‘The librarian’s role in developing digital literacies’ was the title of a day event in Cardiff University which I was fortunate to attend the other week.
The programme was geared towards academic library staff in university settings, although was also applicable to college libraries: “The intention is to not load the day too heavily with theoretical debate but to focus on identifying and sharing workable solutions. … The aim is for people to go away with a least one idea they feel they can try out in their own institution.” (See blog post with link to full programme.) Even as a non-practising librarian, I came away with some ideas and things to ponder.
I particularly liked the discussion (and practical!) led by Lis Parcell of JISC. She introduced us to the ‘digital visitor and digital resident’ continuum, and the enhanced version with personal/organisation aspects added in. This concept looks at how we engage with digital technologies, the Internet (yes, I will keep using upper case for it!) and our digital presence, whether we dip in occasionally (visitor) or inhabit certain spaces/sites for longer (resident). You can read more about this (and watch a short video) on David White’s website – the creator of this concept – and on the JISC web pages.
On the day we did a very quick practical of arranging ourselves in a line from visitor at one end of the room to resident at the other. We were meant to talk to others to discuss what we used, how much, etc. I found myself, slightly surprisingly, at the resident end, and I thought it would be good to later map out my usage/engagement of digital stuff. Just to see if I’m a cyborg or not. See image below.
It turns out I think I’m quite divided in my digital presence, usage and skills. In some senses I’m using platforms/tools a lot, but there appears to be little overlap between work and personal spheres. (I have two ‘work’ things: my full-time library job and my part-time yoga teaching, so I labelled them as either Lib or yoga.) Most things are neatly tucked away into the four quadrants! When I was roughing this map out I was surprised at the number of digital ‘things’ I use (and I’ve forgotten to put screencasts and online surveys on there!), but I also know that there’s loads of digital skills I don’t have: coding & programming (though I did know how to write good ol’ html to create and edit webpages back in the late 90s!), audio creation and editing, wiki creation and editing, QR codes, AR, smartphones, OERs, anything to do with metadata, gaming etc.
But then, the skills I/we need should relate to what we do as jobs and for our personal lives. For example, here’s a list of 20 digital skills a teacher should have. If you’re a FE/HE librarian the digital skills which you may need to call upon may well be very different from a public librarian.
But I digress. The JISC web pages have other sample maps by various people, plotting their digital lives. The website has a toolkit to help you run this mapping exercise with library staff, users and other stakeholders.
Why is this relevant to libraries? One aspect is that if a library user is a digital resident in both work and personal spheres, they may be keen on investigating the library’s latest e-whatever offer. However, if someone uses only email and Internet searching in work, and very little at home, they are less likely to sign up straight away to the e-service, and may need more information about why they might be interested in it, what it can do for them, how they access it, if they need to learn new skills to use it etc. For college and university libraries the continuum is also relevant in terms of knowing what digital skills students have – and not assuming that everyone born after c.1993 is a full-on digital resident. It could also be useful in terms of marketing: are students using Twitter? If they’re not, there may be little point creating a library Twitter account. But you might discover that they nearly all use Facebook and so a library page on this platform may be more effective.
Another interesting topic was discussed by Nicola Hinton from the National Library of Australia. She talked about work they are undertaking to improve digital confidence (including skills) among staff, and I liked the ideas of including a digital objective in a work performance plan/appraisal, having digital mentors/champions in work as ‘go to’ people for different things, informal learning groups who meet to discuss particular digital topics and cascading learning, and a self-directed digital learning hour (weekly? monthly?).
She also referenced research which shows that our learning comes from the following: 70% experience/exposure; 20% relationships; and 10% from formal training. We learn by doing. I have definitely found this to be the case using things like Prezi, screencasts for work purposes and CyberLink PowerDirector for video creation and editing in my other work/life as a yoga teacher.
Aimee Cook from Newcastle University highlighted their ‘see it, try it, show it’ days, aimed at staff and students. In year two they decided to get those who are less digitally engaged to join in by focusing on things people like such as sport, games, music, food, and to build sessions around the topics, rather than the technology. This is what the Carnegie UK Trust found in their digital exclusion research in Scotland and what the former Gateways to Learning project in south east Wales libraries found, going back around a decade. This approach works for those not keen on, or familiar with, technology, and for semi-cyborgs. If we’re interested in something in and of itself, we’re more likely to want to figure it out, make it work, and have fun with it than if it’s a chore or has little meaning for us.
Therefore, I think when it comes to all things digital, to some extent it may be a case of ‘the medium is the message’. It’s the tool that we use to do a certain thing. That may be hugely over-simplifying things, but currently I believe the librarian’s role in digital literacies revolves around translating and adapting the key skills of information literacy (see the Welsh Information Literacy Project for a very good framework), with additional elements such as an awareness of a personal presence when operating in a digital space. Plus lots of ‘how to use’ all the various techie new stuff.
And there’s a lot of new stuff. For a very good, simple-yet-detailed ‘metro map’ of a digital skills framework look at the ‘AllAboard’ website by universities in Ireland: so many things, all lovingly coordinated into coherent groups! This metro map might help with your visitor-resident thinking too.
Librarians taught people how to use card catalogues, now they teach them how to search effectively using Google and other search engines. (Along with 125 other things they do.)
This does not diminish how important digital literacy is: it’s an absolutely essential skill for anyone who needs to find a job, claim welfare benefits, or study at school or beyond, and library staff in all types of libraries are doing amazing things in helping others gain digital skills and confidence.
What do you think the librarian’s role is in developing digital literacies?
(And congratulations to anyone who made it to the end of the post!)