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Smart Libraries Q&A: Teaching digital literacy skills

Smart Libraries Newsletter [February 2021]


What efforts are underway within academic libraries to help learners gain digital literacy skills?

Support of digital literary skills represents an important activity of libraries of all types. A review of the scholarly literature of the library profession would reveal some specific trends and statistics. I would also suggest engaging with other front-line librarians that deal with these issues directly. I can offer only some general observations, focusing more on the perspective of technology.

Academic libraries generally consider outreach and education within their core mission. The promotion of digital literacy falls within these broader activities. Digital literacy skills can be seen in multiple contexts, including:

  • Selection of resources in the digital environment. Libraries make extensive quantities of information available through their collections of electronic resources, including subscription-based content products and open access materials. Library users will naturally also encounter materials beyond these curated collections on the open web. Helping users find relevant and reliable resources within library-provided collections and beyond is a basic part of library service which librarians address with great skill. The current library discovery services and the general search services on the web, such as Google Scholar, will reveal many resources in response to almost any research context. The challenge for the technologybased services lies especially in presenting the resources suitable for each research context. Librarians will usually be well aware of the limitations and imbalanced results associated with these search services, though users may not. Within the activity of resource selection, digital literacy means looking beyond initial results of search tools and understanding what key resources may be beyond their scope or may be buried within large sets of extraneous items.
  • Evaluation of digital resources has always been a critical skill, make more difficult through the increasing quantities of unreliable content. In these times, reliable sources may be characterized as “fake news,” and unreliable content may be uncritically promoted. Beyond the usual guidance that librarians provide related to the evaluation of the objectivity of content, some technical factors are also important. These would include clues that help validate the source and reliability of digital items. These technical characteristics include:
    • Web site identity and validation. The url and digital certificate validate the source of an item. Popular news or scholarly articles may be shared widely on social media. It is important to refer to the original source and ensure that it is published by the organization cited and that the digital certificate of that web site confirms that identity. Any derivative copies may be accidentally or intentionally altered.
    • Digital images and video can likewise be altered. In this era “deep fakes” of image or video content can be difficult to distinguish from objective content. The source of the digital content may provide some confidence, such as its provision through organizations that carefully validate content items, such as Getty Images, and official news gathering organizations. Further, critical assessment of digital content should include viewing its metadata, such as EXIF to validate timestamps and geographic coordinates of its original capture. Online tools are available to view the metadata for digital objects, such as Also keep in mind that this meta may also be manipulated.
  • Creation and integration of digital content may also be a component of digital literacy. Beyond selection and evaluation, library users may also need help gaining skills with the tools needed to incorporate these resources into their own work. One level of assistance may involve training in the use of citation management tools to insert properly formatted references in a paper and to track resources related to the research project or areas of interest. Academic library staff may also offer teaching or support in creating and editing digital images, sound, and video. Student assignments and scholarly projects increasingly involve the production of podcasts or digital video. Many libraries operate learning labs or digital commons that make digital production resources available and provide assistance with using the hardware and software involved.

These suggestions are just a starting point for considerations related to digital literacy in an academic library. This topic is multifaceted with opportunities for much more indepth exploration.

View Citation
Publication Year:2021
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 41 Number 02
Issue:February 2021
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smart Libraries Q&A
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:25898
Last Update:2023-01-25 10:38:32
Date Created:2021-02-11 10:39:13