I sat in on a webinar from the SirsiDynix folks this morning featuring Lee Rainie, of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Lee was informative, as always, discussing the Millenial generation and their take on all things technological.
There were a few points that hit home with me.
The Millenial generation are Digital Natives, in that they’ve grown up with this stuff. It’s natural to have a computer and a cell phone, and the advent of new technology is a natural occurrence. The folks at Beloit College have a list of the other things that these kids view differently.
Those of us who are (ahem) a bit older are referred to as Digital Immigrants. We didn’t grow up with this stuff. If you had a television, it was black and white, had three (maybe four) channels, and if you wanted to change the channel or the volume, you had to get up and walk across the room to the set. Radio was AM, and if you were lucky you had a transistor radio that would allow you to listen to the Top-40 hits. Chain letters were actually letters, sent via the mailman. If you wanted to talk to your friend, you had to ask to use the one phone in the house.
I remember a classmate in high school coming in with one of the first calculators in 1973. It was enormous, expensive, and unwieldy. I remember as a senior at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee in 1979 using their mainframe computer and punchcards to do a statistical history project. Yikes.
To get back to Lee and his talk, one of the statements he made that resonated with me was that the Digital Immigrants have had to learn new technologies, or have sometimes had to unlearn ways of doing things in order to deal with a new technology.
Lee talked about the fact that the Millenial generation multi-tasks naturally. Laura Stone commented that, “Multi-tasking is a way of life – people live in a state of “continuous partial attention.”” Stephen Abrams points to the new Kaiser Family Foundation study on multitasking, and asks some probing questions on what this may mean.
According to Lee, things will change even more in the next seven years. Fasten your seatbelts, folks.
What does this mean for libraries?
People are expecting their institutions and individuals to be “findable” and available online. If you don’t have a library presence on the web, you had better get one. Now.
Libraries live in a paradoxical state: customer loyalty can be honored and nourished more than in the past, but customers also hold you to the standard you present. With all of the ways to be technologically connected, if you’re doing something awful (or wonderful!) chances are, someone is going to write about it.
Probably the best news of the morning was that one of the advantages of this generation is that they’re format-agnostic. While they do IM and email and listen to podcasts and surf the web….they are equally comfortable with any or all of them. As long as you’re offering a way for them to reach you, they’re willing to use the format you have. Don’t have IM but do have email? No problem.
With apologies to Stephen Stills, “If they can’t be with the device they love, they love the device they’re with.” Don’t worry about presenting every new technology. Use the one (or two or three) that works the best for your library….and do it well.