I recently started following Gen-Y blogs in an effort to understand where this generation is coming from. I think I have an idea, but I figured learning from the actual demographic would be better than listening to fellow Boomers make assumptions. There was an interesting post this week on Our American Shelf Life. One of the blog’s contributors visited the Boston Public Library and was confronted by the dual realities of her own impatience and the non-immediacy of print resources.
I found this post particularly interesting in part, of course, because of the library connection. I also was interested in a number of the telling statements the author made.
It may seem odd, but about two weeks ago I went to theBoston Public Library for the first time in the course of my entire college career. I had been there before as a tourist, but this time I was there with an actual academic purpose.
Wow. Judging from another post about this author, she’s graduating this year. It took until her senior year of college to visit the public library. We obviously have some work to do in reaching this demographic.
Anyway, she needed specific magazine articles for her thesis, and had researched the library’s collection and had determined they had the issues in question.
I made my way to the library early on a Wednesday morning. I stood in line for 10 minutes while other people requested what they needed. Then, after making my request, I waited another 20 minutes for them to find my magazines. When they came back with the wrong volumes, I waited another 15 minutes for them to find the right ones. I waited for almost an hour! You have to understand, an hour during finals is like an eternity! I could’ve used that hour to sleep, to study for something else, take a nice long shower, you name it, I could’ve been doing that.
It’s unfortunate that it took so long to get the materials she needed – and I wonder why? I’ve never been to the Boston Public Library and I assume it’s behemoth, so that might be the problem right there, if remote storage is really, well, remote. She continues (emphasis mine):
Instead I was sitting there, at the Boston Public Library, waiting for someone to bring me the materials I needed from the basement. I couldn’t help but think that if only advertising content was available online like regular magazine content was I wouldn’t be sitting there wasting my precious time. It was then that I realized that as a digital native, I had become accustomed to having any information I wanted a click away and it never took longer than five seconds.
As a digital native the concept of waiting for information is quite foreign to me. Even more foreign, is the concept of having to move myself away from my own computer to get it. As long as I have access to the Internet practically everything is at the tip of my fingers, literally. I guess that’s why the Internet is so convenient and why I have become so impatient.
There’s the crux of the matter. Back when I was in college (cue old woman in her porch rocker) the idea that you would have to wait a few minutes to retrieve information from the library was normal operating procedure. You planned extra time in your library visits because you assumed that it would take a bit of time. And to some extent, the time you spent in the library was in itself enjoyable because of the search. Wandering through the stacks was half the fun, hoping for that serendipitous discovery that would make your research paper sing. It’s sad that students today don’t have that same experience.
I’m not sure how to address this issue. We have a new generation for whom instant is the norm: instant news, instant information, instant communication. The idea that retrieving information might take a few minutes is something that this generation doesn’t completely understand because it’s something they’ve rarely experienced.
The reality of storage of materials in a large library is that sometimes getting the stuff takes some time. So how do we prepare the students/patrons for that fact? And that it’s OK that it takes a bit of time?