One of my librarian colleagues sent an article about the intellectual activity of searching for information and that it’s a skill that needs nurturing and practice just like anything else. It doesn’t just happen. A group of business education researchers found that college students they studied were perplexed when posed with the task of finding some answers through a typical Google search. First of all, it’s hard to do. Second, in most cases, the first few selected links were limited to top of the results page even with some modifications by the instructor and never was there a question of who created the website. Students gave it credence by results ranking alone. The author, Clive Thompson, reasons that students haven’t been taught to search, and that “they’re putting too much trust in the machine.” If information literacy hasn’t been a scaffolded process throughout a student’s middle and high school eduation then how would they know how to use key words, advanced searches, databases, and even an index in a book. It’s mistakenly assumed that students have been schooled well in information literacy by the time they reach a college or university, but librarians know better, especially as libraries and their professionals have been cut around the nation. Without research instruction, it’s, as Jakob Nielsen, HCI expert, puts it, “Google gullibility.” Nielsen says searchers in general, and not just students, are pretty poor, especially when search engines keep improving. Odd that that may be, it’s true. He finds that “99% of the time” searchers use one way of searching whether it’s successful or not, and that only “1% of the time” does someone alter their strategy for a search result. Searchers, he states, have “extraordinarily inadequate research skills.” In other words, critical thinking. Both authors acknowledge that the only way to combat this is to teach research and information literacy skills to our students.
Incidentally, as I finished this blog post, I received news that school libraries in Queensland, Australia were cut because administrators were advised by a director that libraries were no longer needed. Google, as the email indicated, was a cheaper option. Looks like Jakob Nielsen is right.
Image: Tymn Armstrong <http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/11/st_thompson_searchresults/>
Image: Jakob Nielsen <http://www.useit.com/alertbox/search-skills.html>