Librarians Play a Vital Role in 21st Century Literacies

We know it, but no one else seems to.

Many organizations are looking at the definition of literacy and expanding it to include the knowledge and skills it takes to be an active participant in today’s society. What baffles me as I read through reports and recommendations from so many organizations is the lack of mention of libraries and librarians.  There are a few such as this one from the Report from the Knight Commission:

Recommendation 7: Fund and support public libraries and other community institutions as centers of digital and media training, especially for adults.

or this one in a white paper from the MacAuthor Foundation

If anything, these traditional skills assume even greater importance as students venture beyond collections that have been screened by librarians and into the more open space of the web. Some of these skills have traditionally been taught by librarians who, in the modern era, are reconceptualizing their role less as curators of bounded collection and more as information facilitators who can help users find what they need, online or off, and can cultivate good strategies for searching material.

These are the only two I have found. Why are libraries missing?

The only place most people can receive instruction on these new literacies is at a library.  There is no one else. While some students may be fortunate enough to be exposed in at school, either through teachers or the library, most are not. Adults have nowhere to turn but the public library.  While I applaud all of these organizations for their efforts and reports and recommendations, I am dismayed at the lack of recommendations for funding and support for libraries. It is all well and good to write a report and a recommendation but what about real world application?

We (library people) know we are the ones providing this training. We know there is no one else. I have to ask – What are we doing wrong that no one else seems to know this? How do we communicate our role?

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31 comments for “Librarians Play a Vital Role in 21st Century Literacies

  1. Cindy Maxey
    February 16, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    This sounds like a great idea, but how do public librarians interest patrons in developing digital or media literacy? In the suburban library where I work, efforts to teach skills, whether in workshops or at the Reference desk, are usually rebuffed. We do teach some basic computer skills, mostly to seniors who want to set up an email account or job seekers who need to apply for positions online, but search strategies? Evaluating resources? They’re not interested, or we haven’t found the place where they might become interested.
    I’d love to hear from librarians who are finding success in teaching these skills.

  2. Yuricon
    February 16, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    RT @librarianbyday: Librarians Play a Vital Role in 21st Century Literacies http://librarianbyday.net/2010/02/librar

  3. bks4maggie
    February 16, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    RT @librarianbyday: Librarians Play a Vital Role in 21st Century Literacies http://librarianbyday.net/2010/02/librar

  4. bcshipps
    February 16, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    RT @librarianbyday: Librarians Play a Vital Role in 21st Century Literacies http://librarianbyday.net/2010/02/librar

  5. kpickett
    February 16, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    RT @librarianbyday: Librarians Play a Vital Role in 21st Century Literacies http://librarianbyday.net/2010/02/librar

  6. February 16, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    RT @librarianbyday: Librarians Play a Vital Role in 21st Century Literacies http://librarianbyday.net/2010/02/librar

  7. February 16, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Bobbi:

    I think libraries in all areas are struggling to some degree to promote and teach new media literacies. As you know, I’m thinking about this question a lot too as I strive to incorporate this into my library instruction and to make the community stakeholders more aware of what exactly we do as 21st century librarians.

    I can’t really speak to academic and public libraries since I only have school library experience, but maybe if some little mini-classes with eye-catching titles were offered through the library and/or promotions through the library YouTube Channel…maybe even some quick tips videos in 10 minutes or less on the library YouTube Channel? Or maybe even some kind of media festival type of even to kick off a series of mini-classes?

    In terms of trying to increase community awareness (in and outside of my school building), I publish my monthly reports on the web. This year I am trying a web page format which includes the traditional “paper” report, but also includes more examples of the actual resources as well as student/teacher video testimonials. I am also working to do better with including more qualitative evidence (such as student and teacher quotes) into the paper report. Here is an example of the new format I’m piloting this year: http://www.theunquietlibrary.libguides.com/august2009.

    Also, another resource you might want to add to your awesome list is the AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners (geared for school age patrons) at http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/guidelinesandstandards/learningstandards/standards.cfm.

    I applaud and commend your efforts to raise awareness on this issue and for working so hard to integrate these new literacies into your library program!

    Best,
    Buffy

  8. February 16, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Bobbi:

    I think libraries in all areas are struggling to some degree to promote and teach new media literacies. As you know, I'm thinking about this question a lot too as I strive to incorporate this into my library instruction and to make the community stakeholders more aware of what exactly we do as 21st century librarians.

    I can't really speak to academic and public libraries since I only have school library experience, but maybe if some little mini-classes with eye-catching titles were offered through the library and/or promotions through the library YouTube Channel…maybe even some quick tips videos in 10 minutes or less on the library YouTube Channel? Or maybe even some kind of media festival type of even to kick off a series of mini-classes?

    In terms of trying to increase community awareness (in and outside of my school building), I publish my monthly reports on the web. This year I am trying a web page format which includes the traditional “paper” report, but also includes more examples of the actual resources as well as student/teacher video testimonials. I am also working to do better with including more qualitative evidence (such as student and teacher quotes) into the paper report. Here is an example of the new format I'm piloting this year: http://www.theunquietlibrary.libguides.com/augu….

    Also, another resource you might want to add to your awesome list is the AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners (geared for school age patrons) at http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/guidelin….

    I applaud and commend your efforts to raise awareness on this issue and for working so hard to integrate these new literacies into your library program!

    Best,
    Buffy

    • February 17, 2010 at 5:11 pm

      Buffy,
      Imagine if all these other organizations who are focusing on the new literacies were including libraries in their solutions. With the additional support behind us we could do so much more!

      Thanks for the link to the School Libs standards I have one for ACRL, I'm going to compare them. I didn't include the ACRL one because I'm focusing on what non-librarians are doing and saying and trying to figure out why we are out of the loop.

      I'm really impressed with the things you're doing in your library, I don't know how you find the time to do it all!

  9. February 17, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Bobbi: This hit a nerve with some of my own thoughts about how important it is for librarians to get out of the library and engage with professionals in other fields. I put up a quick response here: http://irexgl.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/the-26th

    • February 18, 2010 at 3:18 pm

      Great post Meaghan. I'm glad others are thinking about these issues too.

  10. February 17, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    I agree that libraries and librarians are critical pieces in this work but I don't agree that we are the only ones that can/should do this work. When I think about the documents you list above, I don't believe that they intentionally leave out libraries and librarians. I think the assumption is that there are many stakeholders who will support the efforts–none of the 21st Century documents are written for any one specific group. I think each group brings its own beliefs and ideas to the table with these documents–ALA looks specifically at libraries while the other groups look at the needs and roles of their memberships. For me, this seems like a conversation for many of us to have together–this is too big for any one group to take on alone. We need to find ways to pull all of these groups together as we figure this out.

    • February 18, 2010 at 12:31 pm

      Hi Frank
      I don't think we are the only ones either. I do think we are a key piece, right next to teachers. For example the MacAuthur paper asks “Who Should Respond?” and lists schools, after school programs and parent, no mention of libraries. Or the Partnership for 21st Century Skills mentions “Educators, families, testing companies an policymakers”, but again not libraries. We should be on those lists. So yes, I am dismayed to see any mention of libraries missing from most of these reports. I'm frustrated to see recommendations like “empower teachers with 21st Century literacy skills” – yes excellent but HOW? We don't need another report telling us how important these skills are we need real action.

      I agree we do need to pull all of these groups together, not just ALA ones. So many organizations are working on the same things. Pool efforts and at least support for solutions seems so much more effective.

      I should have mentioned in my post when I created the list I specifically left out links to library associations because the focus is on the lack of mentions of libraries in non-library organization reports.

      • February 18, 2010 at 5:20 pm

        I guess I think of librarians as educators. I think there are many that fall under the heading as educator so I always feel like librarians are included in these things as I read them. When it comes to funding, I understand your point. It might be worthwhile for us, as a profession, to open up big conversations with other groups who have a stake in this.

        • February 19, 2010 at 11:58 am

          Franki – I agree I do see our role as educators and I think many of us do. But with new reports on library funding cuts coming in daily, I think we need to explicit. Libraries and librarians should be clearly stated.

  11. February 19, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Franki – I agree I do see our role as educators and I think many of us do. But with new reports on library funding cuts coming in daily, I think we need to explicit. Libraries and librarians should be clearly stated.

  12. Batarang
    March 4, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    I think we are part-educator as well, but I would not want to be lumped into the same group as teachers, professors, etc. Why? Because it will inevitably lead to a more inflexible approach to teaching based upon state or local standards–one of the biggest reasons for the stifiling environment in many classrooms in the first place. We have the luxury to move more quickly in one direction or the other, as we see fit, based upon the people we're working with on a daily basis. I think in many respects, we're more mentor than anything else.

  13. March 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Hi – I've shared thoughts on how public libraries can better communicate their role here: Are public libraries glorified babysitting services?.

  14. astreetpress
    August 2, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    RT @librarianbyday: Librarians Play a Vital Role in 21st Century Literacies http://librarianbyday.net/2010/02/librar

  15. rcooper
    August 31, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    RT @librarianbyday: Librarians Play a Vital Role in 21st Century Literacies http://librarianbyday.net/2010/02/librar

Comments are closed.