Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Nice Pair of Breaches, or Divides, Digital and Other

Today, I'm speaking at the Ohio Library Council conference here in Columbus on the things we as librarians can learn from the gamer generation. And as I was preparing for the talk, I was thinking a lot about a short essay that Alane turned me on to, called "“Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,"” by Marc Prensky.

Prensky got me thinking about one of the first roles of American public libraries, the key reason Andrew Carnegie was so interested in underwriting library buildings all over North America. Carnegie believed that having public libraries in every city, town, and village would help geographic immigrants acculturate (and yes, even assimilate) in their new home. The public library and the librarians would help immigrants learn the language, the customs, and the other basic material needed to gain citizenship in this strange land.

To me, this is the library's role in the digital divide. We can help digital immigrants acculturate to this strange new land. We can help them learn the language, the customs, and the basic rules of the road. The librarians at the turn of the 19th century did not see it as their roles to lift people out of poverty and make them middle class American citizens. They saw it as their role to provide access to the tools (anachronistic phrasing, I realize) that the immigrants could use to help themselves.

I agree with Alane that libraries and librarians cannot cure poverty or homelessness, we cannot fix the lives of people who make bad choices, and we can't change the economic system. What we can do is help people learn to use all the tools that are available to them, and then, maybe, they can do those things for themselves.


David said...

While reading Prensky's essay, a few quick things struck me that I need to get off my chest.

- The 'gamer generation' didn't invent gaming nor the digital culture, the baby boomers did.

So why the disconnect? Maybe the baby boomers are not as digital dumb as we thought just as students may not be a digitally smart?

David said...

Oh the fun when you click publish when you should have clicked preview.

The point I was trying to make is that the Natives/Immigrants logic that Prensky uses doesn't take into account that we still have kids who's tech skills are woefull.

NPR has a great story on a high school in Arizonia that replaced all of their textbooks with laptops that had access to all of the learning materials on the school's servers. Yet it took the freshmen class, the gamer generation, a few weeks to figure out things like formatting a Word document properly. As one teacher said "Microsoft Xbox skills does not translate into Microsoft Word skills".

At the same time, when you look to the boomer generation, they are the one's who help built the very companies that are driving the wired world. So clearly, they still get it.

The question for me is why do we spend so much time trying to explain the gamer generation and trying to meet their needs when all they really want is for the library is what most patrons want; for their library to be more like Amazon in terms of finding the things they need without 20 steps along the way.