from the Library of Maura

Digital, Analog

February 14th, 2010 · 2 Comments

This semester I’m teaching the first credit-bearing class in our library department: Research & Documentation for the Information Age. It’s been fantastic — while it’s a small class, the students are dedicated and we’ve had some great discussions so far about how information is produced and distributed.

One of the best things about teaching a semester length course (as opposed to single class sessions) is the luxurious amount of time we have to explore the landscape of information. I have the space to devote an entire class to traditional print media, another to digital text, another to non-text media, etc. I’ve also been able to do something I always want to do in the one-shots: bring in different examples of print media for discussion.

Over the past two weeks I’ve brought an academic journal, newspaper, popular magazine, trade journal, and three zines on different subjects (music, parenting and librarianship) to class. I’ve long felt that it’s confusing to undergraduates when they’re confronted with article databases in which everything looks the same. Even on the internet, it can be hard to read visual clues other than advertising (which can sometimes be very subtle, too). The differences between the content in different types of publications are much more obvious when you can hold and flip through them.

It was also amazing to learn how much my students appreciate the physical embodiment of these different media. Most of the students in my class are of traditional college age, the so-called “millennial” generation. While I don’t necessarily buy a lot of the digital natives hype (based on my own experiences as well as others’), the truth is that all of us, me included, are probably heavier users of digital media these days. One student lamented that he missed browsing in music stores for CDs, and other revealed that he didn’t like buying MP3s because there wasn’t anything physical with the purchase.

Next week we start talking about some big meaty information issues: ethics, privacy, access and preservation. I can’t wait to see what insights the students bring to those discussions.

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