This week the British library released a report of research designed "to identify how the specialist researchers of the future, currently in their school or pre-school years, are likely to access and interact with digital resources in five to ten years’ time."
- Pioneering research shows ‘Google Generation’ is a myth, British Library, Press Release, 16 January 2008.
- Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future (PDF format; 1.67MB)
The reseach addresses the "media hype surrounding the ‘Google generation’ [those born after 1993] phenomenon" with an aim "to help library and information services to anticipate and react to any new or emerging behaviours in the most effective way."
Two things jumped out at me in the report. First, the idea that there is a "google generation" that has different information-seeking behavior from other generations because it has grown up with the Internet, the Web, search engines, and so forth, is largely false.
In many ways the Google generation label is increasingly unhelpful: recent research finds that it is not even accurate within the cohort of young people that it seeks to stereotype.
As Ian Rowlands says, there is a lot of "powerpoint puff" about this idea of a very different "google generation" ("Net Generation", "Digital Natives", "Millennials") and "many people have instant opinions" about it, but, until now, we have had very little evidence to support the assumptions. Now we have some research that says that "Many of the claims made on behalf of the Google Generation in the popular media fail to stack up fully against the evidence."
Second, there are changes in how all people seek information and do research. As the report notes: "much writing on the topic of this report overestimates the impact of ICTs [Information and Communications Technologies] on the young and underestimates its effect on older generations" [emphasis added]. The information seeking behavior of researchers, not just young people, but professors, lecturers and practitioners, has changed significantly.
Everyone exhibits a bouncing / flicking behaviour, which sees them searching horizontally rather than vertically. Power browsing and viewing is the norm for all. [emphasis added]
There is a lot of interesting information in this study and it deserves to be read by every librarian. In its conclusions, I noticed several themes that we’ve emphasized about government information here at FGI:
The significance of this for research libraries is threefold:
- they need to make their sites more highly visible in cyberspace by opening them up to search engines [e.g., Is your search engine finding the government information you need?]
- they should abandon any hope of being a one-stop shop. [Having a one-stop, single repository (GPO’s "Federal Digital System") as the only digital repository of government information is not as good an idea as supplementing such a monolithic repository with many subject collections that mingle non-government information with government information. See, Government Information in the Digital Age: The Once and Future Federal Depository Library Program]
- they should accept that much content will seldom or never be used, other than perhaps a place from which to bounce. [Preservation of the less-used and seldom used materials will continue to be a cost drain on a government that is using cost-savings as a reason to justify its digital decisions. See, e.g., Be aware: semi-annual regulatory agenda is 1,700-pages online, 483 pages in print and GPO’s Budget and Priorities.]
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