Infinite Learning: Life Literacies

Park (2016) points out that the digital world changes quickly, and that this can make it difficult to protect children from the risks of being online. The gap between the way adults and children use technology can result in even more difficulty (Park, 2016). Park (2016) recommends that we ensure children learn the “social, emotional and cognitive abilities that enable individuals to face the challenges and adapt to the demands of digital life” (para. 6). I would add that these abilities  need to be learned by adults as well. Some adults may have trouble advising children on how to navigate being online not just because children use technology differently, but because the adult lacks digital skills themselves. Others may have no interest in advising children at all, but still need to learn digital literacies in order to live and work in the modern world. Stephens (2016) points out that digital literacies are so necessary for facing the challenges of everyday life that they might as well be called life literacies (p. 120). 

Park’s discussion of “digital intelligence” (2016) applies to information professionals as well. It is part of the library’s responsibility to teach life literacies to the community (Stephens, 2016, p. 119), and the life literacies that are necessary are always changing. If libraries do not have a culture of learning (Stephens, 2016, p.141) their staff will have trouble developing and keeping the skills they need to serve the public. Stephens (2017) recommends not just learning these hard skills, but soft skills such as empathy, as well as adopting the mind-set of a continuous learner. 

The Chicago Public Library not only recognized the importance of teaching adults digital skills (also known as life literacies), but they did everything right with their approach to teaching them (Digital Promise, 2016). They started by surveying patrons to identify what their community needed, decided on an approach that combined access to technology with human support, trained members of the community to be mentors, partnered with Digital Learn to create a digital literacy product that met the needs of their community, and partnered with community organizations to develop even more programs (Digital Promise, 2016).

Harold Washington Library, Chicago, Illinois (9181548762).jpg
Lund, K. (2013, June 27). Harold Washington Library, Chicago, Illinois. CC BY-SA 2.0

Programs like these demonstrate how the learning of the staff and the learning of the community are inseparable. There really is learning everywhere: the staff learns for the benefit of the community, the staff learns from the community, the community learns from the staff, the library facilitates community members learning from each other, and then organizations from outside the library are involved, and the learning spreads.


Digital Promise. (2016). Chicago Public Library: The library as a gateway to 21st century skills.

Lund, K. (2013, June 27). Harold Washington Library, Chicago, Illinois [Jpg].,Chicago,_Illinois(9181548762).jpg

Park, Y. (2016). 8 digital skills we must teach our children.

Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. Chicago: ALA Editions

Stephens, M. (2017). Formula for success. Library Journal.

3 thoughts on “Infinite Learning: Life Literacies

  1. Park’s article was a good resource in this module, and there was another digital literacy one that I really thought would be useful. Unfortunately, it didn’t fit in with what I was writing about. There’s just so much! So, I’m glad I came across your thoughts about it. I have found it difficult teaching tech programs in a public library setting. If you teach an Excel class, for example, you might get adult who already know how to manipulate the cells for the most part, but don’t know how to use formulas. While still other adults are struggling using the mouse. It’s tricky! Maybe this is where early “intervention” comes in by providing digital literacy in partnership with elementary and high schools.

    • Hey, @jenellheimbach. I’ve never taught a tech program, but I can imagine that it would be difficult. I take knowing how to use a mouse for granted. Ideally, people who don’t have basic computer skills wouldn’t take an Excel class, but you can’t blame them for wanting to jump in. We live in a strange time. There are still people around who lived most of their lives without computers or the internet. It’s hard to imagine a new technology coming along that is as disruptive as the internet, but how knows? I agree that digital literacy partnerships can be a form of “early intervention” (nice way to put it). Tech skills are such a necessary part of life now, it doesn’t make sense for it not to be included in our education system.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *