Friday, January 18, 2008

Information Literacy

I won't even pretend to fully understand this topic, but that hasn't stopped me from wailing a keyboard yet, has it?

Basically, a report comes out that asks the question: What's up with the "Google generation"? And the result is, unsurprisingly, "OMFG, they don't know how to do research!!" (on a side note, those who insert irrelevant full-page color pics into PDFs should be shot.)

But it's not like it's just these whippersnappers who don't know nothin'. But these instantaneous results are often a poor substitute for real research. And people want results, they don't want work. The best way I've heard it put: Google is white bread for the mind. It gets you full, but there's nothing really of value there.

People need to understand that the value of Google for websites is to draw hits and get you to buy products from the site directly, or from an advertiser of the site. It's the same thing as TV - the content exists in the hopes that you will watch ads. But with the internet, ad and content are even more intertwined than simple product placement within TV shows and movies. I mean, there's an ENTIRE INDUSTRY called "search engine optimization" that is designed to get your site in the top results for Google. And these are the same search results that are going to be clicked after most searches.

Say you want to write a report on what exercises help baseball players the most. Guess how many good results you will get if you type "baseball exercise" into Google? Zero - they're ALL trying to sell you something. But most people don't care - they'll take a little bit of info from one sales pitch, combine it with info from another, and voila! Instant report, right?

I won't pretend like there's some magic-bullet solution to this problem. I mean, it's just so easy to use, right? Some of the better ideas I've heard involve restricting computer use (for research papers) and teach kids to spend more time reading actual books and writing a paper. Hell, make one day a month "research paper day" at your school. Kids from a certain grade level pile into the library, the computers there are disconnected from the internet (but can still search the card catalog), and you have 6 hours to write a paper without internet sources. Get the to learn the basics of information research, and then powerful tools like Google become that much more useful.

Wow, another incoherent rant, Anton. You really should structure these better. Oh well.

Anyway, the point of the initial article was to ponder where the future of the library is headed...well, I hope it becomes more of an institution of learning than merely a collection of information. Libraries have a MUCH better signal-to-noise ratio than the internet, and need to use this to their advantage - digitize your books, and let me search your collection so I don't have to wade through the muck.

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