Saturday, 1 of November of 2014

Libraries Embrace Digital Literacy Role

—A Guest Blog Article in the Discussion Series on Social Innovations in Adult Education

Article by Larra Clark and Marijke Visser

What does it mean to be literate in the digital age?  How is the preponderance of online-only resources affecting how people find and use information?  What do libraries think about all this?

These are the kinds of questions the American Library Association’s (ALA) newly formed Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) Digital Literacy Task Force is asking as it works to identify the role libraries of all types―school, public, academic―have or should have in supporting the high-profile digital literacy initiatives currently underway.

Libraries have always been immersed in helping people of all ages and backgrounds develop the skills needed to find, evaluate, and use information resources―what we know as “information literacy.”  Now is the time to leverage and continue improving our capacities to help meet the 21st century challenges our learners face.

Government agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Commerce have taken a recent interest in “digital literacy” as a significant means to ensure all people have broadband access and can use online resources.  Agencies such as these recognize that segments of the population with challenges that prevent them from going online are less likely to find jobs, start innovative businesses, or further their education than their online counterparts.  They are concerned this new digital skills divide endangers global competitiveness.

Libraries’ interests in supporting a digitally literate population fall a little closer to home.  In the end, librarians understand that being digitally literate is crucial for people to be able to continue access and use information―including government resources, health information, continuing education and training―now and in the future.  Equitable access to information of all kinds and in all formats is a cornerstone of library values.

The Task Force is examining activities libraries are undertaking to meet the new and evolving skill set library users ―from young children, to school age and young adults, to college and adult learners―need to find and utilize digital resources.  Its work is focused on identifying the most promising practices currently in use in libraries that support a digitally literate population, as well as identifying areas where more effort needs to be placed.

Over the course of the next six months, the Task Force will oversee an environmental scan that will inform the development of a vision for how libraries can best support and promote digital literacy in their various communities and populations.  The Task Force will develop a set of strategic goals to reach that vision.  The Task Force also is considering what type of practical information or tool set would be most beneficial for practitioners to use in their own professional development to be prepared to support the digital literacy needs of their patrons and students.

Because OITP is the policy wing of ALA, the work of the Task Force will ultimately help shape ALA policy positions in state and national digital literacy initiatives.  We hope to bring libraries’ commitment to literacies―foundational literacy as well as digital literacy and including the next iteration of literacy―for all to the forefront of this important national conversation.

Not being digitally literate today has implications beyond the individual and impacts the vibrancy of communities across the country.  Libraries are key to supporting a digitally literate population, and OITP’s Digital Literacy Task Force is committed to helping libraries position themselves as key players in the evolving information landscape.

For more information on OITP’s recent work on digital literacy, see:

Larra Clark is the Director of Program on Networks and Associate Director of Program on America’s Libraries for the 21st Century, Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) at the American Library Association.

.Marijke Visser is the Assistant Director for the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) at the American Library Association.

Larra and Marijke are guest bloggers in the guest blog discussion series on Social Innovations in Adult Education.  See the full schedule online and participate by posting your comments in the box below.

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