The Do-It-Yourself Generation

May 18, 2013

Photo courtesy of Shimelle Laine (CC License)

Photo courtesy of Shimelle Laine (CC License)

This week I attended this 90 minute workshop on Serving the DIY Patron at the point of need, presented by Meredith Farkas.  Defined as those students who prefer to figure it out themselves and learn by doing, these students generally by-pass the reference desk and physical library.  How can the library bring its resources to students online and in person, front and center of the DIYers learning experience, AT THE POINT OF NEED?  Farkas’ article in American Libraries gives a good overview of this idea.

In my experience, libraries tend to do a marginal job of having useful and findable tutorials and help screens.  We do not adopt a common language: we call things Research Guides, Help Guides, Information, How do I?, FAQ, Information, Services, and many more.  Students transitioning from public library, school library, or other experiences to the academic setting have trouble navigating where to find what they need.  This leads to frustration, and then ultimately reliance on Google and its instant gratification rather than the library’s resources.

A big part of this mindset is thinking in “library speak.”  I really liked “How do I…?” screens, which seems intuitive and straightforward.  A page called Help would also be a logical place students would go when they run into a roadblock.  Guide on the Side is another way to bring DIY from the library to the patron.  The point is to really examine the best and simplest way to convey and insert how the librarian can help when the students are not directly addressing the library.

Increasing point of need services is something we are exploring where I work.  Point of need can be defined as “What you want when and where you want it.”  It speaks to immediacy.  Today’s generation of students are willing to learn by doing, but they also tend to feel time is of the essence (no waiting!)  Understanding this mindset is crucial to providing good and lasting library services.  Letting the student do the action, rather than demonstrating it, and giving them nudges along the way is one option when helping DIYers.

So, we need to keep in mind:

  • The language we use on our websites
  • Where we put “help” and tutorials so they are not buried
  • That students will want to try “on their own” rather than have the librarian mediate
  • That we need to insinuate the library and librarians into the students’ experience in meaningful ways, not just how the librarian thinks it should be done
  • That point of need should be embedded into all of our services in some way

We should still have face-to-face transactions, but as more information becomes available online and these transactions continue to diminish, we need to find robust alternatives that keep the librarian and his/her expertise in the forefront, while still acknowledging that this “new normal” is here to stay.  Librarians excel at personal touch–we just need to think about it in a different way.

Having been a librarian for almost 20 years, I can attest to the huge changes in the profession.  Our resilience, adaptability, and importance in organizing, evaluating, teaching, and understanding information continues to be crucial, which is why we still exist.  Understanding the DIY generation is just one way we can continue to fulfill the needs of those who, regardless of the huge amount of information available to them, and how savvy they think they are in searching, still need help in learning the best and most efficient ways of accessing and using information.

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