Addressing What Matters
Mention of the term “literacy” usually brings to mind the ability to read and write. Today, there is general agreement, however, that literacy is more than these basic skills. Even so, there is no consensus on an exact definition for the term. For instance, the American Library Association (ALA) offers no less than thirteen definitions, ranging from a set of skills required to function on a job to the ability to use a computer.(1) ALA goes further by defining digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” This perspective extends competencies beyond the general pattern of technical skills found among the majority of computer users. It is significant, for instance, that just because a student is comfortable using electronic devices to communicate does not necessarily mean that they are proficient in all the skills they need to locate, evaluate and synthesize information.
Libraries have traditionally been among the strongest supporters of literacy. As society and technology change, libraries find themselves with collections of out-of-date texts and related materials that no longer circulate. In determining an appropriate response to incorporating digital literacy into the mission of a public library, it is essential to rethink the concepts of literacy when rebuilding and, perhaps, even restructuring or upgrading collections. An assessment of library programs and services is of equal importance.
To help with the process, the Library of Virginia (LVA) provides comprehensive support to create tools that help to integrate the library into the digital learning process. One result is the creation of online resources that focus on infusing library and information skills with instructional technology to help individuals obtain digital literacy. The Mathews Memorial Library takes full advantage of this service by taking full advantage of training opportunities and access to their professional staff. Unquestionably, the most valuable contribution made by LVA to digital literacy in the Commonwealth is the sponsorship of library databases (Find It Virginia, Literati) that provide reliable research using trusted and documented resources, including texts, magazine and journal articles and newspapers. In addition, there are several subject specific databases for conducting historical and family research (HeritageQuest, Discover Your Family History). A recent addition is noteworthy. Document Bank of Virginia (DBVa) is LVA’s initiative to provide users access to original documents, allowing the researcher to draw their own conclusions about Virginia’s past.
Providing access in itself is a worthy activity, but it is not enough. Staff members of Mathews Memorial Library are trained to assist students as well as adults in the most productive means for maximizing the value of the digital tools. Acquiring digital literacy is important, but it must be applied in a manner that enhances and expands the skills and knowledge base of all users. We stand committed to assist in this endeavor.
(1) Deane, Paul. “Literacy:” Literacy, Redefined. www.reviews.libraryjournal.com/2014