3. Accept that Google is here to stay
One academic's approach hit the headlines earlier this year when she reacted to the predominance of Google by banning its use by her first-year students, and restricting them to using a prescribed reading list (Frean, 2008; Brabazon, 2007). Although I applaud her passionate drive to ensure her students improve their IL skills, banning Google is like King Canute trying to stem the turning tide. Rather than ignoring Google, IL teaching should take an inclusive approach, teaching students the advantages and disadvantages of Google vs traditional databases, peer-reviewed data vs non-peer-reviewed, etc. The literature tends to focus on the negatives of Google, but there are many positives: up-to-date information, superior features for storing, accessing, displaying and disseminating information, all of which were not previously available from libraries (Thompson, 2003). Moreover, a broad approach to IL training should include components of new media literacy: use of blogs and wikis, for instance, to improve students' understanding of emerging forms of communication and collaboration (Warschauer, 1999). Education, rather than prescription, is the key here in enabling students to make informed choices.
4. Improve access to library resources
According to the OCLC survey, while 45% of college students completely agree that library websites provide useful information, only 2% actually initiate their searches from the library website. It seems that, although many potential users recognize the value of library resources, they are "over-priced" in terms of the time and effort required to use them (Mi and Nesta, 2006). The global searching of Google is far more attractive than a library search, which requires effort in terms of selecting the right catalogue or database (Lippincott, 2005). The OCLC survey asked users to compare libraries with search engines, and libraries only fared better than search engines on two of the seven parameters: "trustworthy/credible" and "accurate". Search engines were seen to be more reliable, cost-effective, easy to use, convenient and fast. Cost-effectiveness here is clearly interpreted in terms of time, rather than money, which points to students not appreciating the cost of paid-for content provided by the library. This is a marketing issue that libraries need to address.
Library resources are generally located in a separate library website, rather than being available within the students' learning environment, and often reflect the organizational structure of the library (Lippincott, 2005). Libraries need to take a more user-, rather than library-centred, approach, allowing users to customize their library experience. Many library websites appear monolithic and old-fashioned in the age of Web 2.0 interaction. A more user-centred approach could be implemented by enabling students to import a customizable library "widget" into their personal learning environment, showing, for instance, favourite databases, recent reads/downloads. The success of Library Thing - a "social" library catalogue with over 20 million books catalogued - and citation-sharing sites, such as Bibsonomy and Citeulike show that there is demand among users for a more interactive library experience. Being able to access fellow students' or colleagues' citations, for instance, could be very instructive. Clearly, improvements in library software will require substantial funding, but a way round this might be for libraries to think strategically about partnerships with key online providers, such as search-engine and Web 2.0 software developers.
5. Articulate the strengths of the library
Rather than trying to compete with Google, libraries need to concentrate on marketing their USPs (unique selling points) to their users. What is the library uniquely positioned to offer? These include:
- Physical workspace
Libraries need to think about how best to organize workspaces for the current generation of students, perhaps offering areas for teamwork as well as quiet study areas, with access to power points and high-speed wi-fi.
- Paid-for content
Many students gain full-text access (via a link from Google Scholar, for instance) without appreciating the fact that the the text is only available through the library. Libraries should market the full value of using the library.
- Expert librarians
Librarians are a very under-used resource. If librarians have a central role in the delivery of IL training across the curriculum, increased exposure will raise both the profile and accessibility of librarians, and show students how useful information specialists can be in the research process.
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