Bridging the Digital Divide by Building Digital Literacy Skills

Librarians and library patrons discussing digital literacy skills

Developing digital literacy skills for both patrons and staff has been part of the services of the Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library in Ohio for some time. When Collections & Virtual Services Manager Melanie Wilson was invited to participate in a program to expand her own digital literacy skills and training toolbox, she welcomed the opportunity. Now the library's staff and patrons are both benefiting from involvement in the program.

The Free Mozilla Web Literacy Curriculum

The training program that Melanie participates in is from Mozilla, the nonprofit creator of the Firefox web browser. Melanie's library was invited to the program by colleagues at the nearby Cleveland Public Library. Mozilla has spent a lot of time and resources creating curriculum to support the development of core web literacy skills.

The curriculum is freely available to anyone. Melanie is part of a cohort of public library staff members who are exploring and learning the curriculum to prepare library staff to develop and deliver training locally.

The project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and aligns with the 21st century skills identified by IMLS. Melanie has found that an advantage of the Mozilla curriculum over traditional lecture or presentation-style training is that "you are focusing on concepts, so that if you follow through with the whole training, you can walk away with a good foundation … you can adapt to technology that changes and shifts."

21st Century Skills

Mozilla breaks web literacy skills into three major buckets: participate, write, and read (click on the image below to explore Mozilla's interactive web literacy map). To better understand the curriculum and the Mozilla approach, Melanie and the library's deputy director, Eric Linderman, attended a face-to-face training hosted by Mozilla.

The event also included participants from other libraries in the project, which allowed time for them to connect with each other and to become familiar with the training content. When Melanie returned to the library, she developed a program to share the curriculum with the library's staff.

21st Century Skills Infographic: Problem-solving, communications, creativity, and collaboration are all components of web literacy

Training Through Facilitation

Melanie shared that the biggest shift, outside of developing the actual skills, is that Mozilla's methods made them rethink how Willoughbly-Eastlake offers and teaches digital literacy classes to the public. The Mozilla model puts more emphasis on being a facilitator. Melanie sees that as opening up the library space for patrons, making learning a collaborative effort, and moving away from the traditional delivery of training content.

"It made us consider how we should be thinking about the skill set needed for facilitators, which isn't something they prepare you for in library school! Mozilla's approach to learning and working was amazing to experience and so different from the traditional library culture." Facilitator tips are embedded throughout the Mozilla curriculum, including questions to ask participants and activities to guide them. See this example: Web Detective.

Getting Staff Buy-In

Like many libraries, Melanie and the staff at Willoughby-Eastlake understand that they are always going to need new skills. They also acknowledge that it's a challenge to keep up staff skills and to meet patron needs.

One of Melanie's recommendations is to "let staff know that we're never going to know everything all at once, and that this is an evolving process. We have limited resources, and we don't need to be the experts on everything." But, with tools like the Mozilla Web Literacy curriculum, Melanie has found options for developing staff and patron skills that benefit the whole community.

Creating staff buy-in is very much about breaking down the process and helping staff gain confidence. "I want to empower the staff to realize that they can learn these new technologies. Even coding, which staff start off thinking is too technical, they realize that they can do it! What they gain out of the training is empowerment, the belief that they can."

One of the Willoughby-Eastlake staff, who has been at the library for over 20 years, shared this in her evaluation:

"I really enjoyed today's presentation! I think it was one of the best I've attended. The material was way out of my usual comfort zone, but I felt really empowered! You did a great job of teaching it and I thought the time flew by."

Library staff attending a presentation on the Mozilla curriculum at Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library

Photo credit: Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library


Looking ahead, Melanie sees an opportunity to seek partnerships outside of the library — particularly with local community organizations that are offering similar things connected to digital literacy training. Melanie believes the library can work with other quality organizations to avoid overlapping their efforts, and that it can create a referral network that can collectively support digital literacy needs.

The library doesn't have the resources to do everything in house, such as creating curricula, and will continue to leverage existing resources. Melanie is looking at introducing the Learning Circle approach to facilitate conversations around training topics. (Check out this WebJunction webinar for more information about Learning Circles.) She is also interested in the resources being created by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, such as its Digital Inclusion Coalition Guidebook.

Additional Resources: Building Digital Literacy Skills in Libraries

Editor's note: This article was originally published by WebJunction and is reprinted here by permission.