Thursday, November 17, 2005

The M-word

All the recent talk about "millenials" is starting to work my nerves. Libraries, and higher ed in general, are buying into the idea that high school and (traditional) college aged students are really tech savvy and will demand the latest bleeding edge stuff. "Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials: Understanding the "New Students," (Oblinger, 2003) seems to be the article a lot of people point to when generalizing about the so-called millenials. The article is interesting, and was an early description of changes in the culture of new college students. The problem I have is that it is often used as evidence to make sweeping generalizations that don't hold true, at least not yet.

My evidence is anecdotal and therefore suspect, of course. Working at an academic library that serves a nontraditional student body as well as a more traditional-age college student body, I can't say I agree that younger students are more comfortable with technology or have shorter attention spans than Gen-X or Boomer students. It's just so individual. Many middle-aged students have been using computers in the workplace for years and transfer their skills pretty easily. At the same time, I have plenty of late-teens/early twenties students admit to feeling overwhelmed and uncomfortable with computers. The way to help students at all levels of experience with college and technology is to assess their needs and abilities and help them at their individual level. The ability to make good analagies and use metaphor to explain the research process and context helps a ton, too.

I guess the point of this rant is that listening to librarians describe young people as if they are all one monolithic group just turns me off. It's essential to keep up with new trends and deliver services that meet the ever-changing needs of our users, but we can't forget that users are a diverse bunch and don't all want or need the same things. Besides, just because some users want MTV-style editing in their entertainment, doesn't mean they want it in a BI session. Okay, rant over.


Tweed said...

I agree with every single thing you say in this post. I am likewise tired of the hue and cry of "Millenials!" It's just another way to lead us into buying more technology at worse prices in the hope of catering to our patrons' needs. But we're doing it be aiming for a stereotype! Grrr...

Kaijsa said...

Thanks. I get a little riled up, but I think it's warranted. What I'm afraid of is people not worrying about teaching skills students need because they think everybody's already prepared. We know that's not the case.