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The 2010 release of the National Broadband Plan brought national attention to digital literacy as a keystone for civic engagement, educational success, and economic growth and innovation. This chapter of The Transforming Public Library Technology Infrastructure examines the need for libraries to position themselves as digital literacy experts, support staff competencies to maintain the level of expertise required in the digital landscape, and explore opportunities to expand digital literacy initiatives.
From their inception, libraries of all kinds have had the development, promotion, and advancement of literacy at the core of their mission. Dramatic shifts in how information is disseminated and communications are enabled via the Internet demand an expanded vision of literacy to ensure all people in the United States, regardless of age, native language, or income, are able to fully participate in the digital age. Libraries, at the root of providing people with access to information in all formats--print, digital, multimedia--must re-evaluate and expand their roles in light of the accelerating trend of digital information. They should be a significant player in the evolving information ecosystem.
An Emerging Issue
The March 2010 release of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) (1) brought national attention to digital literacy as an essential element in ensuring all people in the United States can benefit from opportunities afforded by broadband access.
While conceding "there is no standard definition" of the term, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues
... digital literacy generally refers to a variety of skills associated with using ICT (information and communication technologies) to find, evaluate, create and communicate information. It is the sum of the technical skills and cognitive skills people employ to use computers to retrieve information, interpret what they find and judge the quality of that information. It also includes the ability to communicate and collaborate using the Internet--through blogs, self-published documents and presentations and collaborative social networking platforms. (2)
This definition effectively encompasses the information literacy skills historically defined by libraries, (3) as well as much of the more broadly expressed standards for the twenty-first century learner. (4)
According to the NBP, about one-third of the population does not have a broadband Internet connection at home. Digital literacy-related issues were identified as key barriers to adoption, in addition to access and cost. (5) Goal three (of six) in the plan addresses this concern directly: "Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose" (6) (emphasis added). The plan supports an American Library Association (ALA) principle that physical access to the Internet does not guarantee an individual will be able to access and use online resources. To promote digital literacy skills, the NBP states, "We need to ensure every American has access to relevant, age-appropriate digital literacy education for flee, in whatever language they speak, and we need to create a Digital Literacy Corps." (7)
There is now broad recognition that …