There’s a post today on one of the news lists I’m on announcing another event relating to digital natives.  Here’s an except.

Digital natives call, send text messages and pictures, play games and download music all at the same time – they think email, books and paper are outmoded – where does that leave us, as professionals, struggling to provide information services to this generation?

Digitlised natives

This gets under my skin a little.  Why?  let me explain.  In the last couple of years at more than one conference the great and the good (or at least the loud and at the front) have been talking about satisfying the digital natives, or how Generation Y students will need a whole different ball game in support.  While I think this is right it’s not a new thing – every new year of students needs a slightly a different kind of support than those that came before.  Librarianship is an evolutionary process, like any profession, and those whom just use the same old same old every year and refuse to engage with the new are going to find their position increasingly uncomfortable.

So no, that people are talking about digital natives doesn’t bother me.  What does is that without fail every single speaker I’ve heard on the subject has generalised that this is a) An age related thing – if you’re over 25 you don’t get it and that b) Librarians present are all in this baffled category.  Gah!

Speaking as someone who sat twittering away and listening to talks, whilst checking rail time tables for the ride home whilst sat at LILAC-09 the other week; as someone who online games as he downloads, as he films his YouTube videos as he texts his friends whilst listening to his MP3 player – I don’t just fulfil the criteria for native, quite frankly I must be their chief! 

Funny thing is 25 was a decade ago for me.

This announcement get’s worse though – not content with painting librarians as a profession that’s totally out of step with digital life; it suggests that the only salvation will come from the young.

What happens next….? Can the new generation of digital native information professionals show us the future?

Personally I love working with new librarians – not so much for their new ideas or their aptitude for new or emerging technologies.  Where they really shine is in their enthusiasm.  They’ve not had it ground out of them by years of working within monolithic bureaucratic environments where the average is the norm and to excel is a dangerous place to go.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, it’s been my experience that libraries are places where effecting change, real change – not just task and finish and move onto something else is practicallya Sisyphean act.  I often comment that the motto that underlies these institutions of ours isn’t so much Change we can believe in but rather Change that’s exactly the same as what we’re already doing

So yes, embrace the new librarians – but don’t be surprised when they all get disaffected by the slow rate of progression and adoption of new technologies and techniques.  After all, some of us have been trying to bring about changes for quite some time.

So just remember next time someone starts to talk about digital natives, don’t just nod and agree that “Aren’t things different these days” – look at your own abilities, experiences and aptitudes and those of the librarians around you.  You may be surprised to find that we’ve already got a librarian population crammed full of them.  But like all natives they face a bigger problem – all they’ve got is spears; it’s someone else who seems to be holding them back with their rusty old muskets…


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