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January 16, 2008

Generation G

As Paul Walk notes, coincidence is a wonderful thing.  In this case, the coincidence is the JISC's publication of a report entitled "Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future" (PDF only) following hot on the heels of the debate around whether Google and the Internet should be blamed for students' lack of critical skills when evaluating online resources.

The report, in part, analyses the myths and realities around the google generation, though it actually goes much further than this, providing a very valuable overview of how researchers of the future (those currently in their school or pre-school years) might reasonably be expected to "access and interact with digital resources in five to ten years' time".  Overall, the report seems to indicate that there is little evidence to suggest that there is much generational impact on our information skill and research behaviours:

Whether or not our young people really have lower levels of traditional information skills than before, we are simply not in a position to know. However, the stakes are much higher now in an educational setting where `self-directed learning’ is the norm. We urgently need to find out.

...

Our overall conclusion is that much writing on the topic of this report overestimates the impact of ICTs on the young and underestimates its effect on older generations. A much greater sense of balance is needed.

Or as the JISC press release puts it:

research-behaviour traits that are commonly associated with younger users – impatience in search and navigation, and zero tolerance for any delay in satisfying their information needs – are now the norm for all age-groups, from younger pupils and undergraduates through to professors

The message is pretty clear.  Information skills are increasingly important and teaching them at university level appears to be shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.  There is some evidence that to be effective, information skills need to be developed during the formative school years.  Interestingly, to me as a parent at least, is the evidence from the US that indicates that when "the top and bottom quartiles of students - as defined by their information literacy skills - are compared, it emerges that the top quartile report a much higher incidence of exposure to basic library skills from their parents, in the school library, classroom or public library in their earlier years".

The report ends by enumerating sets of implications for information experts, research libraries, policy makers, and ultimately all of us.  Well worth reading.

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