A colleague recently put me onto a study by the Idaho Commission for Libraries that collected feedback on “Perceptions of Idaho’s Digital Natives on Public Libraries“. It is a very comprehensive, eye-opening, and highly useful study from which I believe all public library leaders can benefit.
Since Digital Natives comprise the next big challenge in library customers, it is highly useful to know their opinions of their community library. This study provides that – and more. One puzzling finding is that focus group respondents reported that that believe that “Information on the Internet is not always trustworthy.” and they also believe that “Overall, information obtained through books and libraries is much more trustworthy than information found online.” Yet, they admit that “The Internet is typically the starting point when a search for information is begun.”
What would account for this contradiction? Well, “Convenience is most important when digital natives look for information.” and “Libraries are mostly for young children and older adults, but not for those that fall into the age range that encompasses digital natives.” because “Libraries are perceived to be an old-fashioned, cumbersome way to get information.”
So, what could libraries do to make themselves more attractive to Digital Natives? “Understanding how libraries should be used is important, and would help make the library less intimidating.” Also, “Libraries should elicit opinions and ideas from younger digital natives when creating programs and services targeted for this group.” Libraries could also create “Library activities that provide opportunities for social interaction [that] are very appealing to younger digital natives.” And to attract older digital natives, libraries could create the “Hands-on experience [that] is perceived to be the most valuable source in older digital natives’ learning experiences.” – such as a technology petting zoo.
Another important element is “The fact that older digital natives believe that libraries should act as a hub for community information is reflected in their choices for potential library services and resources.”
10) Web-based resources offered by public libraries should include reference tools.
The preferred resources chosen by the older digital natives were all related to accessing information online. This is despite the perception that public libraries would not be able to afford to offer resources equal to what a university provides online to its students. Still, it is an indicator of the importance that digital natives place on convenient access to reliable information.
This is a very valuable and comprehensive study presented for Idaho library community application, but which – IMHO – has nearly universal application to every library interested in providing services to their Digital Native customers.
How well do you know your Digital Native customers? What services/programs do you have aimed at fulfilling their needs?