Digital Literacy – What Responsibility Do Libraries Have?

Over at the GovLoop site today, there is a post from Dave Briggs on the need for digital literacy in the general population today. He mentions that Howard Rheingold in his book Net Smart outlines five key skills needed for digital success:

  • Attention
  • Crap detection
  • Participation
  • Collaboration
  • Network smarts

I can see libraries at the forefront of teaching/assisting with at least 3 of these and a case could be made for library involvement with all 5. The three that I see as fundamental to library involvement at the middle ones – Crap Detection, Participation and Collaboration.

Crap Detection is just the ability to evaluate information – libraries and librarians have been teaching that for years, long before the Internet came along. We can (and most have) easily update our information literacy and evaluation lessons for academic librarians and the way we help patrons with understanding what information is valuable in public libraries.

Participation is alive and well in libraries today – the rising numbers of Maker Spaces like Johnson County’s Maker Space in Overland Park, Kansas and YouMedia in Chicago, IL. Providing our patrons with the tools needed to participate in the increasingly digital culture by making green screens, recording equipment, printing hardware and more available to patrons who want to create content and participate in the conversations happening online is something we should all be doing – in whatever form our community needs. Not every community needs a full recording studio – but offering something that patrons can use to communicate and participate in the digital culture is becoming increasingly important.

Collaboration is another skill that libraries have always pushed but one that is even more important these days. From collaborating on school projects to creating a community-written novel (see Topeka’s very cool Community Novel project), libraries can be the hub for collaborative projects large and small. Using the same technology provided for participating in the digital conversation, libraries can let folks connect over great distances via Skype or Google Hangout video conferences and give them the hardware and – most importantly – the bandwidth needed to make regular connections to far-flung collaborators.

While Network Smarts can be taught through computer classes and reference interviews throughout the library and helping folks focus their attention on what is important can be considered another library-taught skill, the three skills in the middle were tailor-made for library instruction and assistance!

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