Remote + Connected

Reflection #4: Digital Literacy and the Future Library

For this post, I wanted to reflect on a two conversations that I have had at the branch over the last few weeks.

The first one was with a Friends of the Library board member who was bemoaning that our branch wasn’t doing more to help children learn to read. He saw the library’s primary role as improving literacy for younger children in our community, but his view of literacy was pretty narrow: books only. This member is “anti-screen” and feels children are suffering academically because they are on computers too much.

The second conversation I heard was a staff member complaining that library workers were expected to be teachers now. This person wanted to work with books not people. She saw her role as someone who checks in and checks out books, answers reference questions, makes reader recommendations, and helps people book rooms for programs. She felt that the new director wanted to make libraries classrooms not reading rooms.

Hyperlinked library services are born from the constant, positive, and purposeful adap- tation to change that is based on thoughtful planning and grounded in the mission of libraries.

Michael Stephens, Serving the User When and Where They Are

In both cases, I mainly listened because, although sympathetic, I knew we were on different sides of a major paradigm shift.

Image by Gary Cassel from Pixabay

All of the research shows that “screens” are becoming more and more prevalent in the lives of children and teenagers, and I seriously doubt this trend can be reversed. Young people, like it or not, are screen-friendly. And hey, adults are too! (Deloitte, 2016; Silver, 2019) Libraries need to find their footing in this new world, as physical book collections (especially at public libraries) are quickly being supplemented (replaced?) with large e-book and audiobook collections. Does this mean that libraries abandon their mission to foster a love of reading and lifelong learning. Of course not. But what might this look like?

Both of these conversations have been rolling around in my head. I had been thinking a lot about the concept of Jaron Lanier’s concept of Data Dignity. Then the impeachment hearings began and I realized how difficult it must be for the average person to really create informed decisions when it comes to digital media. Not to mention children and teens.

So I was feeling a little helpless when I came across Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship curriculum for K-12th graders. It covers everything from password protection to cyberbullying to fake news. And this little light bulb went off. Maybe this is how librarians can help young people? Rather than parsing out the information, we will be helping them become better discriminators of information. While the concept of digital literacy has been talked about in higher education (Alexander, et al., 2016), it seems like it really should start earlier. The “kids” are ready and willing, I think.

After giving it much thought, I have decided to incorporate this curriculum into our K-12 class visits this year and see how it goes. We are a small branch and my manager gives me a lot of room to experiment (which is great). It feels a little “political”, in a sense that it might ruffle a few feathers–like the FOL board member or the staff person–but I am learning to not care about that so much. Sometimes you just have to move forward and take everyone else with you.

So what does the Future Library look like? It will definitely not be a warehouse for books. Libraries will be entrusted with helping patrons critically engage with information and knowledge in whatever form it presents itself, forever long that form is relevant to users.


Alexander, B., Adams Becker, S., and Cummins, M. (2016). Digital literacy: An NMC Horizon Project strategic brief.

Deloitte (2016). How do today’s students use mobiles.

Silver, L. (2019). Smartphone ownership is growing rapidly around the world just not always equally.

Weinberger, D. (2014). Let the future go.

7 thoughts on “Reflection #4: Digital Literacy and the Future Library

  1. Nikki

    As a parent of two young kids, I’ve struggled with the pressure to keep them off of devices as much as possible against the trend for kids (and adults!) to spend more time on devices, to connect socially, to do research, to learn, etc. (“No screen time for you- read this book while I look at my laptop to study for school.” Whoops.). I realized as I go through this MLIS program that I’m doing my kids a disservice if I don’t help them learn how to thoughtfully and critically use a medium that is here to stay.
    “Sometimes you just have to move forward and take everyone else with you.”
    I love this attitude! Being a librarian is a little political, isn’t it? Information is power and knowing how to use it and the right tools to discover and manage it is power. And power is always political. I’m interested to hear how the class visits go with your approach!

  2. Cristin Marie Post author

    @rudiger There are some studies that also point out the difference between active and passive “screen” time, not all screen are equal and it will probably take a little more time to figure out how to help young people use all this media in a constructive way—who knows, maybe they are already doing it themselves–maybe not all–but more than we think?

  3. jade

    I love your approach to the two different, and strong, opinions regarding the roles of libraries and these new modes of information that today’s children have always known.

    I find myself muttering against too much screentime, but it is so much more effective as library professionals to seize this situation and make it an opportunity to both inform younger users while staying relevant as a profession. Great post!

  4. Tiffany Song

    Hi Cristin,

    I really found the two conversations you had insightful. You can see the perspectives of both sides of the argument – traditional vs. non traditional. I remember hearing what my mom as well as the new teen services librarian at one of the libraries I worked at said: That it’s a struggle honestly to balance traditional images of the library vs. wanting to be progressive and implement new creative ideas because 1. It might not be approved by the patrons 2. It might not be approved by the staff/board and 3. There’s always that image that libraries are only about print materials – books.

    To be honest, when I was a child, that’s all I thought libraries were for and I can see why people think that but at the same time, that’s all the reason why libraries are doing so much to change that.

    Technology is becoming a huge part of people’s lives. More and more we find that people younger and younger are getting access to technology. It’s different for sure than what most people were used to. I remember a parent had bemoaned to me that her kids don’t want to go out and play anymore. As someone that grew up literally outrunning her parents and playing in the park and backyard.

    I can see the side of the anti-screen people indeed. But, now, I’m so used to technology despite me wanting to chuck it out the window due to frustration (i.e. my laptop). Regardless, I can see technology’s influence in people’s lives now. I find myself seeing both sides of the argument and I can understand why people feel the way they do about technology.

    I really loved that you mentioned how libraries can help the younger patrons make their own informed decisions about the media that they encounter and I think that will be an experience where libraries can really enrich the lives of others. As you said, screens have become this integral part of people’s lives. It is now more than ever that we take the stand to help patrons engage with information no matter the format they take.

  5. Christine Barone

    Hi Cristin, great post! I really resonated with this line: “Rather than parsing out the information, we will be helping them become better discriminators of information.” This stood out to me because a big part of information literacy is being able to evaluate information and its sources. In this digital age where information bombards us from all directions, it’s an important and valuable skill to possess. Glad you are ignoring the naysayers and forging ahead with your k-12 program.

  6. Esther

    Hi Cristin,
    Great post! You’re right, screens aren’t going away. There are pros and cons to it, but that is much like anything else. I think your approach to dealing with a screen-friendly world by seeing the need and addressing it is the best way to move forward with technology, the internet, and the ever changing world. I know that my local college library offers a workshop in critically evaluating information on the web, but I always thought that it should be offered much earlier on, and I’m delighted to know that you’re getting young minds a jump start on this much needed skill!

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