I now declare to the world that I don’t want to hear any more librarians try to tell me that college students today are so vastly different from normal human beings that no one can communicate with them. Since when did adults become such anxious ninnies about college students? I hate to make generational generalizations, but is it a boomer thing? Were they obsessed with their self-proclaimed specialness as youths and are now obsessed with their children? Or is it librarians who themselves feel out of touch who then tell the rest of us that we’re the ones out of touch?
Recently I heard from a librarian that it was as if college students today were from another planet and that they knew much more about all this techie stuff than anyone in the room. Um, sure. Speak for yourself, buddy.
The straw that broke this camel’s back was at ALA. Normally I’m in so many committee meetings or discussion groups that I don’t get to many programs, but I had an unexpectedly free slot and went to a program on “speaking the language of the millennials.” I went, thinking I might learn something and might also get at least a blog post out of it. Besides, I knew one of the speakers.
It started with one of the organizers reading from the Beloit College Mindset List. Though this list might raise a chuckle, it’s hardly a piece of keen sociological analysis. We were told that these kids today don’t remember the Berlin Wall and that Michael Moore has always been around and apparently the Beloit College people think he’s funny. I just took a quick look through the list, and, in the letters of my generation, BFD.
Were college professors and librarians such anxious ninnies when I started college? Did they have lists like the following: The class of 1991 doesn’t remember where it was at when Kennedy was shot. Either one! It doesn’t remember the Civil Rights Act, the moon landing, the Watts riots, the Stonewall riots, the Summer of Love, Woodstock, or the Vietnam War. There have always been The Pill and calculators. For them, cut and paste is a metaphor, and they write their essays on computers! Steve Martin has always been a wild and crazy guy. By the time they graduate, more time will have passed between then and Happy Days than between Happy Days and the era it depicted. How are we ever to communicate with these kids? I don’t remember anything like that.
It was with the first speaker that I knew I was in the wrong demographic for this talk. He started with a list of eight questions. I can’t remember them all (mind slipping in my old age, I guess), but I think they were: How many of you have a cell phone? Use IM and/or text messaging? Have a digital camera? Post photos to Flickr or something similar? Watch Youtube? Post videos to Youtube? Have a Facebook/Myspace profile? And something else I don’t remember. Almost everyone raised a hand at almost every question. Even me. An entire audience of tuned in, plugged in, socially networking, socially softwaring librarians coming apparently just to make sure they weren’t missing anything, anxious to learn how to speak like these millennial people. The speaker seemed taken aback. He paused for a moment, then said “Oh. Then you’re a lot like the college students I see coming in every year.” So much for difference. The first slide, and first statement after the questions, was something like, “the Internet is an important tool for modern communication.” At that point I walked out. I just couldn’t take it anymore.
I work with new college students every year. I teach them in class, I see them in instruction sessions, I meet with them in my office. Somehow I never seem to have any problem communicating with them or speaking a language they can understand. Where I work the language of the millennials is English (for the most part). Is that not the case elsewhere in the country? Yet we librarians are bombarded with claims that these students are so vastly different from “us” that we need to learn some special language to reach them, or that they’re so much more tech-savvy than we benighted librarians. It’s come to the point where I’m not sure whether to believe them or my lying eyes.