Technological Literacy v Digital Literacy v Information Literacy.

Today I was reading a blog post called "Visitors and Residents: Useful Social Media in Libraries" by Ned Potter. While much of it was on social media this section particular section stood out to me as being relevant to all librarians:

Screw Digital Natives

Inspired by Donna I've become quite militant about the whole digital natives thing.

It can't be left unchallenged - when people use it uncritically we have to pull them up on it! It's dangerously reductive. There's two major problems with it: firstly anyone who's thought about it for more than a second would agree that age doesn't actually determine technological know-how. How exposed we are to modern tools and computers depends on place of birth, environment growing up, privilege, and other socio-economic factors - we know that. So to assume that students entering University now have a set of skills that they just have (how do you Snapchat? You just Snapchat. Hello to Jason) is to ignore the messier reality in front of you in favour of a very simplistic alternative - an imagined present, as Donna eloquently puts it. So we don't assess the students in front of our very eyes on what they can and can't do, we just plough on and risk a dereliction of our educational duty. And secondly, even those that ARE excellent with the tools don't necessarily know how to use them in the academic environment (or indeed for life-skills type purposes). Technological literacy does not imply digital literacy! Being deft with a touch-screen and quick to find information is a great first step, but then comes all the (again, messy) business of critically evaluating that information, and potentially re-purposing it.

My 1 year old can - genuinely - do things with our iPad which we can't recreate, to do with swiping in a certain way. She's born into the technology. She's what the people who talk about Digital Natives are imagining ALL children are like. But that doesn't mean she can use the tech to achieve goals and complete tasks and understand how information works. Of course it doesn't.

While I don't know who Donna and Jason are, I do believe Ned has a point. 

Working in a university I see students from all different backgrounds who need different levels of technological help. Some need help connecting to the wifi or using the library web page. For students who are more technologically literate, they are often start off the worst at digital literacy. 

These students who 'know how to Google' have the belief that knowing how to Google equals proper research. Their key problem of relying on Google to solve all their queries lies in understanding how to evaluate what Google gives them back. It's a common problem and I generally put it down to people not knowing what they don't know. As a librarian, it is my job to teach them this important step - to show them what they don't know - and to point out the risks of trusting Google. This moves to a whole other level of (what some of my students call) pedantry when it comes to legal resources. Reported or unreported. Authorised or authoritative. Primary or secondary.

I don't believe age is the determining factor of technological or digital literacy. I'm not actually a 'digital native', but I do ok. In some circles I'm quite technologically skilled, while at home with siblings both in some form of IT I'm practically illiterate. Don't worry though, I have far more Google Ninja skills than they do. 

The technological and digital literacy skills of us all vary, just like our other skills sets. That's why law librarians are so important. Lawyers may have legal literacy, but we have the legal information literacy. 

As I like to say before I stand up in front of 180 or so students... I know more than they do. 

On this topic at least.

ALLA(WA) Committee Member - Alice Hewitt. 
Librarian, Reference and Information Services, Murdoch University.


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