Screenagers and the Future of Libraries

April 4, 2006 at 11:28 pm 19 comments

Last night I spoke at the “Archons of Colophon” of NYC, meeting in an Irish bar called Rosie O’Grady’s in Times Square. The title of my presentation was “Far out or forthcoming? Foreshadowing the future of library service excellence. ” I spoke about “screenagers,” the 12-18 yr. olds who have grown up with computers and a life full of looking at screens. Their preferred mode of communication is Instant Messaging and SMS texting. They are busy chatting away loads of hours after school with school aged friends. I also talked about how libraries need to be present in cyberspace (through email and live chat reference) to be responsive to the needs of this cohort. In a recent focus group with screenagers from rural Maryland, I found out that this group distrusts print (ouch!), really distrusts librarians (double ouch!) and looks first to friends and Google for all their information needs. They rarely check anything found in Google and only seek librarian help as a “last desperate resort.” I posed the question of how we can morph and deliver service excellence to these students and how libraries can be responsive and relevant to this group. I believe that we need to be invested in cyberlibrarianship, in email and chat reference and we also need to be much more receptive to this group and to value their need for immediacy and respect.

I also showed video clips from 3 feature films featuring views of librarians in the distant future: Star Trek, Star Wars (Attack of the Clones), and the Time Machine. Librarians are portrayed in each of these films as stereotypical icons: judgmental, contemptuous of users, and totally condescending. Is this our fate? Can we change with the library users of the present and future or remain on the periphery of information seeking as we cling to traditional practice?

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Do they Count? Library CE: What We Want v. What We Need

19 Comments

  • 1. Peter Bromberg  |  April 5, 2006 at 7:43 am

    Great Post! I want to specifically comment on your findings that the ‘screenagers’ only come to librarians as a last resort. I’ve recently seen a number of postings around the blogosphere (and at a PLA program) that suggest that the library has NEVER been the first choice for information regardless of age. Walt Crawford wrote in a recent issue of Cites and Insights, “The library has never been the primary source of immediate information for most people, nor can it serve that function.” (italics added)

    I find this comforting. It’s too high of a bar to expect libraries to be the information resource of first resort, but given that, we still have an important and useful role to play. I’ve seen too many comments from customers at QandANJ that follow the theme, “I searched google for hours, you found it in 2 minutes–THANK YOU!” to be depressed about the future of library reference services.

  • 2. Peter Bromberg  |  April 5, 2006 at 7:43 am

    Great Post! I want to specifically comment on your findings that the ‘screenagers’ only come to librarians as a last resort. I’ve recently seen a number of postings around the blogosphere (and at a PLA program) that suggest that the library has NEVER been the first choice for information regardless of age. Walt Crawford wrote in a recent issue of Cites and Insights, “The library has never been the primary source of immediate information for most people, nor can it serve that function.” (italics added)

    I find this comforting. It’s too high of a bar to expect libraries to be the information resource of first resort, but given that, we still have an important and useful role to play. I’ve seen too many comments from customers at QandANJ that follow the theme, “I searched google for hours, you found it in 2 minutes–THANK YOU!” to be depressed about the future of library reference services.

  • 3. Peter Bromberg  |  April 5, 2006 at 7:43 am

    Great Post! I want to specifically comment on your findings that the ‘screenagers’ only come to librarians as a last resort. I’ve recently seen a number of postings around the blogosphere (and at a PLA program) that suggest that the library has NEVER been the first choice for information regardless of age. Walt Crawford wrote in a recent issue of Cites and Insights, “The library has never been the primary source of immediate information for most people, nor can it serve that function.” (italics added)

    I find this comforting. It’s too high of a bar to expect libraries to be the information resource of first resort, but given that, we still have an important and useful role to play. I’ve seen too many comments from customers at QandANJ that follow the theme, “I searched google for hours, you found it in 2 minutes–THANK YOU!” to be depressed about the future of library reference services.

  • 4. Anonymous  |  April 5, 2006 at 12:50 pm

    Yeah, that Jedi librarian made me cringe. She did everything but shoosh Kenobi. Man what a tired cliche

  • 5. Anonymous  |  April 5, 2006 at 12:50 pm

    Yeah, that Jedi librarian made me cringe. She did everything but shoosh Kenobi. Man what a tired cliche

  • 6. Anonymous  |  April 5, 2006 at 12:50 pm

    Yeah, that Jedi librarian made me cringe. She did everything but shoosh Kenobi. Man what a tired cliche

  • 7. Liz B  |  April 5, 2006 at 9:35 pm

    Great post! I agree that we need to be responsive.

    People like to find answers themselves; like Peter said, even before the Internet studies showed that people would ask friends, family, etc. It’s not as if we’ve lost people to the Internet; they were lost to us before.

    What I’d like to see is instead of saying people shouldn’t Google (or sighing that “googling” is poor searching) is to admit that, at least for some public library searches, google is a good first step. Why insult the patron by pretending otherwise?

    Instead, knowing that customers are using the internet and google and ask.com, ask, how can be out there to get them the info? How can we design our sites and push out info about our databases, so that when people google they find their way to library pages?

    For example, how many customers and potential customers never get the journal articles they need because they are hidden behind the secret “Ebsco” word? How many people, when googling for magazine articles, even get to a public library page? What can we do to push that info into their search path?

    I also see a future for library reference; I just think that we need to continue to adjust to customers, rather than tsk tsk over customers not coming to us.

  • 8. Liz B  |  April 5, 2006 at 9:35 pm

    Great post! I agree that we need to be responsive.

    People like to find answers themselves; like Peter said, even before the Internet studies showed that people would ask friends, family, etc. It’s not as if we’ve lost people to the Internet; they were lost to us before.

    What I’d like to see is instead of saying people shouldn’t Google (or sighing that “googling” is poor searching) is to admit that, at least for some public library searches, google is a good first step. Why insult the patron by pretending otherwise?

    Instead, knowing that customers are using the internet and google and ask.com, ask, how can be out there to get them the info? How can we design our sites and push out info about our databases, so that when people google they find their way to library pages?

    For example, how many customers and potential customers never get the journal articles they need because they are hidden behind the secret “Ebsco” word? How many people, when googling for magazine articles, even get to a public library page? What can we do to push that info into their search path?

    I also see a future for library reference; I just think that we need to continue to adjust to customers, rather than tsk tsk over customers not coming to us.

  • 9. Liz B  |  April 5, 2006 at 9:35 pm

    Great post! I agree that we need to be responsive.

    People like to find answers themselves; like Peter said, even before the Internet studies showed that people would ask friends, family, etc. It’s not as if we’ve lost people to the Internet; they were lost to us before.

    What I’d like to see is instead of saying people shouldn’t Google (or sighing that “googling” is poor searching) is to admit that, at least for some public library searches, google is a good first step. Why insult the patron by pretending otherwise?

    Instead, knowing that customers are using the internet and google and ask.com, ask, how can be out there to get them the info? How can we design our sites and push out info about our databases, so that when people google they find their way to library pages?

    For example, how many customers and potential customers never get the journal articles they need because they are hidden behind the secret “Ebsco” word? How many people, when googling for magazine articles, even get to a public library page? What can we do to push that info into their search path?

    I also see a future for library reference; I just think that we need to continue to adjust to customers, rather than tsk tsk over customers not coming to us.

  • 10. "He's dead, Jim!"  |  April 5, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    The library on Star Trek’s “All Our Yesterdays” rules, man. Even in the future, the disks get misfiled. When Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, Spock looks at his tri-corder and announces that “there is no intelligent life on this planet.” Then they meet the librarian! Not sure what the message is there! :-)

  • 11. "He's dead, Jim!"  |  April 5, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    The library on Star Trek’s “All Our Yesterdays” rules, man. Even in the future, the disks get misfiled. When Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, Spock looks at his tri-corder and announces that “there is no intelligent life on this planet.” Then they meet the librarian! Not sure what the message is there! :-)

  • 12. "He's dead, Jim!"  |  April 5, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    The library on Star Trek’s “All Our Yesterdays” rules, man. Even in the future, the disks get misfiled. When Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, Spock looks at his tri-corder and announces that “there is no intelligent life on this planet.” Then they meet the librarian! Not sure what the message is there! :-)

  • 13. "He's dead, Jim!"  |  April 5, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    The library on Star Trek’s “All Our Yesterdays” rules, man. Even in the future, the disks get misfiled. When Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, Spock looks at his tri-corder and announces that “there is no intelligent life on this planet.” Then they meet the librarian! Not sure what the message is there! :-)

  • 14. "He's dead, Jim!"  |  April 5, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    The library on Star Trek’s “All Our Yesterdays” rules, man. Even in the future, the disks get misfiled. When Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, Spock looks at his tri-corder and announces that “there is no intelligent life on this planet.” Then they meet the librarian! Not sure what the message is there! :-)

  • 15. "He's dead, Jim!"  |  April 5, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    The library on Star Trek’s “All Our Yesterdays” rules, man. Even in the future, the disks get misfiled. When Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, Spock looks at his tri-corder and announces that “there is no intelligent life on this planet.” Then they meet the librarian! Not sure what the message is there! :-)

  • 16. "He's dead, Jim!"  |  April 5, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    The library on Star Trek’s “All Our Yesterdays” rules, man. Even in the future, the disks get misfiled. When Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, Spock looks at his tri-corder and announces that “there is no intelligent life on this planet.” Then they meet the librarian! Not sure what the message is there! :-)

  • 17. "He's dead, Jim!"  |  April 5, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    The library on Star Trek’s “All Our Yesterdays” rules, man. Even in the future, the disks get misfiled. When Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, Spock looks at his tri-corder and announces that “there is no intelligent life on this planet.” Then they meet the librarian! Not sure what the message is there! :-)

  • 18. "He's dead, Jim!"  |  April 5, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    The library on Star Trek’s “All Our Yesterdays” rules, man. Even in the future, the disks get misfiled. When Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, Spock looks at his tri-corder and announces that “there is no intelligent life on this planet.” Then they meet the librarian! Not sure what the message is there! :-)

  • 19. Thad McIlroy  |  April 24, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    I agree — a great post! And a very important topic.

    It would be so far less telling if this was a discussion of an older generation, who might have in some cases developed a negative view of librarians as stern gatekeepers. Or are young students still developing this view from experience at their schools, both from teachers and from librarians?

    They certainly can’t help but understand (and presumably resent) the enormous bias against their media consumption habits from the majority of adults (and media) in our society.

    Still, it is unavoidable that at some point in their lives they are going to want/need to obtain RELIABLE information quickly, whether for work or health or simply to decide where to go to dinner, and thereby gain a greater appreciation of “trusted sources” and “trusted advisors” in whatever form they take.


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