NFAIS 2009: Google Generation

Ian Rowlands presented a talk titled, The Information Behavior of Researchers of the Future: Survey Results. Ian started by saying that he was happy that John was optimistic before him – because it lets him be a bit more anxious and less complacent about where we’re going on our own digital journey. He talked about a study he did with JISC and the British Library to discuss what happens in 2017 – when the first of the digital native generation start to hit the big research libraries like the British Library?

That said, it was very hard to do this study because in 2017 technologies will be different and we’ll be different. One of the questions that rose from this fact was is there a real difference between the Google Generation and earlier generations at the same point in their development? When we talk about young people we have to think back to when we were young and what values we had and the ways we used libraries and the skills that we had.

This is one of the reasons that it is very dangerous to stereotype an entire generation. He pointed out a study by Synovate in 2007 that found that only 27% of young people live up to images of total IT immersion – for most (57%) ‘technology was not a badge to be worn, but something that had value’ once its functional usefulness has been demonstrated – 20% are ‘digital dissidents.’ And another study by Ofcom (in the UK) that same year found that over-65s spend 4 hours a week longer online than 18-24s. Another stereo type was that the “old people” use manuals and “young people” just play until it works, but an Ofcom study in 2006 showed that it’s actually the opposite, young people will read the manual and older people will get annoyed with the manual and just try to use the device without reading.

All that said, he’s not saying that the Google Generation conception isn’t important – he’s saying that we’re all partially Google Generationalized. We’re making a big assumption based on when someone is born – why is it that libraries and information professionals spend so little time doing what other industries do – studies on actual use – they spend lots of money on user research – so why don’t we? One of his slides had a great quote “stereotype means to cast a person in a preset mold – to deny them individuality”

Research over 15 years shows

  • young people have difficulties formulating appropriate terms due to the use of natural language (how to build bird’s nests)
  • assume search engines understand sentences and questions
  • do not use advanced search facilities or navigation aids
  • have trouble generating alternative search terms / synonyms
  • often repeat the same search several times

Other issues

  • speed of young people’s web searching shows little time is spent in evaluating information
  • information seeking stops at the point where articles were simply found rather than perused
  • little regard is made to the text itself – only the presence/absence of words exactly matching search terms or a word in the title
  • an appropriate accompanying image also enough to confirm relevance

These problems have always been around – and many of them are not unique to young people! Once again, he reminded us, ‘We are all ‘Google Generation!’ and that we’re only 15 years into the digital library proper – and we’ve had over 5 millenia to deal with how to handle the hard copy and printed materials … in short, we’re still learning!

I do agree that we need to do some actual studies instead of just assuming that we know what our users want and that all “young people” think and research the same way.

Very interesting talk and some great points were made!

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