Cover image of “Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future”If you’ve worked around children and teens as much as I have, you know that plenty of them believe they are experts in everything online. Diagnosing and solving tech problems, like a stuck laser printer? Give them 60 seconds, they say, after rolling their eyes. Searching? Sure; they can find anything. Manipulating games and music or video files? No prob.

Of course, we librarians know that kids are in no way the searching experts they claim to be, because many of them, particularly those younger than high school age, don’t have the necessary language and vocabulary skills to define search terms, to come up with synonyms for them, and to determine levels of search from the general to the specific.

There’s a new UK study just out sponsored by the British Library and the Joint Information Systems Committee, described in an article on the Ars Technica site, demonstrating this lack of youthful searching expertise. Here’s the PDF document of the report itself: it’s called “Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future.” (And the image above – which made me smile – is the cover image.)

It shows exactly what I expected it to show – that kids and teens born since 1993 talk big about their Internet abilities, or as the study says:

… 93 percent are satisfied or very satisfied with their overall experience of using a search engine (compared with 84 percent for a librarian-assisted search)

But are they that much better than we older folks? Here’s a pointed quote from the Ars Technica article:

It’s true that young people prefer interactive systems to passive ones and that they are generally competent with technology, but it’s not true that students today are “expert searchers.” In fact, the report calls this “a dangerous myth.” Knowing how to use Facebook doesn’t make one an Internet search god, and the report concludes that a literature review shows no movement (either good or bad) in young people’s information skills over the last several decades. Choosing good search terms is a special problem for younger users.

The study does point up that although the information-searching abilities of young people are about as good as they’ve ever been, young people’s confidence in their online abilities makes it more difficult for librarians to intervene in what young people do at the keyboard. In other words:

The report notes that some librarians are opening MySpace and Facebook pages, trying to make their services hipper to students, but that “there is a considerable danger that younger users will resent the library invading what they regard as their space.”