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Digital information is “rewiring users’ brains” – #LIBER2012 (5)

2 juli 2012 Gepubliceerd door Laat uw gedicht achter

Although it is a bit out of scope for a preservation blog, I must mention David Nicholson of CIBER Research Group, who has been studying our users – not by asking them survey questions, which will typically yield politically correct answers, but by analyzing what they actually do online. – by Inge Angevaare, reporting from the 2012 LIBER General Annual Conference.

David Nicholson: "User behaviour is NOT what we planned for"

Nicholson quoted research by neurologists that the wide availability of digital information is not just changing behaviour, it is, in fact, rewiring our brains – all of ours, although young people’s brains are being rewired faster.

Having learned from Nicholson that your attention span has seriously decreased in the past twelve years or so, I will cut right to the chase of Nicholson’s presentation:

  • Researchers are very active online, but much activity is carried out by robots.
  • Researchers have poor retrieval skills and pretty much use what comes up first in a Google search. “The only people that go to pages 2 and 3 are librarians.”
  • The horizontal has replaced the vertical. In other words: researchers love zapping from resource to resource, as there may be something more interesting around the corner. “Actually, we should charge for abstracts and give PDF’s away for free.” And while researchers zap, they multitask, they don’t go deep anymore.
  • Users want snacks, they want “fast-bag pick-up” information. Even the best researchers are using Google. So: forget about investing in fancy discovery systems. This is a do-it-yourself world.
  • Viewing has replaced reading. “Short articles have a much bigger chance of being viewed.”
  • Assessing trust and authority is difficult. Crowd sourcing is beginning to replace peer review.

I was listening to all of this with a Swiss colleague. “Actually,” I said, “I recognize a lot of myself in that. When is the last time you read a research paper from cover to cover?” He thought about this and then admitted that it had been a while. He said: “But I thought researchers were different.”

Not so, according to Nicholson. “We are all researchers now. 24/7.”

And it is not just the researchers - Lluís Anglada proved Nicholson's point by multi-tasking while attending the session

Nicholson concluded that libraries are slow to pick up on all of this. “We ought to be raising our game massively.”

One way to do that is to concentrate on delivery rather than discovery. Simone Kortekaas of Utrecht University attracted a full room by entitling her presentation: “Thinking the unthinkable: a Library without a Catalogue.”

Simone Kortekaas during the conference excursion

Simone did not exactly propose to abolish the catalogue tomorrow, but she intended to get librarians thinking: if so many researchers are using Google, Google must be doing something that libraries cannot do. If so, we libraries should consider leaving that service to Google, and concentrate on other tasks.

If libraries deliver content, then by all means deliver the content to the devices that our users are now employing: mobile devices. Ellyssa Kroski, Manager of Information Systems at the New York Law Institute, presented an array of mobile apps that libraries have already developed in the US to serve their clients.

Ellyssa Kroski (right) with LIBER vice-chair Kristiina Hormia

“Content-to-go” was Ellyssa’s motto:

Source: Ellyssa Kroski

Here are Ellyssa’s guidelines for developing mobile apps:

Ellyssa agreed with Nicholson: Keep it Simple. Nicholson made no bones about including himself in the following sweeping statement: “Digital makes us stupid. We don’t bother to remember.”

There’s one note to make here. Nicholson did not test his theories with research data. He did mention Europeana quite a lot, and I could see how a type of resource like Europeana (pictures only) would encourage zapping behaviour. But that is not to say that we should not listen to what Nicholson has to tell us. His last piece of advice: “Never preach that why users are doing is bad for them, but give them incentives to dig deeper. Tell them that they will make more money.”

PS: Quite a few sessions were videotaped. See http://uttv.ee/naita?id=12568 – the index, however, is not perfect. I will try and pinpoint particular sessions.

Seto Women's Choir

The conference excursion took us to Setomaa (literally: “Land of wars”), in the very southeast of Estonia on the border with Russia, where the Seto, a small Fenno-Ugric tribe, are struggling to maintain their culture. Due to Stalin’s migration policies, their numbers have dwindled considerably – causing three of this Seto Choir’s members to opt for practical clothes on this warm day, as they had to double as cook & kitchen maid (for our lunch) and as our knowledgeable tour guide respectively (Helen, far left). The group also included a real “song-mother” who improvised a welcome chant to celebrate our first taste of “handsa”, the local moonshine (2nd from right) and Ulle, the most well-known Seto writer (blue apron).

Setomaa - what a change of pace on Saturday!

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