Sunday, February 26, 2012

Glass half full or half empty?

There has been a lot of talk recently in library circles about ebrary's "2011 Global Student E-book Survey". News of the results have been coming out in bits and pieces for several months now. You can find a good summary at the No Shelf Required blog. Reactions to the results vary from--"kids don't like ebooks" to "Why bother with social media when kids don't use it for research?"--but the results don't seem to justify the reactions. O.K., so 41% of the students in the survey are currently using social media for research or study, while 59% are not. Before we start pointing out the almost 20-point difference between the two groups, we might pause to marvel that 2 out of 5 students are already using it.

For some reason many adults, including librarians and teachers, want to downplay the changes being made by ebooks and new forms of information searching. You can almost hear the sigh of relief from the media when they are able to report that teenagers aren't really crazy about new media. Surveys that give us a snapshot of a specific point in time will never give a complete picture of how people are moving. The important thing to watch is the trend over time. Reading on digital devices hasn't swept the country quite as quickly as is often predicted in Silicon Valley, but it is slowly and surely creeping into public consciousness. Considering how much bad publicity social media has received in recent months over privacy issues and lurid stories of bullying, it is surprising that so many students are intereted in using it intensely. Instead of bouncing back and forth between hailing innovations as saviors of education and denouncing them as dangers and frauds, librarians and other adults ought to concentrate on helping students learn to use all these new tools to share information and insights. They are terrific ways to collaborate with students all over the world and learn more than past generations ever could about what life is really like out there. Percentages don't matter nearly as much as the people behind them who are quietly going about their business of investigating the world they live in.

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