Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Thinking about the Millennials

Friday, I am giving a workshop on library outreach (Library Outreach Redefined: It's a Wide New World) in Binghamton, NY. This workshop -- and the presentation I'm doing at Computers in Libraries -- have gotten me thinking about the Millennials. Millennials are basically those people who are 24 years old or younger. (I must admit that social scientists do disagree on when the era of the Millennials began, but it was about 24 years ago.)

What I find very intriguing about the Millennials (in "rich" nations) are three things:
  1. How do they use technology? Actually, we might argue that they don't use technology. It is not a conscious-thing. The technology is normal, everyday, and integrated into their lives.
  2. Will they adapt to how we -- the non-Millennials -- use technology? No. Just like our parents and grandparents had to adapt to the technologies we use (thinking specifically of we "Boomers"), we must adapt to the technologies that the Millennials are using. It is how the generations work.
  3. Will the way Millennials use technology dominate? Of course! We might think that things will return to the way "things used to be", but the Millennials will survive us and how they use technology will dominate for years to come. (Or at least until the generation after them is having its impact.)
The electronic/hardware/software tools that the Millennials are using are very cool, or at least they are to me. And more tools are being developed. Many fall into a class called "social networking tools," e.g., instant messenger, online networks, blogs, wikis, photo sharing, etc. Yes, these are tools that we're using, but are we using them like a Millennial? Are they part of our everyday life? Are our friends and colleagues using them? (Do they even know what they are?) And what about the electronic gadgets? How many gadgets do you carry with you? (Or as the saying goes, what's in your bag?)

What does this have to do with digitization? Are we presenting the digital assets in a way that fit into the way the Millennials use technology? Are we letting them use the tools they like (and use) to access these digital collections? Or are we expecting them to adapt to our tools? Adapting digital collections to their tools will take time and it is something we need to be working on now.

And what about libraries? Many libraries are finding ways of attracting Millennials, but many are not. Outreach, then, may mean not only reaching out to attract others to the library, but also reaching out of our comfort zones in order find ways of connecting with the Millennials.

I think Friday's workshop is going to be very interesting...

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Michael Y. said...

Sounds like an interesting workshop! I have to admit, Millennials are somewhat of a mystery to me when it comes to technology. My gf is 22. She is very into technology, with her iPod, MySpace site, IM-ing, etc., but she has absolutely no interest in how all of it works, and no patience for anything that doesn't work instantly or that has a learning curve. She feels that, since the technology exists to make things easy, it should be used in all instances.

Teaching her to research using library databases was a chore (you mean there isn't just one interface?!)

Thank you for pointing your students to my blog, and I LOVE theirs! I've long wished for an annotated list of good digital projects, and you've got the beginnings of one there.

Travis said...

Thanks for pointing me to your post. I think understanding how Millennials use technology is important for us who can still remember when it was a novelty to see web addresses at the end of commercials on TV. For them, as you say, it's something they take for granted, but they possess certain expectations about technology that, when not met, gives them the impression of being old and out-of-date and not worth their time. Libraries, in my opinion, really have their work cut out for them if they don't want to fall into that trap. When I followed the discussions about the term Library 2.0, I saw that it focused on how libraries could appeal to the Millenial generation. That is what appealed to me, but with time I realized that most of it applied to public libraries, especially things like game nights, etc. Myself, I'm more interested in academic libraries and I wonder how the expectations of Millenials can be applied to that setting. For example, ask the newspaper industry how they are doing with respect to those in their mid-twenties and younger and I expect you will see a worried look on their faces. I'm twenty-six and I haven't read an actual, physical newspaper in years. I get my news online. I don't watch the nightly news or the local news. If I want to check on sports or the weather, I get online. I don't want to wait until the eleven o'clock news to find out those things. The idea of immediate satisfaction for information needs is one we must understand. Technology today has created a situation in which we expect to find answers quickly and easily. Unfortunately, academic research is not like that, so we are discovering a problem with no easy solution.