Library usage and information literacy – two new studies just published

Two studies on library usage have recently been published. They seem a bit contradictory in their descriptions of Generation Y (ages 18-30), but I see the reports as complementary. Being technology-savvy does mean greater access to a wider range of information resources, and being better educated should correlate to higher usage of libraries in particular. But the behaviours and skills associated with being technology-savvy are not the same as the critical information literacy skills needed for the modern research environment and information economy.

The PEW study (http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/231/report_display.asp) looked at information search strategies that solved problems. Coming out of the report was an interesting finding– Generation Y (ages 18-30) is now the largest group of users that would turn to the library for problem-solving information. One implication arising from this study is that comfort with information tools, such as the Internet, leads to greater comfort with all information resources, including those at the public library. Greater education is also a predictor for greater library use.

Another study puts the PEW study in an interesting perspective: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/reppres/gg_final_keynote_11012008.pdf

Summary at: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/stories/2008/01/googlegen.aspx

This study, commissioned by the British Library and JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee), found that the ‘Google Generation’ fared no better at critical and analytical skills when using information resources than previous generations. Digital literacy does not translate into information literacy. In fact, the behaviour of the Google Generation (impatience in search, zero tolerance for delay in satisfying information needs, emphasis on "power-browsing" rather than in-depth reading) makes this group come off a little worse than the previous generation. This study points out that the expansion of ‘horizontal’ skills– checking a range of resources (which corresponds to the PEW study) has not led to the development of ‘vertical’ skills in evaluating resources for relevance, accuracy, or authority.

Public libraries are affected in that the study reports that remedial intervention at the university age is too late to correct poor information literacy skills. Public libraries have a role in raising awareness in and making simpler their information tools and resources.

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