Digital Immigrants Will Make Way For Digital Natives …

… or traditional institutions will suffer the consequences. Yasar Tonta at Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey focuses his lense on libraries and stresses that they must “evolve or die” when it comes to digital technology and connectivity in his article Digital Natives and Virtual Libraries: What Does The Future Hold For Libraries?. Tonta initially explains the different styles exhibited by “digital natives” (those who were born and raised in a world surrounded by modern computing and technology) and “digital immigrants” (those who came to the digital realm from their previous analog existence). While recognizing that libraries must continue to cater to both groups, Tonta urges institutions to be mindful of the need to offer an experience catering to the digital native or risk “extinction.” Until such time as digital natives comprise 100% of the user base, librarians must run their show in both the real and virtual world.

To this end, Tanto suggests that libraries forge relationships with their patrons that represent a give-and-take: offering bi-directional service and information flow back and forth between institution and client. Tanto speaks in terms of “diffusing” and “concentrating” services. Diffusion entails building relationships between people, applications and data through services like blogs, wikis and social networking, while concentration involves pulling users into major hubs of information, such as Google and Amazon.

I found particularly compelling Tanto’s direction that libraries must move from being “resource-centric” towards becoming “relationship-centric”, emphasizing a more personalized service. Tanto also points out that technologies “converge” just as the facets of our lives converge – business, social, professional, personal. Thus, the library is tasked with effecting its own “convergence” by melding its own curated resources with the freely available resources of the Web and entering the on-line “hangouts” that digital natives inhabit. To survive, libraries must meet the more demanding needs of digital natives as they replace digital immigrants as clients.

Finally, more is required of institutions than merely becoming digital destinations. Libraries must actively seek to enter the actual networks of digital natives and meet them where they live. Tanto closes with this quote:

In libraries’ part, this requires “connectivity, communications, and content” (Social, 2009) so that library resources and services can be more visible and usable from within social networking systems. This seems to be the way forward for libraries if they are to tackle the impact of the convergence of technologies and the convergence of people’s social lives.

I daresay that the reader could insert the name of just about any institution for the word “library” in this article and the same conclusions still hold true. Consider the plight of law firms as they experience pain from this compulsion to effect major change and are forced to  learn how to deal with both clients and new hires firmly inhabiting the virtual space. Firms that cater to digital immigrants will soon be as obsolete as their client base. Firms catering to digital natives not only will learn how to speak the language, but also will understand how to walk the walk along the highways and byways of the on-line world, stopping to socialize at all the best hangouts.

Hat tip to Resource Shelf.

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