their information skills are not high. They give the example of the use of a natural language phrase in a query box (eg ‘What are the 3 most common crimes in Southern California?’). At present the computer has a big challenge to understand what is needed here (librarians would see this as the reference interview). Helping users to improve these skills is an obvious role for librarians and is something we have already identified (although as in psychiatry getting a user to realise they have a need is the primary challenge!).

Maybe we have to look back at human nature. These people seek for information horizontally and in a shallow way – isn’t this a typical human trait? They exhibit the universal tendency to try to expend as little effort as possible on something they don’t enjoy. Rather than teaching them how to use computer systems more effectively we should instead be making the computer systems more effective at answering their queries. Google already spends millions on this every year. Products such as Primo, Encore and Aquabrowser help libraries to deliver it. But Librarians, because we are (or most of us!) expert searchers, do have a tendency to complicate.

Because users are put off by apparent complexity, we shouldn’t be assuming that they already have the information skills to distinguish between the different searches we offer, eg. an ejournal search and a database search. Although we are very customer-focussed in some ways (eg opening hours), we remain content-focussed in others. The report talks of an ‘outcome focus’ , ie that the user’s information need is resolved as effectively as possible. Effectiveness from the point of view of the user includes ease and speed, as well as appropriateness of response, ie the correct level of depth of response. Getting to this ‘holy grail’ involves cooperation of all types of people including the computer experts and the librarians.

January 18, 2008 - Posted by | Libraries

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