On Thursday, May 11th, the annual Digital Literacy Forum took place at Monroe Township Library. Organized by NJSL Library Development Bureau staff members, this year’s event theme was “Literacy Before Digital Literacy.” New Jersey library staff who were interested in learning more about assisting their patrons with varying literacy levels attended to hear from a panel of experts and participate in a keynote workshop.
Although it was established early on by NJSL Director of Literacy and Learning, Mimi Lee, that defining digital literacy is still a work in progress as every library defines it differently; she emphasized the importance of collaboration in digital literacy, which was certainly exhibited throughout the event. During the panelist presentations, attendees were able to hear about all of the different definitions of literacy from professionals who work closely with bridging the literacy gap in both adults and children. Scott Kuchinsky, Director of Literacy Services at the Plainfield Public Library stressed the importance of focusing on literacy first. He advised that libraries continue to provide services like labor & literacy labs, while also looking at the things that can be done to increase engagement with sustained reading.
Gabrielle Casieri, School Library Media Specialist at Lawrence Intermediate School shared the important work that school librarians are doing and how schools are missing key digital literacy resources when they don’t have a librarian on staff. Even though New Jersey is the first state to require “Information Literacy” as a class in school, librarians have been teaching this information to students already.
Education Librarian at The College of New Jersey, Ewa Dziedzic-Elliott shared some of the research findings she has gathered on student confidence levels in conducting research. Students who were in an environment with staff librarians could name a number of research databases and were confident in doing research, while students without library training couldn’t name one database and therefore were not confident in doing research.
Kyle Downey, the College of Nursing & School of Health and Medical Sciences Librarian at Seton Hall University, spoke about digital health literacy. He pointed out that most people Google their health symptoms either before contacting a doctor or after, noting how important it is for people to have access to the appropriate digital health literacy resources and also know how to best utilize them.
Keynote speaker Theresa Sladek, Strategic Partnerships and Northstar Business Development Manager for Literacy Minnesota, facilitated the panelist conversation, posing questions to further the discussion and moderating audience questions as well. One topic that was covered in conversation was how the pandemic shined a light on the discrepancy between handing out electronic devices to children or adults, and actually training those individuals on how to use these devices. Digital literacy goes beyond just handing over devices, and time must be spent teaching skills to not only the children who need it, but their parents or adults as well.
Later in the day, Theresa presented her keynote workshop, “Digital Skills for Lower Literacy Level Learners: Challenges, Best Practices, and the Joy of Success.” Attendees broke out into small groups with discussion questions to get the conversation started around the things that we can’t do if we don’t know how to use a computer or search the internet, how we might recognize that someone has low digital literacy, and what are the best practices for approaching that individual and helping them learn and address those challenges. Attendees learned to meet people where they are. They might not understand that they’re looking to become proficient in digital literacy, they just want to be able to fill out a job application or schedule a doctor’s appointment. Through this collaborative workshop, it became clear that providing an encouraging environment where small wins are celebrated will go a long way with patrons on their literacy journey. Plus, having New Jersey librarians dedicated to this work allows them to have a seat at the table with digital literacy experts in the long run to make positive changes.
Presentation slides are available here: https://www.njstatelib.org/services_for_libraries/lifelong-learning/njsl-digital-literacy-forum/