Recently, I was given the advice that I needed to become very familiar with the physical library system in preparation for research and writing a thesis. I responded that this was unnecessary, because there were such good search engines and online library databases. That even if I were to use a physical text, I would find it online first. I was admonished that ‘not everything you need is online.’
Yes, I know this is technically true – not all research, sources, and materials are available online. Just like not all things are dishwasher safe. I just don’t own any of those things. For me, being dishwasher safe is the first trait I look for in kitchen ware. For any sort of secondary research, the first thing I look for, is an electronic copy. So if it’s not online, I’m not using it.
Here’s why this frustrated me:
The exchange demonstrated a basic misunderstanding of what it means to be a digital native (which, as a Millennial, I am). For those who are not digital natives, technology and the internet are very powerful tools. They can be used for everything from communication with family, to entertainment, to finding how to fix a garage door properly. But, at the end of the day, it is a means to an end. The internet and technology are simply options among many approaches. They may be the most powerful tools in the toolbox, but they are still only part of a set.
For digital natives, the internet IS the toolbox. Even if the ultimately used tool is offline, the internet is the first touch-point. So a tool not referenced on the internet is out of the toolbox, and therefore not on our radar. The University Libraries still comes across my mind as one of the first places to search for scholarly articles. But I would never go to the physical building to begin the search. I would use the online databases to create a list of what I need, then go check them out all at once.
The misconception of what it means to be a digital native is still widespread, but I believe having a clear understanding can help all generations who touch the internet. For Boomers and X-Gens, it is a powerful tool with great potential. For Millennials and the AOs (Always On – the generation following Millennials), tools not on the internet do not exist in our bubble.