Friday, August 26, 2005

What does Generation Y Want?-- Article from portal: Libraries and the Academy

The article's citation is:

Gardner, Susan and Susanna Eng. "What Students Want: Generation Y and the Changing Function of the Academic Library." portal: Libraries and the Academy. 5.3 (2005): 405-420.

The article is available online through Project Muse for those readers who may have access that way.

This is a good article on what academic libraries need to be doing when it comes to serving students of Generation Y, a.k.a. as Millenials. The article defines Generation Y as the generation born in or after 1982. It is necessary to note that his definition is a contested label; a look at the entry for Generation Y at Wikipedia illustrates this. The entry is labeled as having its neutrality under dispute. For now, I am willing to go with the definition from the article. By the way, for readers who may wonder, I am Generation X, which is another entry under dispute at Wikipedia.

The article from portal is one of those basic articles that many library school students will be reading. It is a case study based on a survey of college students in 2002. The article does cite the book Millenials Rising: The Next Great Generation quite a bit, and it often refers to the book's findings. Readers more interested in the topic might want to read the book, or at least look it over. The authors of the article do note that their survey was non-scientific, and that it was based on a small sample. I found that it still makes for good reading in our field, but I also found that it did not tell me much that is terribly new, well, in my experience at least. Much of what they describe of Generation Y I either knew or have read about it elsewhere. Seasoned professionals may want to just scan it. However, for an overview, it is still a good piece of writing.

The authors name four attributes of Generation Y in relation to library use:

1. They have great expectations.
2. They expect customization.
3. They are technology veterans.
4. They utilize new communication modes.

The authors then go on to provide a discussion of each attribute and how librarians may use this knowledge to better serve this population. There are some quotes from the article I found interesting, so I will take the rest of this post to address them.

"Due to the Internet's organization and ease of use, students doing research through this medium often encounter only customized pieces of the original whole. They often see only the 'piece' of the information that they need in isolation from its original context. In both Google and in electronic research databases, they retrieve sections of Web pages, reprints of articles, or chapters of books; seldom do they have to deal with the whole Web site, entire journal, or unabridged book" (410).

This may go along with the arguments that critics of Google make. I think to an extent this is true. Even though these students are very savvy technologically, their critical thinking skills still need a little nurturing. So, when it comes to websites, I often emphasize in instruction and reference for them to make sure that they look at a main site to know who exactly put up certain information, etc. Having said that, I also think their ability to multitask and see different things at once allows them to visualize the separate pieces as a puzzle they can put together. This likely goes along with the fact Generation Y is a generation of doers (being active is important). I am thinking learning styles here. On the one hand, they can likely handle the pieces well. On the other hand, they still need some gentle guidance in knowing what to do with the pieces, or rather, evaluating which are the best pieces for their specific needs. For me, that is just one way to look at it. I think for readers this can be food for thought.

"When it comes to technology, these students are so comfortable using it that they often feel superior to their teachers in this respect and are unimpressed by its use in a classroom setting" (411).

This is kind of a given. I will even go a step further and say some of them may know about certain things better than I do. I am very comfortable with that idea. After all, education should be a two way process. So, I can learn from them as they can learn from me. I think I bring an added value in experience and knowledge (what is that saying about old age and guile again? Not that I am old. I use e-mail, but I also use instant messengers, hehe). My added value can come in the form of something like this: "OK, so you found that cool website. Now, is that really the best one to use for that assignment?" What biases might that website have? Etc." Asking questions, providing answers, fostering dialogue, and helping them discover the answers; those are the things educators and librarians are good at, and these are elements students will appreciate. The other strength we have, or should have, no matter the generation, is willingness to learn new things. The way I see it, if a Generation Y person can teach me about something like Podcasting, more power to both of us: him/her for sharing and me for having the opportunity to learn. This is where the "older" librarians (whatever the heck that means, well aged like good wine?) have to "just do it." Take a risk, a leap, a chance. There are too many exciting things out there not to take chances. It does not mean we need to succumb to technolust or change just for the sake of it. It does mean being willing to learn, to give and take. Not all technology has to be adopted. Librarians can decide what is best for their patrons. I think the Generation Y folks with their taste for customization show us this already. We may not impress them by technological prowess, but just might with good service, knowledge, and positive ways.

On virtual reference, the authors of the article note that the Millenials "may prefer the simpler instant messenger (IM) services they have been using as long as they can remember" (415). This is in the context that IM may be preferable than services such as Questionpoint or other services academic librarians favor. At the moment, using IM to do some reference is something I am considering myself. I have been reading a little on how other libraries make use of such services. I have also read about librarians who make themselves available to students by making their usernames available. I am not sure I am ready for the step to give my students my IM ID's yet. In preparation, I have set up accounts just for this. Maybe it is a matter of a leap of faith, maybe I need to plan a bit more, like just be available at certain hours of the day. We'll see. I think it has good possibilities.

And on being mobile, the authors say, "by using wireless technology and bringing a laptop and research guides along, librarians can reach remote users and have a greater impact on research being done by students at their institution" (415). The only thing for me to say is that I would love to try that some time, maybe in our Food Court. Then again, writing it here, my director might read this and think that I don't have enough things to do (let me reassure you, I have plenty of stuff to do). Nonetheless, the idea of taking reference out of the library to students is both appealing and exciting. Maybe have a sort of "Librarian Hours at the Food Court" gig? For now, it is an idea to aim for in the future.

The article includes two tables of survey results and the survey instrument. For further reading, readers can look over the endnotes.


Dave Hook said...

I found this comment particularly interesting:

"When it comes to technology, these students are so comfortable using it that they often feel superior to their teachers in this respect and are unimpressed by its use in a classroom setting" (411).

It reminded me of Dan Tapscott's keynote speech at the SLA Conference in June. I would imagine that for many Gen Yers, technology is so commonplace that in-class instruction on computers would seem almost as ridiculous as having in-class instruction on how to use a TV or refridgerator to a Gen Xer.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

It was an interesting comment, and I do like the image of trying to teach how to use a TV. What is significant is their comfort level with it. They have always had it, so I am sure many think why do we need to have a class about it? It is something to think about as we go about our planning and providing services.

Anonymous said...

This is a pretty cool article! I have heard lots about gen y after this article, but not so much before that.