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Forget Gen Y, What About the “Google Generation”?

Since our work on Digital Natives (pdf) for the Idaho Commission for Libraries on digital natives (mentioned in this post), we’ve been noticing others’ work on defining the behavior of GenY and the subsequent generation (whom I refuse to call Gen Z) who have all grown up with ubiquitous computers, cell phones, and the Internet.

University College London, working for the British Library, recently released yet another interesting (pdf) report examining individuals born after 1993 (whom the report dubs the “Google Generation”).

The report, based on literature reviews and analysis of library database search data, focuses on how the Google Generation searches for and uses information (and how that behavior is different from other cohorts), with a focus on searches for “scholarly” articles.

A great feature of this report is that the researchers have indicated their confidence (from low to very high) in the validity of each of the hypotheses and myths they set out to examine.

To me, one of the most arresting results* lay in this graph** (click on the graph to open a window with a slightly more readable version):

Personal relationships, across all cohorts, are a common way to find scholarly articles, but the younger cohorts are more likely to search google scholar, examine an electronic table of contents, or visit a journal publisher’s website.

Members of the Google Generation are also much less likely to visit the library in person, which provides still more support to the idea that academic libraries of the future will feature far fewer physical stacks and far more virtual ones.

*Ok, this result isn’t perfect. Since the data is cross-sectional, we can’t be completely sure if the differences in behaviors between cohorts are due to the fact that they are in different generations or if there is some developmental change (i.e., some systematic difference in behavior, preferences, or training between older and younger individuals that younger individuals will eventually “grow out” of) that is causing the differences here.
**To nitpick some more, the graph isn’t perfect either. The y-axis isn’t labeled (nor is the x-axis, which we believe to be age), and the text accompanying the graph says only “the graph shows the relative value that members of the academic community place on a range of methods for finding articles,” so there’s no way to tell what scale was actually offered for the values (e.g., 1 to 6, or 1 to 10, etc.), or whether numerical “values” were accompanied by verbal labels that aren’t included on the graph. Also, the smoothed curves are unnecessary, and give the illusion of a continuous variable when, in reality, there are no values between the labeled cohorts. Using a simple straight line that connected visible dots would have been clearer.

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