Media and Information Literacy for All: Libraries and the 2019 Global MIL Week

Changing digital media environments, the growing abundance of information available online, rapid technological developments – the information ecosystems of today are increasingly complex. From verifying a piece of information you come across to safe and ethical behavior online, people need a particular set of skills and competencies to succeed in an increasingly information-rich world. This includes the ability to effectively search for, evaluate, meaningfully use and create information.

These competencies fall under the broad umbrella of Media and Information literacy (MIL), and October 24th marks the beginning of the annual Global Media and Information Literacy week. Led by UNESCO and GAPMIL, it brings together actors which help people develop these competencies.

Libraries have a long history of promoting information literacy. In part, it has to do with some of the key tasks of librarianship: libraries offer access to information and help users make the most of it – from helping them understand what information they need, to finding the most relevant sources, checking and evaluating them.

Particularly important is a library’s ability to reach vulnerable populations. Open to everyone, they can offer MIL learning opportunities for groups at risk of exclusion – for example, those that do not have access to formal educational programmes, or internet and computer access at home.

This year’s theme is “Media and Information Literate Citizens: Informed, Engaged, Empowered”. Empowering citizens requires particular efforts to include more vulnerable groups – both youth and older people, women, cultural or linguistic minorities, and many others.

To mark this year’s MIL week, we would like to highlight the work that different libraries around the world do to help the more vulnerable groups strengthen and develop their MIL competencies.

For rural communities:
The “In4skill Program” is an information literacy training module developed by the National Library of Malaysia. The module is designed to address key information search and usage skills – from teaching Malaysians to identify their information needs, to finding, evaluating and organizing information, to its ethical use and dissemination.

Recognising the particular informational needs of rural communities and a knowledge gap between urban and rural dwellers, the National Library made a concerted effort to reach rural communities with its information literacy initiative.

It upscaled the program and collaborated with community and non-governmental agencies in rural areas, as well as schools and state or village libraries. The result was a series of informational literacy programs implemented in different rural communities, as well as “training for trainers” workshops to help rural librarians, teachers or educators organise their own information literacy initiatives.

For older learners:
Libraries in Lithuania actively work to help their communities develop their media and information literacy skills – through many different initiatives, projects and partnerships. Several projects have focused on helping older learners develop their MIL competencies – such as Kaunas County Public Library’s “Changing Media World: Developing a Responsible User”, Kudirka Public Library’s “Academy of Media and Information Literacy”, or Pasvalys M. Katiliškis Public Library’s “Information in the World: Understand, Evaluate, Use”.

These three projects introduced a wide variety of lectures, workshops and training sessions, covering many crucial information and media literacy competencies – from critical engagement with information on both digital and traditional media, to personal data protection, to social media use and creation of their own media content, in a safe and ethical manner.

These projects, recognising the information needs of older residents, aimed to improve their quality of life and encourage their active (and informed!) participation in the digital society.

For people with disabilities:
Other initiatives introduced by Lithuanian libraries have focused on the MIL competencies of persons with disabilities. For example, the Kaunas County Public Library have recorded and made available educational videos about media literacy in sign language, as well as organising and live-streaming lectures for persons with disabilities on such topics as hate speech, online content creation, fake news and augmented reality.

For lower-income families:
In the US, the Wash and Learn initiative launched by Libraries without Borders brings digital and physical library assets and information services to laundromats, which they identified as a spaces particularly well-suited to engage with lower-income families and underserved communities.

Through this program, visitors get access to curated collection of information sources (selected daily), tailored to the local community’s needs – e.g. on relevant health, educational or legal matters. Librarians or para-librarians are there to help visitors navigate available information, refine their search questions and identify their information needs – and, importantly, reinforce and develop their own information literacy skills.

As such, they can offer guidance in finding and assessing, for example, basic health or legal information, and helping visitors find answers to their own questions.

For children and youth:
One of the areas the School Libraries Network Programme in Portugal works on is developing literacy skills and capacities of school children, subdivided into three categories: reading, information, and media. Noting that there had been comparatively less activities focusing on media literacy, the Network organised an intervention with the aim to raise awareness and encourage teacher librarians to help develop their student’s media literacy.

This prompted the creation of teaching resources and activities for both librarians and students. For example, the MILD Manual de Instruções de Literacia Digital website was created as a resource for media literacy teaching materials and activities for students between ages of 14 and 18. It offers materials for both formal and informal learning, in different settings, on topics ranging from media news and content to social networks to digital citizenship.

Another example is the annual Media@ção contest, where primary and secondary school students are invited to explore different issues and themes surrounding internet and digital media in their entry submissions – e.g. a video or a podcast. Examples of such themes include “media, democracy and tolerance”, or dealing with fake news.

How does your library celebrate the Media and Information Literacy week, and help people become informed and active digital citizens? Share your inspiring examples on social media using the hashtag #GlobalMILWeek, or send us an email to let us know what you are doing!

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