Portrait of the Google Generation

New research has burst the bubble about the Google Generation’s traits of media behavior. However, the generation is a diverse one and demands that library services are intuitive, interactive and sociable. New research has burst the bubble about the Google Generation’s traits of media behavior. However, the generation is a diverse one and demands that library services are intuitive, interactive and sociable.

The Google Generation refers to those who do not remember the time before the Internet, i.e. those born after 1993. They have also been coined ‘digital natives’, the native-born dwellers of the digital world.

The real truth about the new generation takes shape in an extensive report by British research team, CIBER, and a longitudinal study carried out by Finnish researchers in the University of Tampere (see further details at the end of this article). The CIBER report counters many myths, e.g. the new generation does not trust peers more than authority any more than other people. Moreover, people of this generation do not use more time than others in communicating with others over the Internet; on the contrary, senior citizens were found to be more active in this respect. The Google Generation does not learn new technological phenomena through trial and error, but through the use of manuals, like they should. People of this generation want the information they are seeking immediately and in chunks easy to decipher, but on the other hand, so does everyone else.

The most dangerous myth

A commonly accepted myth has been that the Google generation is more skilled in searching for information than the generation before it. This has proven to be a dangerous myth as it does not portray the truth. Adept skill in word processing does not necessarily mean adept skill in searching for information.

The CIBER report reveals that, according to library criteria, the skills of school children in searching for information have remained at a poor level from one generation to the next. Young people do not really know how to choose a database appropriate to their information needs. Furthermore, they easily overlook the best hit for their search results.

One reason for the problems is that small children, especially, have an incomplete picture of the structures of the Internet or information, nor do they possess the linguistic ability needed to express search terms that satisfy the lexicon in the search engine. They would rather use natural language. One of the worst drawbacks for young people is their inability to critically evaluate the reliability of the information they find; they tend to analyze a website using dubious methods, such as basing the reliability of information on the appearance of the website itself.

The Google Generation feels that the information search tools in libraries are basically catastrophic. The lexicons and categories are difficult and signing into a system is seen as an obstacle. To this generation, the tools libraries offer have swerved off the paths led by Amazon and Google far into ‘la-la land’. What is needed is a search engine that utilizes intuitive and guiding library lexicons and other resources.With the help of data mining, ontology, thesauruses, authority data and mind maps such a search engine should be possible. The website has already embarked down the path of recognizing search terms in natural language.

Information seeking skills for children

CIBER refers to a study in which the researchers were surprised to find that the information seeking skills of teachers in high schools do not seem to be reaching their students well enough. However, the study also revealed that using library services at a young age and being taught by parents or teachers how to look for information as a young child, resulted in good information seeking skills later on and this was also reflected in good school performance. Information seeking skills should be taught at an early age. If it is left until high school or university, it may be too late. There is a strong social demand for the teaching of media literacy and information seeking skills.

Many Finnish libraries have seized the opportunity.Working in cooperation with schools, they organize teaching in information seeking on a regular basis. This means that library professionals must also have some pedagogical skills. An on-going media education project in Finland, coined ‘SuperLib’, is aimed at emphasizing the significance of media education and training both library professionals and teachers to become ‘SuperLibs’, i.e. media educators.

The Google Generation’s sharpest profile

Many of the myths about the Google Generation have been made obsolete. In many ways they are just like any other generation, but in other ways they are in sharp contrast.

Indeed this generation is skilful in information technology. According to a study in Finland, they are multi-skilled and they use several services and programs on a regular basis. Many times, they have a number of different media in use simultaneously, surfing while listening to music, etc.

The Google Generation does not passively follow the media; rather, they want to participate and do things themselves. They communicate in Facebook, publish things on YouTube, write blogs and contribute to Wikis. This is evident in the decrease in popularity of passive media, such as television and newspapers, among people of this generation.

For today’s children and youth, the Web is a powerful social tool. Usually, they use it to keep in contact with friends they normally see, but they are also able to reach others, with whom they share something in common and who live outside their place of residency. Friends are extremely important to young people.

The social dimension is difficult

The Google Generation’s favorite pastime has begun to take physical shape in libraries. Equipment and premises for filming and editing videos, small recording studios, music rooms, game rooms and performance stages have found their way into the library.

The social needs of children and adolescents can be problematic as they would like to ‘hang out’ together in the library and this tends to cause clamour. The Espoo Sello Library has experimented with the notion of the library as a social scene with great success. Usually young people tend to vanish from the library but the library in Espoo has succeeded in keeping them as patrons and not only that, but in committing them to the library. Of course, it demands a lot from the staff, including new skills in youth guidance and counseling.

As the services of Library 2.0 become more common, interaction and participation are increasing in the virtual library as well. Libraries have also explored their possibilities in SecondLife, Facebook, and in other social media where young people meet.

Social forums function according to the peer principle, and the library may not be a welcome visitor unless it is able to find something in which children and youth are really interested. Not only does the library have to be present, but it also has to offer some kind of advantage.

According to the CIBER report, young people are not very interested in the social forums offered by libraries. However, critiques of collections, commentaries and tagging could be successful because they support the library’s basic function. Young people also had a somewhat positive attitude toward book clubs and publishing lists of their own collections.

Being social is such an important dimension of new generations that libraries should practice becoming more social until they have a knack for it.

Competition steps up

CIBER predicts that the competitive position of libraries will tighten up in the future. The explosive growth in Web publishing seems to be increasing as the threshold becomes lower and availability increases, for example with on-demand technology and the semantic Web.With this in mind, libraries should take the needs of the Google Generation very seriously.

Seppo Verho
Chief Editor
Kirjasto magazine

verho AT

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

Managing Editor, Kirjasto-lehti