Focusing on the Patron’s Needs through Digital Literacy Initiatives
It is increasingly important for individuals to become comfortable with the resources around them. As information professionals, it is our job to help patrons not only locate the information they are looking for, but instruct them in how to understand and assess the information they are seeking. Known as information literacy (ALA, 1989), this ability “to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information” is a guiding focus in information science as it is just as important for the patron to analyze resources as it is for them to ascertain them (para 3). This notion is much easier said than done as new technologies and media formats develop. As time has passed, new terms regarding specific types of information literacies have evolved; in particular, literacy that focuses on digital resources such as digital literacy.
What is digital literacy?
Coined in 1997 by Paul Gilster, digital literacy is “the ability to access networked computer resources and use them” (p. 1). It is Gilster’s belief that literacy is vital regardless of format and that individuals must have a grasp on how to locate, understand/evaluate, and use digital resources in order to determine the correct usage, or nonuse, of a resource. He highlights that the most significant of these is the ability to understand the type of resource one has located. Since the Internet is a vast pool of information resources, many resources are not credible and pose a direct threat to an unsuspecting user.
Why is digital literacy important?
As more and more information becomes available on the Internet, people are turning to their web browser to answer all types of questions. Often, people believe that information they have found is credible, but many times it is not. Without the proper education about how to determine the credibility of a resource, users can come across a lot of misleading and incorrect information. However, with proper instruction, patrons can become digitally literate.
Librarians and information professionals have several methods to improve digital literacy among their patrons. Workshops that focus on helping participants understand that difference between credible and non-credible sources would help improve patron awareness of what is on the Internet. Such training would also be an ideal time in pointing out databases and websites that would produce the largest amount of credible sources and provide opportunities for instructors to work one-on-one in assisting in the evaluation of resources for usefulness and content. From there, patrons would see first hand how to then present the information correctly in order to avoid plagiarism. Something as simple as a workshop or information boot camp, could increase user awareness and help to promote the use of digital resources.
Many jobs now require basic technical knowledge on their job descriptions. This would greatly affect people who have not had direct and consistent experience with computers or other electronic devices. As a result, many organizations are working to help promote digital literacy so that these individuals will have the skills locate information correctly while building the skills necessary in such a demanding job market.
In 2013, the Office of Information Technology Policy’s (OITP) Digital Literacy Task Force reported on the increased need for digital initiatives and recommended that the American Library Association help support this growing need to educate those who lack the necessary skills needed in using computers and digital resources (Wright, 2013).
The government is also doing their part in promoting digital literacy. Digitalliteracy.gov is a government-funded initiative put in place by the Obama administration with the U. S. Department of Commerce to help combat digital illiteracy. This program works directly with several government departments and organizations such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services, U. S. Department of Labor and the U. S. Department of Education. The web site provides several resources to help acclimate individuals to using Internet resources (U.S. Department of Commerce, n.d.).
Another endeavor of interest, DigitalLearn.org, is working to promote digital literacy through empowering users with basic technical knowledge that would otherwise curtail the information retrieval if they were unknowledgeable or uncomfortable with the technology. As a Public Library Association (PLA) project, with help from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, it encourages digital literacy among individuals by providing classes and resources in such areas as Microsoft Word, email, and cloud storage, to name a few. Similar initiatives can be seen in other organizations such as the American Library Association’s OITP are helping to support this digital initiative (PLA, n.d.).
The support for digital literacy is ever increasing as the need for literacy increases. More and more individuals are coming to rely on electronics for some of their most basics needs and look to those devices to locate information on a variety of subjects. Without the proper knowledge on retrieving this information, they will be unable to do so.
In the field of information science, we can help support patrons by providing resources and instruction that focus on digital literacy. Informational professionals working in educational institutions can provide workshops that follow a constructivist pedagogical model. Trainers can help instruct their patrons on electronic usage and how to locate reliable sources on the Web in a manner that keeps frustration down during guided learning sessions. Knowledge managers for businesses and organizations can also provide resources, hold meetings to help educate their coworkers on locating trustworthy information, and teach employees how to use computer hardware and software. In many cases, we are already promoting these objectives, and just need to consistently reevaluate our efforts in order to stay ahead of the growing digital information demand.
American Library Association (1989). American library association presidential committee on information literacy. Final report. ERIC Clearinghouse.
Gilster, P. (1997). Digital literacy. New York: Wiley Computer Pub.
Office for Information Technology Policy’s [OITP] Digital Literacy Task Force. (2013). Digital literacy, libraries, and public policy. American Library Association. Retrieved fromhttp://www.districtdispatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/2012_OITP_digilitreport_1_ 22_13.pdf
Public Library Association. (n.d.) About. Digitallearn.org. Retrieved from http://digitallearn.org/ about
Wright, Jazzy. (2013, June 18). ALA Task Force releases digital literacy recommendations.ALAnews. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ news/press-releases/2013/06/ala-task-force-releases-digital-literacy-recommendations
S. Department of Commerce. (n.d.) About Us. Digitalliteracy.gov. Retrieved fromhttp://www.digitalliteracy.gov/about