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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

The Internet and the disappearing libraries

By Nicole Fletcher

One of the great pleasures I remember from my long-ago childhood was the Saturday morning visit to the local library. It was fun to get lost among the towering shelves but even better to walk out of there with a handful of great books that would happily see me through the cold winter days.

My love of libraries carried over to high school and college, where they became a safe haven from the party crowd when study assignments were overdue or I had to cram for exams.

It was during my college days that libraries changed from being a source of leisure time reading material into a research tool. My tutors were all sticklers for detail and insisted on all reference material being both relevant and properly attributed.

Now, sadly, I can't remember the last time I set foot in a library. If I need a book, it's a quick visit to Barnes & Noble or an even quicker visit to Amazon.com. This past Christmas, I got a Kindle, which has reconnected me with some literary favorites but further lengthened the odds of me setting foot in a library anytime soon.

And as far as research goes, why would I need to brush the dust of an old reference book when I have Google, Wikipedia and Ask.com? The pleasure of tracking down exactly the right reference source after two hours in the library is easily forgotten when I can get over a million hits on Google in exactly 0.15 seconds!

I was reminded of all this earlier in the week when I read a post on the LA Times web site. A Pasadena school librarian was lamenting the fact that a number of local high school and middle school libraries were closing due to a lack of funds.

However, this lady – who was due to lose her job as a result of the closings – wasn't lamenting the fact that kids would no longer have access to reading material, although that should also be cause for alarm. Her biggest concern is that we are raising a generation of kids that has no idea what to do with all the information that they now have at their fingertips.

Although kids are able to operate a computer at ever-younger ages, they are not information literate; they don't know how to take all the information spewed out by Google and the other search engines and make sense of it all.

Whether the problem of information overload manifests itself as an overreliance on Wikipedia and other opinion-based reference sources, or as plagiarism, which is increasingly a problem at the college level, kids are becoming far less discerning in how they gather information and in how they use it.

Despite the odd nostalgic moment, no-one could really justify a return to an exclusive book-based educational system. But for the Internet to be an effective tool for our kids, they need to know how to access all that information…and then know what to do with it!

Are we raising kids that are too reliant on the Internet as an information source? Are they becoming less discerning in how they use Internet-generated information? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!   

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