The first thing anyone designing a website or a search engine should ask themselves is how can we meet the needs of our users? In the case of academic libraries, those users are faculty and students. This year’s first-year college students were eight-years-old when Yahoo! was born. Technology is ubiquitous to them and they approach technology differently than any group libraries have dealt with. So we need to understand the information needs and learning styles of the Net Generation or Millennials.
I looked at some research studies to see what other people have said about how the Net Generation learns and uses technology. Some very useful articles about the Net Generation can be found in Educause’s Educating the Net Generation. The Net Generation doesn’t learn technology – they expect to be able to use things right out of the box or they won’t use it at all. I think the baby boomers were more willing to read instructions and deal with technology frustration. Young people have much higher usability expectations than previous generations. The vast majority of college students these days are using the Internet for research and are citing more non-scholarly works in their papers. According to a study done by OCLC (2002), 75% of college students agree completely that they are successful at finding the information they need for course assignments. With that sort of confidence, they probably don’t think librarians have much to teach them.
So we have students who are using the Web for research, think they’re doing fine, and expect any search engine to be easy to use. How can we convince these students to use the library for their research when they are perfectly happy with Google? We really need to make our middleware just as usable as the rest of the Web, or we risk making ourselves useless to many of our patrons.