NFAIS 2009: Digital Natives and Traditional Information Resources

The last talk for day one of NFAIS Annual was titled Digital Natives and Traditional Information Resources. We had the pleasure of hearing from 3 digital natives about their expectations of and experiences with digital media.

First up was Carrie Newman, her talk was titled Perspectives of a Digital Native Librarian. She started by giving us proof that she’s a digital native – she bought John’s book (Born Digital) on Amazon, read about 10 pages and then sold it on Amazon. She then listed the tools she uses online:

  • Professional tools: Google, Wikipedia, WorldCat, Amazon, PubMed, engineering village, university library catalog
    • (research and collection development)
  • Personal research: Google scholar (first place I turn – because the library databases are not so good – the indexing is poor and the coverage isn’t that great – and they’re slow — so if I’m going to use something that isn’t that great it might as well be fast – Google), then some social science databases (out of guilt), citation mining, professional journals and talking to colleagues in person
  • Tools for collaboration: Google Docs, Delicious, Wikis, Skype, IM, Staff blog

Traditional Tools Versus New Tools

  • Traditional = slow/clunky, old, hard to use – but since she’s a librarian she knows how to use them and so does use them
    • best used for defined and complex research questions
  • New tools = chaotic poorly organized – but they’re fast so you’re willing to sit and sift through results

Given that, Carrie (and her patrons) uses new tools to narrow search results down and find keywords – then goes into traditional tools to get valuable resources.

Carrie gave us a definition of an ideal professional information resource:

  • excellent indexing – promote browsing (most tools that have good indexing – don’t have good browsing)
    • it turned out that she meant metadata management more than indexing
  • Many refine options – the ability to shrink your search down after you search a broad topic
  • Fast and easy to use – she said “that if it’s not fast, I’ll get bored and go use something else”
  • Smart – like Amazon – where it will auto recommend things to me (nice to have the ability to tag – but not necessarily see other’s tags)
    • an audience member brought up an interesting point about this after the face. While I agree that it would be nice to see things like this – the audience member said that she worried that this would lead to all students having the same resources in their papers instead of letting them do the research and come up with their own choices and opinions. I don’t know what the right answer is here …
  • Integrates seamlessly with bibliographic managers (Refworks, Endnote, Papers)
  • Programmable and automatable (email you new results – or RSS feed)
  • Broad coverage all in one place

Next up was Sabrina Manville from Ithaka with her talk titled From Campus to Cubicle.

Sabrina worked on a study to see how students were using JSTOR (assumptions same as others we’ve heard – “they use the internet for everything, what instant gratification, value social networking and other virtual communication).

Here’s what they heard from students:

  • want to find sources that their professors will accept “won’t laugh at”
  • east of use, convenience
  • plagiarism is a big concern – citing sources reassures professors that they did the actual research

How did students do their research

  • search engine are key (didn’t know about google scholar and so they were just using google)
  • when searching students move from broad to narrow
  • readability and speed are important (google is mindless – whereas it takes a lot of effort to get on JSTOR)
  • they did hear alot about quality and what it is

The good thing they found was that students knew what to look for for quality information

  • .edu and .gov domains
  • what it cites
  • writing style and grammatical correctness
  • aesthetic element was of great importance – old or out-dated websites are looked down upon – ads are very unwelcome as are other distractions when doing academic work (it’s possible they didn’t know that google text ads and the text ads on facebook are ads – or maybe they have blockers in place like i do in my browser)

Issues that undergraduates said they had with doing research on JSTOR

  • searching is a challenge – students said search results were hard to penetrate; they are eager for tools which will help them narrow the results further

When asked if they would they want web 2.0 functionality in their resources? The answer was yes – but not 100%.

  • they liked the concept of MyJSTOR
  • didn’t want to find other people doing the same research
  • facebook is for my friends and i don’t want that in my research
  • links are highly appreciated – between resources
  • suggested JSTOR develop
    • tagging
    • ranking based on usage
    • user reviews and articles
    • article suggestions like from (netflix and amazon)

Sabrina then gave us some insights into her professional experiences (the cubicle part of her title).

She wanted to start with some disclaimers. While she is a digital native, when she was in college (pre-2006)

  • Google was only search – no email or docs
  • Facebook was only college students
  • most friends didn’t read blogs
  • no iPhone or mobile web
  • no Twitter

When researching she looks for more current resources, so having tools that let her search current information are important. She doesn’t care whether and article is peer reviewed or not, as long as it provides valuable information (I’m with her on this). And like Carrie, she starts with Google and then moves on to the more specific resources.

The fact is that commercial sites have influenced our exceptions – Google, Amazon, Netflix, etc.

So, what can we do to improve the user experience?

  • many of these traits can be implemented fairly easily in traditional academic resources
  • provide better context for content
  • continue to increase scale and comprehensiveness, take advantage of user data
  • improving usability is a huge leap forward in itself!

Last up was Jason Hoyt a student at Stanford University with his talk titled The future of scholarly search, communication, sharing, databases.

He started by giving us an animated story about his research experiences. I say animated because he used some really fun slides. He found that he was being inefficient in his research using search, communication, sharing, databases. He would talk to people, going online look for information, go back to talking to people – it was wasting too much time. And so, Jason’s call is for collective intelligence – he wants these 4 things (search, communication, sharing and databases) to talk to each other and then talk to us and give us the information we’re looking for.

One example of a site that does this well is – in a single search the best price, travel time, departure, or arrival can be prioritized across multiple databases – (mashup of multiple databases) this is collective intelligence — using Kayak’s API you can pull out even more information to remix.

He showed us some graphs that displayed how hard it is to keep up with our areas of research. In the 50s the researcher could do their own research and keep up with the learning curve, but today we can’t do that – there is way too much information to keep up with it all. Jason listed a series of applications and put them into either the ‘traditional tools’ category or the ‘new tools’ category (I couldn’t keep up with all of them – so hopefully he puts his slides online for us all to see.

He did an informal study and asked people to rate the importance of a series of tools in their day-to-day work:

  • Google, PubMed, open access were the top three – most important (equal for all ages)
  • the under 30 crowd thought social networks were more important than the older researchers

So, why so people use social networks?

  • networking outside of the lab – find jobs, new idea, and form collaborations
  • for the most part people thought it wasn’t mainstream enough and that conferences were a better way to make new connections

When asked “what do you think would benefit the world community of researchers more, open access or improved meta search?” 70% said open access.

Jason (and I agree) thinks that the key to success is to build something to integrate traditionally individual talks with a crowd (collective intelligence). The traditional players need to work towards new business models that can sustain open access (like PLoS). In the meantime we need to provide better APIs and XML formats for machine readable searches (OTMI – open text mining interface). And lastly, continue hosting these kinds of conferences so that we can all talk about what we do to improve our search experiences.

After these three were done with their talks, we were able to ask the panel questions – to me it seems like throwing the lambs to the wolves. I’ve been in that seat before and I have to say that the traditional publishers and vendors are very scared of words like ‘open access.’ One audience member asked how they could sustain their businesses if they gave their content away for free – I don’t have the answer – but I know it’s possible because others are doing it. Another person said that she wasn’t hearing anything new from these speakers – except that they were introducing the 3 Fs – Free, Facebook, Fast – she wanted to know what we (the digital natives) were doing differently from her generation in terms of research. The panel wasn’t sure how to answer her, so I did. I told her that she’s right, we’re not doing anything differently – mainly because the tools aren’t there for us to do anything differently – they’re the same tools she learned on and used. The point of the talk was to show people what we want in our research tools – not what we have right now.

Overall, a great first day – and now it’s time to head out to day two!

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