Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Libraries and Researchers of the Future?

With the rapidly increasing dissemination of e-books, online journal articles, and basically any information that you could ever dream of wanting to know on the internet, are our libraries becoming a thing of the past? How has library use changed since the rapid expansion of online information? How has Google and other search engines changed the way that people conduct research? These are some of the questions that were addressed by a British study conducted in January, 2008; "a ciber briefing paper. Information behaviour of the researcher of the future".

Many of the studies findings regarding library use were consistent with what any student would likely tell you; most notably that we use search engines rather than libraries because they are easier and more intuitive. Students are intimidated by libraries. It is much more within our comfort zone, and a whole lot easier to Google something than to physically go to the library or try to navigate their complicated online databases. We also tend to search horizontally; that is to briefly and incompletely view a lot of different information sources rather than reading entire articles. We "squirrel" away many interesting articles reading for possible future use.

Surprisingly, the study also revealed that young people may not be the expert searchers that many believe; often having difficulty developing effective search strategies. It surmised that students must be taught library skills early, before they enter college, in order to become effective researchers.

The conclusion of the study was that the availability of information on the internet has minimized the need for libraries and librarians as intermediaries, and the shift away from libraries will likely become increasingly rapid as more e-books and other information is made available on the web. The bottom line is that libraries need to adapt or they may become a thing of the past.

Now what do libraries need to do if they don't want to become a thing of the past? Well, address those issues; become more user friendly, shifting from a content oriented to a more user focused perspective. With their limited budgets, they may need to integrate their services more with popular internet search engines to take advantage of their deep pockets. But most of all they need to study their users and base their future strategies on their research habits.

In my opinion I think libraries are here to stay for a while. However, I believe that they will be more seamlessly integrated with other web search engines in order to become more user friendly. And as for the physical library itself, I think it will become more of a social place like the bookstores of today, a place to drink coffee, read magazines, and relax. In the end as long as there are people that like the smell and feeling of reading an actual book, libraries will be with us.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Digital Literacy

According to dictionary.com the definition of literacy is "the ability to read or write". Today this definition seems as outdated as the factory-like education that our schools provide. Although literacy in it's tradational form, the ability to read and write, is obviously important, there is much more to being literate in today's technological world. This new literacy is referred to as digital literacy. Digital literacy refers to a persons ability to use technology effectively and efficiently. This not only includes the physical functions of using technological hardware and software, but the ability to locate information, sort through it, exercise critical thinking, and synthesize and make sense out of the vast troves of information.

One of the difficulties that have arisen with the rapid development of Web 2.0 educational technologies is that many teachers are not digitally literate themselves. As Barbara Jones Kavalier states in her article Connecting the Digitial Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century, "linear thinking instructors" are trying to use outdated methods to teach digitally literate students. The question is, is there any effort ongoing to train these teachers, and if not are our students missing out on the newest educational tools available via Web 2.0 as a result? It seems an easy solution would be to make IST professionals available to all teachers to "bring the teachers up to speed". Whether this will ever happen or not, who knows, but in reality the situation faced by many teachers who technologically challenged is not a new one. I'm sure a few decades ago educators were struggling with how to turn on the overhead projector, but it seems today there is a lot more at stake, as students are missing out on a lot more learning tools and opportunities associated with Web 2.0.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Learning Opportunities on "The Web of Knowledge"

The "web of knowledge" offers incredible learning opportunities for anyone with a computer and an internet connection...which is becoming more and more common as cell phone and satellite internet access help to bridge the "digital divide" around the world and the $100 laptop has become a reality. The web allows students (or anyone who has a desire to learn about anything) in urban or remote settings to engage in incredibly rich learning environments that were not possible even a few years ago. How amazing is it that people around the world can read the diary (old school blog) of Samuel Pepys, a man who lived in the 1600's - complete with links to read about other relevant topics of his day! I can't think of a more indelible way to learn about everyday life in 17th century London. Of course this is just one of many examples of how the web of knowledge is able provide a depth of understanding on an endless range topics previously unavailable to the masses.

In addition to providing unprecidented learning resources to people, the web also allows them to easily create networks with people whom they have common interests. Whether obscure or popular, there is almost certainly a community of people on the web that shares your interests, and with with whom you can communicate and collaborate. This is huge opportunity for learning because discussion and collaboration often act as a catalyst for creativity and development of new ideas.

I've only presented a couple of examples, but the bottom line is that they serve to reinforce that the learning opportunities and possibilities available on the web of knowledge seem endless, yet they continue to multiply at astronomical speed.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The World is Getting Smaller...

Web 2.0 applications have enabled people to post anything on the internet to be viewed by anyone around the word. In the past it would have been nearly unheard of to reach so many so scattered around the earth. Even world renound authors probably couldn't have pulled that off even a few decades ago. As a result of Web 2.0 applications we are now able to to communicate our ideas and information to potentially millions of others. From the United States to the far east, and all across all the continents of the earth people will read this blog...or not....but the point is... they could! The bottom line is, the personal communication technologies associated with Web 2.0 allow people to share ideas with others of similar interests, collaborate with others with similar goals, and learn from others with different perspectives and from different cultures. In the end Web 2.0 technology has brough us all much closer and the world has seemingly gotten much smaller.

However, one concern that I have about the ease of posting anything to the web for anyone to view as it relates to education is that it is often difficult to determine the credentials or expertise that the sources of information possess. This may not be as much of an issue for an advanced student who has developed critical thinking skills, but for younger students or less educated people who tend to believe everything they read on a fancy web page, it may raise some concerns. This has really created a dichotomy, the great thing about Web 2.0 technology is that anyone can publish anything on the net, but the bad thing about Web 2.0 technology is that anyone can publish anything on the net. However, in the end I think that future generations will become increasingly familiar with Web 2.0 applications, more exposed to numerous sources of information, and as a result, much better critical thinkers. This will enable them to sort and synthesize information at a much younger age.

Yes, Web 2.0 has connected the people of the world like never before, and it will continue to do so at an increasingly accelerated rate until the geography of the world is no longer a boundary between people's ideas.