It is now over ten years since Mark Prensky coined the terms ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ and called for changes in education and teaching to reflect the new digital landscape. The terms were easy to understand. We all knew whether we were natives or immigrants by our use of the word ‘digital’ as a prefix (as in “I have a new digital camera”).
In the years since Prensky published his paper, new labels (e.g. Gen Y/millennials) have emerged for the younger generations entering education and the workforce. We have discussed how to support them and how to get the best out of them. But just how useful are these labels and what is the role of the information professional in ensuring that our users can use digital technologies to maximum effect?
This topic was tackled at the first NetIKX event of 2013. Karen Blakeman and Graham Coult explored current research and trends in information behaviours and sparked discussions about the changing role of the information professional.
Forget the labels
Just because they were brought up with some of these technologies, this does not make the ‘younger generation’ experts. According to David Griffiths, we should not… “confuse tech savvy, tethering to mobile technology and an intimate relationship with Facebook, with transferable knowledge and skills around social networking and communication.”
Karen reminded us that, irrespective of the technologies available to us at the time, we all needed to be guided in information searching and research techniques. Young people are image driven and interested in original sources, she explained but need support in filtering and evaluating what they find.
We must also keep in mind that the internet is NOT available to everyone and that in these economically challenged times, many younger people do not have access to the internet at home, while local library resources are also being squeezed. Digital exclusion is still a major issue.
This explosion of content and tools should, in theory, open up opportunities for information professionals to offer guidance, filtering and curation to users as trusted intermediaries. The challenge is to convince others that our services are financially and socially valuable.