Teaching Generation M

Teaching Generation M: A Handbook for Librarians and Educators is an important piece of work in the librarian’s toolkit.   In bringing together writings by 26 librarians and educators at colleges and universities across the United States to facilitate thoughtful planning for teaching Generation M in the college library, the book is separated into three sections, the volume begins with chapters defining Generation M and the meaning of the term literacy. The second section defines the culture of Generation M and the technologies it encounters. The final section focuses on best educational practices, theories, and applications to assist the librarian or other educator in serving this new population of “Generation M” students.

Patricia Dawson and Diane Campbell’s Driving Fast to Nowhere on the Information Highway: A Look at Shifting Paradigms of Literacy in the Twenty-First Century examines the history of librarianship and information literacy.   In it, they point out that librarians have been concerned about teaching people how to access and use library collections since the 1800’s.  In fact, library instruction had been taught in universities as far back as the Civil War.  Indeed, academic Lamar Johnson is credited with laying the foundations of bibliographic instruction when he offered tours of the library with instruction in the use of basic reference tools, point-of-use instruction, individualized instruction, and course-related instruction in the mid-20th century.  With online web technologies, bibliographic instruction evolved into “information literacy.”   The advent of the computer in the “information society” shifted from finding information in a physical library to searching for information using virtual online databases.

Yet, despite raving reviews of Generation M’s computer skills and constant connectivity and social networks, there continues to be (perhaps even more so) criticisms by academics and especially by employers that new graduates lack basic writing, communicating, and higher order information skills such as analyzing and evaluating content.    While Generation M might be tech-savvy, and used to 24/7 ubiquitous “anytime, anywhere” technologies, they are not necessarily so sophisticated in using this technology, especially in cases where information literacy skills that require critical evaluation of their found materials.

Digital literacy, in many ways, is the new paradigm of librarianship, perhaps an evolution of information literacy of the necessary for the early Web.  What a librarian was once a specialist in a subject area, be it a bibliographer of reference sources, drawing on his deep knowledge of books and creating finding aids for their patrons in the physical library, new generations of librarians must adapt to social media technologies, electronic books, e-Readers, providing grey materials, forging pathways in open access publishing, synthesizing thoughts into pithy blog entries, connecting with fellow colleagues across the world through social networks, delving into legal topics such as the Google Books court case, not to mention integrating existing cataloguing rules into the new web frontier.   Indeed, the librarian of the 21st century has evolved to the point where the profession is ready to have its voice heard in a new “digital strategy” movement.