Born Digital

| June 16, 2010

On Friday, June 4th, I attended the annual meeting of the New England Library Instruction Group (NELIG), titled “Meeting Digital Natives Where They Are:  New Standards for the New Student.”  I found the day-long program extremely stimulating and thought-provoking:  the stated intention was to explore “ways that librarians are rethinking information literacy instruction in light of today’s student expectations, behaviors, and emerging technologies,” and I felt that the presentations delivered the goods in a number of interesting ways.

The keynote speaker, John Palfrey, a professor of law and Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources at  Harvard Law School, is co-author of the 2008 study Born Digital:  Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives.  Palfrey spoke about key elements in the world of digital natives, including the notion of digital identity (how you construct yourself), multi-tasking as a way of life, and the predominance of digital media (though he contends that young people, as well as the less young, still like physical books).  One of Palfrey’s main themes was the concept of “semiotic democracy,” the reality that in the new digital era, anyone with access to the appropriate technology (which, he noted, doesn’t by any means include everyone) can create her or his own culture.

According to Palfrey, key factors in the lives of digital natives include fundamental changes in the way  information is acquired, credibility (questions of misinformation and hidden influences),  information overload, and intellectual property issues (ethical and legal aspects of copyright, piracy, and remix).  He addressed the ways that his library and others have come to evaluate and reconceptualize their services and collections in order to architect a learning environment of optimal value to a new generation of students.  As with many other libraries, the Harvard Law School Library has launched an extensive rethinking of its role and mission, taking into account the materials most needed by library users and aiming to accommodate users’ skills through innovative thinking about staffing, collection development, and “radical collaboration” with other institutions.

Along with the keynote address, I also attended several breakout sessions, the most interesting of which was presented by two librarians from Emerson College in Boston, Nicole Brown and Erica Schattle (Nicole visited us last fall at the invitation of her former colleague Michelle Pronovost, now Gottesman’s Head of Services).  Nicole’s and Erica’s presentation, titled “The Big Picture:  Visual Storytelling in Library Instruction,” suggested to me several promising strategies for effectively explaining and promoting the use of  library resources in a classroom setting.  Concepts they presented included

  • “slideumentation” (“Slides are slides.  Documents are documents.  They aren’t the same thing”);
  • presentation content (what the audience sees, hears, and takes away);
  • picture superiority effect (images access meaning more fully than words and are processed more deeply in the brain);
  • planning analog (getting away from Powerpoint, your computer, and your desk, and using a pen and paper to sketch your ideas);  and
  • “stickiness” (creating memorable images that are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and stories so that the ideas they embody have a chance of sticking, i.e., taking root and thriving).

I took away from this meeting some valuable perspectives on what is indeed our most important charge:  meeting our users, who increasingly are natives of the digital world, where they live, and meeting their needs in ways that are most meaningful and relevant to them.  The title of another breakout session I attended says a great deal about what must be our commitment to library users:  “Make No Assumptions:  Incorporating the Student’s Viewpoints to Improve Library Spaces, Services, and Resources.”