Steven and I have been having a wonderful flame war on the library list that I thought could work much better on the blog so here goes.
From: Bernstein, Steven (Library)
Sent: Thursday, April 10, 2008 9:59 AM
Subject: Overvaluing the Virtual
The following letter to the editor appeared in this month’s issue of American Libraries in response to an opinion piece that appeared in last month’s issue. I couldn’t agree more with this librarian’s sentiments that it is not a good idea to allow kids to dictate what they will and will not learn. This applies not only moving our libraries over to Second Life, but also to (and probably more to) the way in which we set up our systems of information retrieval. Google-style keyword searching, while perfectly suited for finding relevant web pages is only one of many methods that can be used for searching a library catalog. I would argue that when this method is used exclusively, the algorithms it employs leave gaping holes in what the user is able to find vis-à-vis library resources–both physical and digital. A library catalog, which contains properly authorized, standardized, and formatted metadata, is best searched via the tried-and-true methods whether or not that is how the user is accustomed to searching. An essential component of learning is considering things with which we are not familiar. As educators, librarians are responsible for bringing their students out of their element so that they can become truly information literate.
Overvaluing the Virtual
I can appreciate Lisa Forrest’s skepticism about Second Life (Mar., p. 11). I, too, am a forward-thinking librarian but am reluctant to give up teaching users to find and use information in the real world-there’s far too much to be lost. The constant argument for a virtual library world is that we must charm a generation of kids raised on Playstation and X-box. At what point in the past 30 years did kids get to dictate what they will and will not learn? They were born digital, so they can’t learn to use books? Well, they were born unable to walk but we don’t cart them around in strollers for the rest of their lives, do we? They learn to walk and are able to discover the world on their own. And like walking, which babies learn to do instinctively, I believe that students have an inherent desire to learn-it just needs to be fostered by parents and educators. In an overzealous and shortsighted attempt to appease students, I hate to think that we’re neglecting to teach them to use resources that will offer them a larger view of the information that is available in the real world (much of it digital!). So they fall down a few times. We know-and believe they will discover-that it’s well worth it.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
New York City
Steven Jay Bernstein
Assistant Catalog Librarian
Elihu Burritt Library
Central Connecticut State University
1615 Stanley Street
New Britain, Connecticut 06050
PHONE: (860) 832-2079
FAX: (860) 832-2053