Thursday, October 13, 2011

Do digital natives crave digital books?

We all know the drill: our students love their computers, what with being digital natives and all, so we need to invest heavily in ebooks. Over at IHE, Barbara Fister bravely looks at this particular flavor of heavily-promoted Kool-Aid and discovers something a little different:
This is fresh in my mind because I just attended an interesting day-long virtual conference on ebooks in libraries. In fact, I was a panelist for a session on marketing ebooks to students in academic libraries. Sadly, what I had to say probably wasn’t what the audience came for. Our students aren’t interested in ebooks . . . . I don’t know what students make of all this, but one thing that Project Information Literacy discovered in their latest study is that students are not as excited about gadgetry and electronic sources as we tend to assume. When project teams interviewed 560 undergraduates studying in libraries at ten institutions, they found students were keeping it simple. Most of them had only one or two electronic devices with them: a phone and a laptop. Most of them were focused on getting an assignment done or were studying for a class. Most of them had only a couple of webpages open in a browser, and they weren’t the same websites; they were browsing all over the place. (emphasis added)
This reminds me of the big push to use Facebook in classes a few years back. The thinking was that since students live in Facebookland, they would love love love to have their teachers in there friending them and pushing class-related posts at them in their out-of-class spare time. From articles I've read, students were not exactly thrilled about this togetherness concept dreamed up by dewy-eyed teachers. They understood that a social space was a social space and a learning space was a learning space, and they were okay with having boundaries between the two.

The connection I'm seeing is this: students may live in computerland, as we do, and they certainly communicate with us in that way, but that doesn't mean that they use computers as we do nor should they necessarily want or need to.

We can lead these horses to water, but we ought to stop trying to make them drink--that is, turn them into mini versions of us. Instead of force-feeding them our notions of what they should want based on starry-eyed notions of what "digital natives" do, why don't we pay attention to what they actually want? Sure, we need to expand their horizons beyond enotes and Wikipedia, but we can do that in ways that meet them halfway.

Actually--and this is another heretical thought--I'm starting to wonder if the students use the physical library more than we do. A little anecdata: I was at our library today, as I am most weeks, and it was full of students studying in groups. Once again I was the only faculty-age person there except for a librarian here and there. I know--this proves nothing. Still, I wonder if the atmosphere of the books has at least something to do with it.

6 comments:

Jonathan Jarrett said...

I realise that my anecdata are off most people's maps (UK, top-rank research university etc.) but, for what it's worth, we have exactly the same thing with the library. It is full of students, often in groups. In exam term they establish semi-permanent nests, even though we do, you know, provide them with rooms of their own and so on. The staff do use the libraries, but differently; the teaching collections and the research collections don't overlap terribly much and obviously we try and avoid competing with the students for things we've told them to read anyway. Also, however, our borrowing rights are much better, so we can usually work away from the library and keep out of their way.

But the students aren't necessarily there to read things from the library; it's just where they go to work. I think it's probably quite healthy to keep work space and living space distinct, but also I wonder if we can't recognise the future academics by the fact that they don't recognise that distinction...

undine said...

Jonathan, those are great points. We're a research institution but have only one library (nothing separate for staff). We often borrow books from elsewhere in the library consortium to leave the books free for students. I love that image of student nests in the library.

profacero said...

Being digital natives means they are actually less knowledgeable about computers and less able to fix problems than we are - and also less interested.

Digital books are infinitely harder to use than paper books and everyone knows it. If the book is only in the library as an e-book it is irritating since interlibrary loan won't let students order a real one. So they are willing to buy a paper one just so they can really read it, not e-look at it. Also note: you have to queue up to get a slot to read an e-book; you get a 4 hour slot and that's it; access is problematic in other ways.

To help with the problem what we usually do is: the class and I chip in to buy the real books, put them on reserve, and then donate them to the library at the end of the semester. Then the library has those, and then the next time the course is given the collections for it get enriched again. E-books are good I guess for people in the online courses.

Jonathan Jarrett said...

I've never met an e-book one has to book for! Presumably this is a licensing deal but it's one no library should take. Does it work out cheaper than buying a print copy or are they essentially selling searchability and thinking the consequent shallow reading doesn't matter?

Undine, I may have misrepresented my library situation, there isn't one to which only the staff have access, though their borrowing rights are usually better (more books for longer). What we have is three levels, university, faculty and college, which partially duplicate. The university library handles most of the big subscriptions and electronic access, but that access is unfettered within the university's internet address range, so any of the lower-level libraries can offer it through the university library's subscription. The college libraries tend to buy mainly for students; the university, mainly for researchers, and the faculties wind up somewhere between the two priorities (though they alone run to multiple copies of things, usually), but there is overlap all the same. The decentralisation makes that hard to combat, though, which helps keep the libraries in use...

undine said...

profacero, that's a lot of dedication--buying the books for them. I agree that digital books can be harder to use (no flipping). I just checked one out for the first time (instead of buying it) and had a cool 24 hours to read it, after which all my online notes disappeared. Good times. My students have had the lining up problem before, too.

undine said...

Jonathan,I think this is the case: "Does it work out cheaper than buying a print copy or are they essentially selling searchability and thinking the consequent shallow reading doesn't matter?" I don't think it's cheaper; I'm guessing they want bragging rights about the number of ebooks or--more likely--the books will disappear from the virtual shelves if no one checks them out in a certain period of time.