April 2, 2007

I was gratified to read the comments of both Li He and Stephen Sherman on the wide variety of patrons served by university libraries and how they should be considered. I’m frustrated by the idea, espoused by some, that user education is a dead end and should be simply avoided. But at the presentation on controlled vocabularies today, it was good to hear the idea stated that while these are perhaps most useful to experts, novices can benefit because they *learn* something about the domain and how it is structured. I would say that we should continue to educate our users in the different ways to accomplish the tasks with which they are faced. Throwing out what worked quite well last year just because there’s a hot new approach isn’t always productive. I would propose that there are hidden possibilities in the old ways which are often overlooked in the quest for the latest.

Having read and talked much of late about the Net Generation – “screenagers” is another term I recently heard that had a particular ring to it – I find that it is often cast as divisive. The constant focus is defining a group based on differences, despite some anecdotal evidence that there are still many things that are not universal to all people born 1982-1991. Some people don’t like group work – no matter what generation. Collaborative work is not something that “these kids today” invented. I suspect that a lot of the defining is done from outside the group as well. Does “accommodating” a particular group of patrons simply create a self-fulfilling prophecy? How are our various user groups the *same*? Have there been developments in the old way of doing things which can benefit all that should be considered? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t investigate such accommodations, but rather that there are other issues to be considered.

In the wide world, not every employee is from the same age group. How often are Net Gen students asked to collaborate outside of their peer group? If not so much, does this simply reinforce the differences? If all your friends are slackers, how will you ever rise above them? One of the best courses I have had here at SILS was team taught by two instructors from different ages/backgrounds. I feel that we need more of a sharing of methods between groups. Amazingly enough, “them old folks” managed to accomplish quite a bit back in the day, and you might recall that quote about Twain and his father. Are Net Gen students developing an appreciation for this accomplishment and the ways it was done or is it viewed with the same snickering and rolling of eyes that they give Uncle Abner’s tales of when you could buy a good suit for a nickel after watching a newsreel, a cartoon, and a double feature? In 1970, Buckminster Fuller claimed an ancient pyramid contained the following inscription: “Our civilization is going to ruin, the young spend all day in the pub and have no respect for their elders.” Isn’t generational rebellion inherent and, if so, how can we find ways to learn from each other? Or should we simply let the rebellion run its course and eventually the wiser Net Gen kids will realize there’s more to the world than they had assumed?

Michael Fitzgerald

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