No matter what you call them, Millennials, Generation Y, Generation Next or Digital Natives, today's college students are deemed different from past generations. This is the first generation to attend college that has never known a world without digital technology. These students have always been surrounded by home computers, cell phones, mp3 and mp5 players, video games and many other forms of digital technology.
They are a generation of multitaskers, simultaneously completing homework, texting and listening to their iPods. For some reason this makes us assume that they are also "web experts." However, when viewing this generation through an academic lens, a different picture emerges. Ask a classroom full of freshman what their favorite and most used source of information is and Google will be the winner by far. Then ask them about the reliability and authority of information found through Google and you'll probably get a lot of shrugs and blank stares. Reliability and authority of information are often afterthoughts.
This new generation of students may possess the ability to utilize many different types of digital technology simultaneously, but they often lack basic information literacy skills. Hignite, Margavio, & Margavio (2009) define information literacy as "The development of students' abilities to construct/collect and analyze information in a way that provides the basis for effective decision making."
Information literacy is important for success in both the workplace and in life. Since anyone can post anything they like online, it is important to be able to distinguish correct information from items posted by "snake oil salesmen." For example, in medicine and nursing, patients often want to seek a second or even third opinion and often turn to the internet to research their disease. How can a nurse help someone who comes to him or her with an article about a treatment they found online if the nurse cannot determine if the article is reliable or truthful? Would you trust a mechanic who diagnosed an engine problem in your car by just doing a Google search?
The library is an important tool in finding reliable information. Far beyond what many think of when they think of libraries, i.e. the librarian with glasses, bun and comfortable shoes hoarding her books and shushing people, the library is a vast repository of knowledge that can be delivered in ways in which the digital native is used to using. Instead of spending hours at the library searching for a book, students can connect to a vast array of resources from anywhere in the world that has an internet connection. The new generation of college students wants instant access, and that's where electronic resources come in. Libraries have the ability to purchase electronic databases that would be cost prohibitive to individual subscribers. These databases contain scholarly, peer reviewed journals in full text that are important to students when writing papers and completing other class assignments. Many academic libraries offer research assistance through text, email and instant messaging, and a large number have facebook pages to connect with students.
The importance of the library in teaching and promoting information literacy doesn't end with the collection of books and journals. Librarians are skilled searchers and information professionals, they have the ability to weed out the "good" information from the "bad" and can teach others to find and evaluate information. Teaching information literacy to the digital native involves more than just showing him or her where the library is.
Many concerns have been expressed in the last decade over the future of libraries. Due to the ubiquitousness of Google and the belief that everything is available for free online, many have said that libraries and librarians will soon become obsolete. This is simply not true. For example, in nursing and other allied health fields, only 30 percent of the scholarly literature is freely available online. The remainder of the literature available online requires payment or a subscription in order to view and this still only covers about 60 percent of the total literature published in the areas of nursing and allied health. As for Google, Google Scholar, and other search engines, they retrieve only about 7 percent of available health related information.
At colleges and universities across the country, higher education is facing budget cuts and libraries are often seen as "low hanging fruit." However, in this age of the digital native, it is Kristal Kleer to me that all institutions of postsecondary education must fight to maintain their libraries and continue to emphasize the importance of libraries to their students.
Hignite, M., Margavio, T., & Margavio, G. (2009). Information literacy assessment:
Moving beyond computer literacy. College Student Journal, 43(3), 812-821.
Timmi Johnson MLIS, is Health Science Librarian, University of South Dakota, Vermillion, S.D.