Community members come into public libraries every day, hoping to complete life tasks many of us take for granted, but lacking the basic computer skills to accomplish them. Whether it’s finding and applying for a job online, learning more about a health condition, connecting to their grandchildren online, or looking up new recipes, they often know what they want to do but are unable to do it without basic computer help.
The Pew Research Center report Libraries at the Crossroads suggests that the public wants libraries to teach digital literacy, and that library efforts can help the most vulnerable groups. According to the Pew report, 94% of respondents said libraries should “offer programs to teach people, including kids and senior citizens, how to use digital tools such as computers, smartphones and apps.” A strong majority of all Americans—76%—say that libraries should “definitely” offer programs to teach people how to protect their privacy and security online. Pew research also shows the connection between library support of digital literacy skills and employment. Contributing to the economic health of the community, and the economic success of individuals, are major reasons that teaching digital literacy skills is important.
Public libraries are teaching digital literacy, and doing it well. 75% of Pew respondents say libraries have been effective at helping people learn how to use new technologies. But there is opportunity to do more—just 7% say they have taken a library class on how to use the internet or computers, and 3% of the full population used a library’s computer or internet connection in the past year to acquire job-related skills or to increase their income.
Through its digital literacy efforts, the Public Library Association supports its members to make their libraries digital literacy learning centers.
PLA’s DigitalLearn.org launched in June 2013. DigitalLearn.org is a collection of self-directed tutorials for end-users to increase their digital literacy. Feedback from public library staff directed PLA to develop courses on the most basic skills, such as using a computer, navigating a web site, and searching. Modules are video-based with narration, 6 to 22 minutes long, written at the fourth grade reading level, and help learners practice skills like using a mouse and setting up passwords. Nearly all modules are available in Spanish as well as English. Nearly 20,000 users complete 15,000 modules each year on DigitalLearn.org.
In November 2017, the 81 learning modules that comprised Gail’s Toolkit, a project developed by the Gail Borden Public Library District in Elgin, Ill., were incorporated into DigitalLearn.org. As a result, the site now offers a robust suite of resources and tools for library staff and other educators to use when conducting training in the community. You can find slide templates, activity sheets, and other planning documents on the Tools and Resources for Trainers section of DigitalLearn.org.
DigitalLearn.org also shares posts about new resources, events, and other activity on its Facebook page.
DigitalLearn.org For Your Library
Public libraries can leverage PLA’s digital literacy training site to empower the digital skills trainers in your library and the learners in your community. Libraries can set up their own branded, DigitalLearn website, accessible to patrons at any time, that shows the library is providing digital literacy training as a service. The site can include any of DigitalLearn.org’s growing collection of courses as well as custom course and page content from the library. Participating libraries can track and demonstrate impact through learner analytics, and learners visiting your library’s site can create and personalize their course lists, tailor content through a course recommendation tool, track progress and receive certificates for course completions. If you are interested in creating your library’s own DigitalLearn site, contact Leighann Wood at PLA via email or phone at 312-280-5867. Libraries with branded DigitalLearn sites are listed below:
- Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (PA)
- Chicago (IL) Public Library
- East Baton Rouge Parish (LA) Library
- Kalamazoo (MI) Public Library
- Nashville (TN) Public Library
- Pima County (AZ) Public Library
- Topeka & Shawnee County (KS) Public Library
- Kansas City (MO) Public Library
- Cleveland (OH) Foundation
- York County (SC) Library
Tech Skills Checklist for Public Library Supervisors and Staff*
Welcome to the Public Library Association’s Tech Skills Checklist! The skill sets listed in the checklist represent the proficiencies that are most commonly called upon in public libraries based on consultations with library workers in public libraries of all sizes. Becoming familiar with each of these areas is critical to providing great experiences for library patrons, and getting comfortable with these skills can improve your day-to-day experience in the workplace. This tool can be used as a self-assessment or can be done with a supervisor. Each skill set is paired with online learning resources, so if you discover an area wherein you have some room to improve, you can take action, for free, as your time allows. Questions or feedback about this tool? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This checklist is an evolving project that will undergo changes throughout 2020.
Tools for Building Digital Skills with Your Patrons and Staff: In September 2019, PLA presented this webinar about how libraries can leverage and strengthen existing library and community resources to help alleviate staff time dedicated to one-on-one tech assistance and increase the library’s impact on patrons’ digital literacy.
DigitalLead: Hotspot Lending at Your Library: In July, 2019, PLA presented this webinar about how libraries can start a hotspot lending program at their library to those that lack broadband connectivity at home.
Using DigitalLearn in Your Library: In June 2017, PLA presented this webinar about how DigitalLearn.org can complement the classes and one-on-one training your library staff are already providing as well as specific information on how your library can start the process of creating its own DigitalLearn site.
Digital Literacy Training Tutorials for Libraries: In March 2016, TechSoup presented this webinar promoting GCFLearnFree.org and DigitalLearn.org as two resources for free digital literacy and technology training tutorials that can be used by library staff to assist patrons.
Connecting Patrons to the Digital World: PLA and the Chicago Public Library described how DigitalLearn was adapted to provide a customized portal and administrative features for Chicago on this March 2016 webinar for the Florida Bureau of Library Development.
PLA Digital Literacy Interest Group
Join PLA’s Digital Literacy Interest Group to connect with members who provide digital literacy training in their libraries, or to learn more about making your library a digital literacy learning center. Please note that participation in PLA interest groups is limited to PLA personal members and login is required.*
Other Digital Literacy Resources
For more digital literary resources and training tools:
- Visit the PLA Professional Tools section on Digital Literacy
- Visit the ALA Government Relations Training Programs and Resources page, which includes links to computer tutorials, educator resources, and examples of public library computer literacy programs.
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