A Message From Academic Affairs
Libraries, Faculty and the “Google Generation”
Just a few days ago, I learned about two recent publications that address major challenges for higher education in the 21 st century. Both give special attention to information literacy. These reports:
AACU’s National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP)
Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) of the United Kingdom
deserve to be read in their entirety. But at the moment, I want to focus on a particular challenge they present for academic librarians and, by extension, for all college faculty.
The LEAP report states that information literacy should be one of six “intellectual and practical skills” that are part of “essential learning outcomes” for a liberal education. This and other aspects of that report mirror our efforts here at Augustana to create a culture of inquiry and to help our students become responsible leaders in a global environment.
The authors of the JISC report assert that “[young people’s] apparent facility with computers disguises some worrying problems.” Their search strategies and ability to evaluate websites are poor because they lack a “mental map” of the information universe. The report urges educators to work harder to increase students’ information literacy. At the same time, students “do not find library-sponsored resources intuitive” and prefer to use search engines such as Google, which provide “a familiar, if simplistic, solution for their study needs”. The authors call for librarians to work with commercial search engines to make library resources easy to use. Otherwise, they warn, libraries and the scholarly literature they provide will be completely marginalized.
Together these reports paint a picture of the complex landscape that academic librarians—and the faculty with whom they collaborate—must navigate. In order to lure young people beyond the siren song of Google, librarians and computer programmers must make scholarly databases easier to use, and we are making some modest progress in that area. But the truth is that high quality research— with the critical thinking and information literacy it requires — is not easy and cannot be made easy. A computer can search multiple databases and bring back some of the relevant results complete with book jacket art, numerous user reviews and suggested additional search terms. It may become better at interpreting natural language. However, a computer cannot set the results in context nor help students to make an informed evaluation. Only faculty and librarians together can show students why simple web searches are not enough, help them develop that “mental map” and require them to produce bibliographies that reflect a journey toward quality research.
– Carla Tracy, Thomas Tredway Library