Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Book Review: Digital Consumers - Reshaping the Information Professions

Muhammad Rafiq offers us a detailed review of a work which examines digital consumers from both an historical and future perspective.

This book is a collection of articles by the members of the Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER), at University College London (UCL) and associates, such as Dr Tom Dobrowolski of Warsaw University, Professor Michael Moss of the University of Glasgow, Professor Barrie Gunter of the University of Leicester. The book is a result of the exploration of the impact of the digital world on publishing, libraries and information consumers for the past eight years and addresses widespread concerns being felt by information professionals including librarians, publishers, journalists, and archivists. The book moved research findings into the practitioner environment, sharing relevant information amongst the information professionals and covers the wide spectrum of the people visiting the virtual space for information. The editors claimed that this book is 'about information users, but not users as we once knew them. They are looking for information, yes, but also for goods, services, new experiences, titillation, excitement and entertainment'.

In the first chapter, The digital consumer: an introduction and philosophy, the editors (together with Withey and Dobrowolski) provide the setting for the book and argue their choice of 'digital consumer' rather than 'digital information consumer'. Authors argue that the search for information is often associated with e-shopping and that information is used not as an end in itself but to further guide the choice of goods and suppliers. The chapter also discusses the content of the other chapters of the book and its intended audiences.

Richard Withey, in the second chapter, The digital information market place and its economics: the end of exclusivity, illustrates what is happening in libraries and other content industries like book and newspaper publishing. He places particular emphasis on the rapid social evolution in publishing as social networking expands and diminishes the influence of traditional media players. Withey illustrates the growth in online advertising spending in graphical form, demonstrating amazing growth, most notably in Central and Eastern Europe.

Chapter 3, The e-shopper: the growth of the informed purchaser, by Chris Russell, looks at the history of the development of e-shoppers, their likes, dislikes, and expectations in terms of a better understanding of the information consumer. Russell also shows the growth curves for the e-retail sales index of UK over 2000-2007, for e-shoppers and Internet users in the UK over 1995-2007, etc., and notes that users want 'ease of finding products with efficient and common search methodologies, secure payments, easy-to-use registration and application forms, information downloads, availability of products on demand, to multiple and new devices as technology develops'.

The library in the digital age, Chapter 4, by Michael Moss, offers a historical perspective on the current and future position of the library. The author calls for UK information professionals 'to wake up to the realities of what might be described as the second digital revolution'… 'rapidly being colonized by other disciplines'. The author considers that 'a great deal is written about the library in the digital age with emphasis on exciting possibilities offered by emerging technology with little regard for the way knowledge production, categorization, management, distribution and consumption are being transformed'. The chapter concludes that the information community needs to concentrate on 'collection development, leaving resource discovery to the search engines and internet providers… and it must stop thinking it knows best, otherwise it will be in danger of becoming irrelevant'.

Barrie Gunter, in chapter 5, The psychology of the digital information consumer, has conducted a useful review in which he concedes that much of online communication still makes use of text formats which lack the richness of the direct communication conducted face to face. The author provides an insight into how we humanise technology and how an understanding of online inter-personal and human-computer interaction can support the design of more user-friendly, online communications systems.

Chapter 6, The information seeking behavior of the digital consumer: case study – the virtual scholar, by David Nicholas, Paul Huntington, Hamid R. Jamali and Tom Dobrowolski, discusses the evidence gathered from a seven-year (2001-8) research programme analysing millions of digital footprints left by information seekers. This analysis deals with the number of pages viewed, the number of full-text downloads, the number of sessions conducted by searchers, site penetration, time spent viewing a page, time spent on a session, number of searches undertaken in a session, number of repeat visits, number of journals used, number of views per journal, type of content viewed, format of material viewed (e.g., HTML vs. pdf) and searching style. The authors suggest, rightly, that this analysis 'provides a dataset unparalleled in terms of detail', and characterize it as a 'complete description of their model of information seeking in a digital environment'.

Chapter 7, The 'Google Generation' – myths and realities about young people's digital information behaviour, by Peter Williams, Ian Rowlands and Maggie Fieldhouse, looks at the future scholars, today's youngsters' information-seeking behaviour and 'how their practices may impact on the role of information providers and the delivery mechanisms they put in place'. The chapter exposes some myths about the so-called 'Google Generation' and further examines the literature on information search behaviour, information evaluation skills, the social Web, and young people's use of libraries, to establish what is known about young people's use of libraries. The chapter exposes poor information retrieval and evaluation skills amongst the subject group, which the authors suggest must be tackled early in the school curriculum. The author considered that 'remedial information literacy programs at university level are likely to be ineffective' in this regard.

In chapter 8, Trends in digital information consumption and the future, Barrie Gunter considers that 'digital consumer society is evolving at a great pace as the communications and media landscape undergoes increasingly rapid changes'. These changes have altered the landscape and many new players have emerged including consumers as information producers. The chapter suggests that evolution of new ICTs is now so swift that the interval between innovation, launch, and reaching the general public is shrinking at a considerable rate.

David Nicholas, in the final chapter, Where do we go from here?, concludes the book by suggesting six principles to guide the information professional into the future information space:

  1. Live with the prospect of constant change
  2. Establish a link with information provision and access/outcomes
  3. Keep it simple.
  4. Do not be seduced by digital fashions, they will all disappear
  5. Get social
  6. Hold on to the physical space

The overall coverage of the contents in this book is comprehensive and represents a worthwhile purchase for information professionals including librarians, publishers, journalists, and archivists. The work comprehensively examines the digital space and its consumers from both historical and future perspectives. The chapters are written in a well-integrated manner. I would say it is essential reading for anyone interested in the development of the information professions.

Author Details

Muhammad Rafiq
Senior Librarian
Government College University

Email: rafiqlibrarian@yahoo.com

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