The ONS has released their report on Internet Access - Households and Individuals, 2011 and it makes very interesting reading. Access to the net now reaches 77%; 19 million households in Great Britain had an Internet connection. That's a great figure until you realise that's still only really 3 in every 4. Of those who don't have access 19 per cent indicated that equipment costs were too high, while 21 per cent stated that lack of skills prevented them from getting the Internet. However, half of those without a household Internet connection said they didn’t have one because they “don’t need the Internet”. That 50% figure isn't going to increase; I'll happily predict it's going to fall away in the coming years. So here's a library placemarker, and I'll be coming back to it in a moment.
An extra 6 million people using their mobile phone to access the Internet than was reported in 2010 with noticeable increases across all age groups. Mobile Internet use via a laptop, tablet or other portable computer also proved popular in 2011, with 38 per cent of Internet users using these mobile devices away from the home or workplace. The bottom line figure here is that 45 per cent of Internet users used a mobile phone to connect to the Internet. Placemarker #2.
Social networking proved to be the most popular activity among 16 to 24 year old Internet users in 2011, with 91 per cent saying they took part in social networking on websites such as Facebook or Twitter. However, the figure that I particularly like is that almost one fifth (18 per cent) of Internet users aged 65 and over indicated that they participated in social networking. This is another great statistic coming up and it should hopefully blow your socks off; those people aged 65 and over who purchased films/music, 34 per cent downloaded the product compared to 20 per cent in 2010. There was also an increase among the oldest age group downloading books or reading material, at 23 per cent compared to 15 per cent in 2010. We're not just dealing with a younger digital generation - the internet and social media is entirely pervasive. Placemarker #3
A more worrying statistic shows that one in five Internet users (21 per cent) said that their current Internet or computer skills were not sufficient to protect their personal data. A similar proportion (19 per cent) said that their skills were not sufficient to prevent a computer virus. Placemarker #4
There's also another really interesting piece of information over at Digital Buzz on the growth of social media. US figures are broadly in line with the UK results - internet usage is up in all categories. Facebook has a huge 64% market share of social media sites visited (Facebook has 310m unique visitors every day), and 1 in 4 Americans watch a YouTube video every single day. 53% of employees research potential job candidates on social networks. 3,500 images are added to Flickr every minute.
We've also had a lot of articles recently which are looking at the ineptitude of people who are searching the net. (Harsh, but I don't mean it in a particularly perjorative way - they're simply not very good at it!) Another interesting article is 'Teaching Search' which makes the point that 90% of users don't know how to use CTRL-F. (G'wan - did you just try it out to see what would happen?) Another report illustrated that students equated the position of results in a Google search with authority.
So, where does that leave us? Let's start with schools. Clearly there is a need - at the earliest possible age, to start children using computers - not just with the purely mechanical 'this is how you create a word document', but by exposing them to as much technology and resources as possible. There's a really useful article that's worth reading: 10 Internet Technologies Educators Should Be Informed About. I urge you go and have a read of it, but to spoil the surprise and keep you reading my post first, these include things such as video and podcasting resources, presentation tools, mindmapping, pinboard and social media resources. None of this stuff is going away; just the opposite - all of this stuff is just life - it's not a 'digital life' it just IS. And then we get (and excuse my intemperate language) the complete moron that is Russell Hobby, National Association of Head Teachers’ General Secretary who makes the insane and quite frankly laughable statement that “Facebook is becoming a bigger fear for schools than Ofsted”. Another report in a study by the National Literacy Trust, mentioned in the Telegraph says "schoolchildren are significantly more likely to be exposed to mobile phones and computers in the home than novels, according to researchers." So if we have children who are using these resources at home, and in an environment where their parents often admit that they are not competent in using the net (my placemarker #4) it's no wonder that they're not reading books, and no amount of forcing is going to make that happen. Rather - and this is a radical idea for the likes of Mr Hobby I'm sure, is that schools need to embrace, not shy away from Facebook and mobile phone technology and all the rest. And what better place to learn and to come to grips with it, than the school library, backed up by an effective librarian. And yes, I know this is a pipe dream, but we have to start from somewhere. Even more so, when we see reports that show that more librarians mean higher reading scores. If librarians can have that effect with reading, just think what they can help to do to prepare students for university and the rest of their lives? If we don't do it at that early age, we're going to continue with a situation where "although many people who come to the library associate the library with librarians, as well as associating libraries with information, they don’t associate information with librarians." (From a fascinating blog post by A Searching Librarian.) In order to overcome this perception, we have to go to where the conversations are.
WE have to go THEM. I'm sorry to labour the point, but I think it's necessary. Using social media isn't fun, it's not a fad, it's not a waste of time it is exactly where librarians need to be. We need to be highly visible on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and the rest. We need to be found by students (and members of the public as well - this isn't just about academic librarians) where they are. That's increasingly less likely to be in the library. It astonishes me when I still have librarians telling me that it's wrong for libraries and librarians to be on Facebook, because in some way that I totally fail to understand it's 'invading students space' (yes, that is a direct quote). It's too easy to assume that because students are using Google, Facebook and so on they know what they're doing. I would question that assumption, and the rest of us need to as well.
Librarians have, in my personal opinion a duty to their users - be they schoolchildren, graduates, members of the public or CEOs - to offer a professional and knowledgeable service. This means that we have to have excellent skillsets and knowledge of a variety of search engines. We need to have ourselves and our libraries on Facebook. We need to be able to direct users to our RSS feeds, our Delicious accounts and our blogs. We need to use all of the tools that are available to help people who don't come into the library. The library needs to provide access to the net - not simply because it's the net, but that's where the information and the knowledge is (more and more so than in books) because that's what we deal with - knowledge, in any and every format. We have to offer to teach those people who can't, won't or who are too scared to use the net. (Placeholder number one there - see, I haven't forgotten all of those). I'm sure we've all had the joy of watching people learning to read, and the same delight and enjoyment can be achieved from helping people do a really good search on the net - and God help us perhaps without using Google!
I know that you're getting tired of this, but I'm going to say it again - we have to be actively involved in social media. Use Facebook to find information - go to Flickr to grab good images, use YouTube to find good quality instructional material - and create it yourself! Spend time accessing the internet via a mobile phone, borrow an iPad and explore - even if you have to go to an Apple store to do it, and see how other libraries and museums are using apps. Reach out to the elderly who can't get into the library, but who are perfectly able to connect from other places.
The biggest barrier to all of this of course is your middle and senior management. Doesn't matter if it's a head teacher or the CEO, it's all the same. I put together a '25 barriers' presentation a while ago looking at some of the misconceptions of social media access, and what you can do to overcome it. Do not be put off when the answer comes back that you can't do it. That answer will often have come from advice from the IT or PR departments - and it is not in their interest to encourage social media use. In fact, I'm going to go so far as to say that in many cases, they are the ones that are the really big obstacles - middle and senior management just do as they're told. We need to move away from the idea that social media means 'social' as in friends and leisure time, and move the conversation around to the idea that social means talking to our user groups in a way and in a place that is effective and efficient as well as cost effective. I know that for a lot of people it's really hard (and I hate doing it as well), but I think librarians need to become more militant, perhaps more egotistical but above all, more confident that they/we actually DO know better than IT. We CAN manipulate the message better than the PR people. Because we use information - it's our job for heavens sake, and that information, that knowledge - in whatever format it comes is our stock in trade.
Don't let ANYONE tell you different.