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Libraries on the front lines of digital literacy efforts

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An interesting report from the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy’s Digital Literacy Task Force has just been released. Digital Literacy, Libraries, and Public Policy provides an overview of the role of libraries in digital literacy and examines current relevant public policies.

Defining Digital Literacy  

The report begins with a clarification of terms. Digital literacy is defined as: the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, understand, evaluate, create, and communicate digital information, an ability that requires both cognitive and technical skills. 

A digitally literate person:

  • possesses the variety of skills—cognitive and technical—required to find, understand, evaluate, create, and communicate digital information in a wide variety of formats; 
  • is able to use diverse technologies appropriately and effectively to search for and retrieve information, interpret search results, and judge the quality of the information retrieved; 
  • understands the relationships among technology, lifelong learning, personal privacy, and appropriate stewardship of information; 
  • uses these skills and the appropriate technologies to communicate and collaborate with peers, colleagues, family, and on occasion the general public; 
  • uses these skills to participate actively in civic society and contribute to a vibrant, informed, and engaged community.

Current Public Policy Context

The report found three areas of policy dialogue relevant to digital literacy: digital inclusion, education, and the workforce. Policies that have impacted and are impacting public, school, and academic libraries are included. Examples are provided, including New York's Broadbandexpress@yourlibrary, Connect2Compete, NJ Works, St Paul Public Library's Mobile WORKplace, Chicago Public Library's YOUmedia, Philadelphia Free Library's Hot Spots, and more.

Challenges and Opportunities

The report ends with a discussion of challenges and opportunities. Budget and staffing issues are cited as challenges. Many of us are involved with digital literacy work at our libraries, but this report is a good reminder that we need to also be "educating stakeholders as to the broader concepts involved in becoming truly digitally literate over a lifetime". It's essential that libraries are at the table for national, state, and local digital inclusion projects.

More information and resources are included in this ALA District Dispatch announcement.

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