Tag Archives: digital skills

The 10-Minute Digital Librarian #10: Explore digital literacy resources

The previous posts in this sub-series of 10-Minute Digital Librarian posts have focused on the importance of protecting yourself, and your users, online.

However, when we only think about internet use in terms of protection against bad things happening, this risks creating a sense of fear or uncertainty.

This can put users off, holding them back from discovering new information and services, reducing the benefits that they can draw from the internet.

An alternative is to look at how to ensure that people feel empowered to use the internet effectively. How can they gain the confidence to go online and make full use of the opportunities they find there, without putting themselves at risk?

This, in broad terms, is how we define digital literacy. As set out in IFLA’s own statement on the subject, when someone is digitally literate, they ‘can use technology to its fullest effect – efficiently, effectively and ethically – to meet information needs in personal, civic and professional lives’.

Just as libraries have a role in supporting literacy in general, many have become key players in efforts to promote digital participation through providing connectivity and access to hardware. It is only one step further to start offering support in building skills (one that many have already taken).

So for our 10th 10-Minute Digital Librarian exercise, explore digital literacy resources.

In some cases, library associations themselves bring together materials or create their own, as is the case with the Public Library Association in the United States.

Elsewhere, organisations focused on supporting libraries have developed tools, such as the Digital Travellers project originally developed by Libraries Without Borders.

The Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington, developed materials to promote digital literacy specifically with mobile phones, and has already promoted these through libraries.

You can also of course look beyond the library field – there are many organisations working on digital inclusion and skills projects, although of course it is important to reflect on whether what is being offered will meet the needs of your community.

One useful approach is to try out available tools for self-assessment, for example the DQ test developed by the DQ Institute in Singapore, whose standard has been adopted by the IEEE.

There will be other tools you can find which can help you – and your community – assess what sort of support would be most useful.

Let us know which resources you have used which are most powerful in helping build digital literacy

Good luck!


If you are interested in issues around digital safety and privacy more broadly, you should take a look at the work of IFLA’s Libraries for Children and Young Adults Section, as well as our Advisory Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression.

Discover our series of 10-Minute Digital Librarian posts as it grows.

Essential yet unequal: lessons for libraries from the OECD Skills Outlook 2021

Providing meaningful access to information is not just about creating the physical possibility to get hold of information, but also about delivering the skills necessary to use it.

With growing recognition of the importance of competencies in order to allow people to make the most of an information-rich – or even information-saturated world – the role of libraries not just as a repository, but rather as a skills-provider at the heart of the education infrastructure has become clear.

It is not just libraires who recognise this – organisations in the lifelong-learning sector (here and here), as well as governments working to promote digital skills in general – have underlined the value of involving our institutions.

As such, it can be helpful to follow the wider policy discussion about lifelong-learning and skills, in order to be able to take available opportunities to place libraires at the heart of the development of strategies in the field.

A good starting point for this is the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Skills Outlook (including a free-to-read version), which appears once every two years. This highlights key themes that policy-makers will need to consider in taking decisions, drawing on internationally comparable data, as well as offering national profiles.

This blog highlights some of the central messages of this work that can be relevant for libraries in their planning and advocacy.


An essential response to a changing world, in the long- and short-term

A first key point made by the report is the importance of skills in general. Evolutions in the economy, often driven in turn by technological change, have meant not only that whole categories of job have emerged and declined, but that even to carry out a single job, the skills required change over time.

This need for regular retraining and lifelong-learning was already growing in the years before COVID, with existing skills become obsolescent quicker than ever.

However, the pandemic has only accelerated this trend, hitting some sectors hard while others have remained stable or even grown. Many people will find themselves needing to gain the skills needed to take on new jobs.

Alongside other ‘transversal skills’ (including things like communication, problem-solving and creativity), it seems clear that digital literacy skills will be crucial to this. As the report points out, the ability to use digital tools to work remotely has been essential for work to continue in many sectors, as well of course as to communicate with others and access information.

Digital literacy has, also, been key for access to skills. There are many learning opportunities online, but as the report notes, to benefit from these a potential learner needs already to feel confident.


Skills – and possibilities to gain skills – are unequally distributed

Worryingly, despite the importance of skills in allowing people to respond to change, some are less active in developing them than others.

A key factor behind this, as highlighted by the report, is level of initial education. Those who have been able to pursue formal education for longer are also then more likely to carry on taking opportunities to learn throughout life. Yet also, investment in early-years skills, such as literacy, also make a big difference.

Job types also matter – people in skilled work are more likely to receive support from employers to develop further skills, as well as being able to learn from colleagues. Meanwhile, people who are out of work, or in short-term or less skilled work have a higher chance of not benefitting from training.

This gap all too often turns into a gap in attitudes, with some far more positive about learning than others, and to readier to look for and take up opportunities.

On a personal level, this risks seeing people less able to respond to change, and so condemned to low-paid work or unemployment. On the level of societies and economies, it risks creating divides, as well as wasting potential.


Designing a response, with libraries

The OECD draws on the experience of those countries which are doing better in trying to close this divide in order to offer lessons for others, while acknowledging that no-one has yet found the perfect solution.

One key focus, it suggests, is to work on developing the core skills necessary for people to take advantage of wider learning opportunities.

A major component of this is of course reading. The report underlines correlation between levels of literacy and levels of uptake of training in general. In turn, enjoyment of reading correlates strongly with literacy.

This is, of course, an area of key library strength. Use of libraries and enjoyment of reading tends to correlate, as do numbers of school libraires and enjoyment of reading. Librarians have a strong background in building a love of books by exposing young people to a wide variety of materials than can grab their attention and help them to become independent, confident readers.

A second component is around developing digital literacy. As highlighted above, digital skills are not only important for taking on many jobs today, but they can also make the difference between accessing and not accessing learning opportunities.

Again, this is a library area of strength, with many public and other libraires providing the equipment, skills and setting needed for everyone to get the best out of the internet. Many governments already recognise this role of libraries in digital skills strategies.

A third is about ensuring that people find out about the possibilities open to them. Individuals are too often not aware of the opportunities that exist, or confused by the choice. While effective career counselling can be vital within schools, adults too can benefit from help and guidance in choosing courses to follow.

A final one is to provide a wide range of types of learning, in different formats, which can suit the needs and situation of different learners – ‘life-wide learning’ (as opposed to ‘lifelong learning’). Longer, more formal courses may not work for everyone.

To deliver on this, a variety of settings and types of programming can help ensure that everyone finds something that works for them, in particular outside of the workplace.

As a result, based on the report, we can define the following advocacy points for libraries, based on the points made in the OECD’s Skills Outlook:

  • Governments must not neglect basic literacy. In particular, they can gain from supporting interventions that build enjoyment of reading – something that represents a traditional strength of libraries, and should be integrated into policies in the field.
  • Governments need to invest in digital literacy and inclusion, as a precondition for developing the skills, and taking on the jobs, of the future. Libraries have a recognised role in digital skills provision and should be at the heart of strategies on the subject.
  • Governments should ensure easy access to information about learning opportunities for all members of the community, regardless of age or work status. Libraries represent an ideal placer to do this, as well as a portal towards specialised skills providers.
  • Governments need to acknowledge the role of a variety of institutions in delivering skills. In addition to formal education institutions, libraries also offer important complementary provision (not just literacy and digital skills, but also a variety of programmes targeted at different competences and groups, in an environment that often puts learners at ease.

Introducing: the 10-Minute Digital Librarian

Following on from previous IFLA series – the 10-Minute Library Advocate, and the ongoing 10-Minute International Librarian – we are happy today to launch a new one – the 10-Minute Digital Librarian.

Just like the other series, this will focus on actions you can take which do not necessarily require much time or effort, but can help you learn and discover new tools and ways of doing things.

Every two weeks, a new post will appear, with the ideas presented coming together to form mini-series of activities around different aspects of digital in libraries. It will be inspired, to a large extent, by the 23 Things series that has already proved popular in the library field.

Of course, at the moment, so much of the work of libraries, where it has been able to continue, is taking place digitally.

As individuals, as a wider sector, we have seen rapid take-up of digital tools, and learning about how to use them, around the world, across the full range of library types.

This work has helped both to provide pre-existing services in new ways, and to deliver a new offer to library users. Through this, libraries have arguably expanded further the ways in which they can fulfil their wider missions.

We hope, through this series, to share some of the lessons of this shift, and help more members of the field make best use of what technology offers.

See you for our first exercise in a couple of weeks!


Follow our series in future using the #10MinuteDigitalLibrarian tag.

Not a Gift, Not a Privilege, but a Right: Access to Information

The COVID-19 Pandemic has both underlined the importance of access to information, and how far we are from achieving this for all.

From the need for rapid access to research to inform policy making, to the development of media and information literacy skills amongst individuals in the face of misinformation, the need for comprehensive policies on information is clear.

Yet at the same time, with so many parts of our societies and economies moving online, the costs of being unable to access and use information easily have been made clear.

This comes as much through the months of schooling lost for those unable to take part in distance learning or work and do business online, as through the and isolation stress felt by those unable to communicate with their friends and families, or access culture online.

These are of course key issues for libraries too, as key pillars of the infrastructure for access to information in any country, and so for the delivery of this right.

While of course the spread of internet has created exciting possibilities to access information directly, libraries contribute in three essential ways: helping to ensure that those without an internet connection can get online, helping to ensure that works which are otherwise protected or restricted (for example by copyright) are still accessible, and helping to ensure that users have the skills and confidence to be successful information users.

The Pandemic has disrupted all of these, and with it the right of access to information. If we are to be better prepared in the future to ensure the continued enjoyment of this right, there are a number of steps we can take.

All represent good risk-management practice, by removing unnecessary uncertainties in the ability of libraries to respond. All work to ensure that access to information should be protected, and enacted, as a right, rather than seen as a gift or a privilege.


Towards Universal Connectivity: the goal of ensuring universal internet access is not a new one, with public access in libraries cited already in the WSIS Agenda of 2003 as a means of doing this. Technologies such as WiFi and models such as community networks offer promising means of bringing library connectivity out to communities – an essential step if libraries are forced to suspend in-person services again.

Achieving this will certainly require investment, and in many cases regulatory change, but would certainly bring returns in terms of higher uptake of services (such as education, eHealth and similar), create new business opportunities, and fulfil what is increasingly being seen as a moral obligation on governments to treat internet access as a basic utility like water or electricity.


Copyright Fit for the Digital Age: the failure of copyright laws to adapt to the digital age in many countries has meant that libraries have been unable to carry out online many of the services they would have offered in person. Physical collections were stuck behind library doors, with little possibility to provide digital access, for example through sharing scanned copies. Storytimes that previously took place in the library could not, in many cases, be done online.

Fortunately, this was not the case everywhere. In many cases, there have been welcome moves by publishers, distributors and others to allow for access – many are detailed on the page hosting the ICOLC Statement on the Global COVID-19 Pandemic and its Impact on Library Services and Resources. Others – including agreements between publishers and library associations to allow for storytimes – are noted on IFLA’s COVID-19 and Libraries page.

However, it is arguable that where libraries have already been given the possibility to offer a service to users in person – through an exception or limitation to copyright – they should be able to count on being able to do the same online, in as similar a way as possible. In other words, having already paid for a work, the possibility to allow users to access it digitally should not be a gift depending on the goodwill of the rightholder, but rather a legal certainty.

This can be guaranteed through using secure networks, and tools to prevent simultaneous uses. Achieving this will require copyright laws to be updated, notably to make it clear that digital uses are permitted, and to ensure that they cannot be taken away by contract terms, as is currently typically the case. Further help would come from deeper understanding of the pricing and availability of electronic resources for libraries.


A Digitally Enabled Population: finally, with it clear that skills and confidence play a major role in whether people make use of the possibilities that exist to access information, there is a need to have a greater focus on promoting digital and information skills, at all ages.

Clearly with the Pandemic, the potential for libraries to offer in-person support has been limited. Yet libraries have sought to be in touch with users by phone and other means, and provide guidance and support, as well as developing tailored tutorials to help people develop digital skills. In the longer term, what seems necessary is a more comprehensive approach to developing digital skills in the population, with libraries as key delivery partners within this, as some are already doing.

While many elements of this may require in-person support – and so will need to wait for the Pandemic to have receded – others can already be scaled-up in order to do the best possible in the months and years to come.


With the recognition of the International Day for the Universal Access to Information by the UN General Assembly as a full UN-level observance, there is a new opportunity to raise awareness of the steps needed to make this right a reality for all, whatever the circumstances.

Meaningful plans to ensure internet connections, digital access to library collections, and the skills needed to make the most of both, can all help ensure that when the next crisis hits – and even before – access to information is a right, rather than just a privilege or a gift.

At the Heart of the Response: Health Librarians Support Better Decision-Making around COVID-19

For library and information workers around the world, the main challenge faced is how to continue providing usual services in extraordinary times. In order to minimise disruption to education, research and access to culture, great efforts are being made to address legal, financial, technical and practical challenges.

Yet for some in the library field, these extraordinary times have also brought extraordinary demands and pressures. Health librarians – working in hospitals, research centres and governments – are having to deliver more than ever, even as they face the same restrictions and rules as everyone else.

With today – 7 April – being World Health Day, it is therefore a good opportunity to look at and celebrate their work.


Supporting the Decisions that Matter

It was the coming into force of the Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) on this day in 1948 that provides the justification for 7 April being World Health Day.

The WHO itself has a strong focus on the importance of information in effective health policies, as well as a very active library which not only acts as a hub for knowledge, but also for its dissemination and application through partnerships and networks globally. This work has been essential as eyes turn to the WHO’s own website, and the advice given there, all based on scientific literature gathered by the team there.

Elsewhere, librarians at the National Library of Medicine in the United States – in particular through the PubMed Central platform, have been supporting vital access to evidence for decision-makers. They have also worked closely with publishers in order to make articles and collections open that would otherwise have been paywalled.

Crucially, they have also worked to underline that collections need to be available in machine-readable format through the COVID-19 Open Research Database. This is essential if researchers are to be able to carry out text and data mining in order to identify potential treatments or cures.

Furthermore, the Library has also acknowledged the importance of discoverability, highlighting tools available for identifying relevant sources on its website.

Clearly, a key contribution to the discovery and application of information comes from it being presented in ways that work for those who need to use it. Here too, health librarians are playing a key role.

From daily briefings to both government and medical decision-makers to more in-depth reviews of the literature on emerging issues, librarians are helping to inform choices made. For example, Public Health England’s Knowledge and Library Services team is producing regular reviews of emerging evidence, while the Irish National Health Library and Knowledge Service is sharing rapid evidence reviews, and the Health Libraries Group of the Australian Library and Information Association has compiled live responses to key literature searches. In Iran, librarians are also supporting efforts to make sense of the existing literature around coronaviruses.


An Informed Public

One of the key lessons already from the response to the COVID-19 Pandemic has been the importance of the actions of individuals. With health systems struggling with the rapid spread of the virus, it has been clear that people need to change their habits and behaviours, distancing themselves from others.

Public health ministries and agencies – again with the help of librarians – have been working hard to produce clear and meaningful information for the public, explaining the situation and the responses needed. This has, for example, been helpful for the library field in understanding the risk of contagion via surfaces such as books or computer mice.

There is also a role – not just for health librarians, but for the library field as a whole – in promoting wider health literacy. When people can understand the global situation, and how and why they should act themselves, the job of those in charge of ending the pandemic is clearly easier.

Of course – just as in the case of decision-makers – the spread of this information and these skills depends often on how well adapted they are to the target audience. Simply placing things on a website may not be enough, especially for users who may have limited digital skills or even no access to a computer.

This is of course another area where libraries have a unique role to play as community organisations. It is also the subject of a webinar organised by IFLA’s Evidence for Global and Disaster Health Special Interest Group and Health and Bioscience Libraries Section, due to take place on 23 April. This will look at the lessons that can be learnt from past practice, and what more libraries can do to make sure that all members of society have the information they need to cope in these difficult times.

Join us, find out more, and share your ideas on 23 April!

Library Stat of the Week #7: High rates of library connectivity in Kenya, Thailand and Mongolia offer potential for digital skills programming

In our 6th Library Stat of the Week, we looked at the share of public libraries which offer internet access in countries for which data is available.

As underlined, being able to provide this access is an increasingly important way for libraries to achieve their mission to give access to information.

The possibility to give access also means that libraries can host digital skills training, from the most basic abilities to more advanced capabilities. Such training can be particularly important in countries where people are less used to the internet, and so have not had the possibility to develop digital literacy.

Many funders are keen to support such initiatives. But how to identify where it could be easiest to do so?

One way is to look at data about the share of public libraries which offer internet access compared to the share of adults with their own internet access. Where there are higher levels of library connectivity (share of public libraries offering internet access), but lower levels of general connectivity (share of the adult population online), potential funders of digital skills programmes may have a particular interest in working with libraries.

We can identify these countries by crossing data from the IFLA Library Map of the World with that from the International Telecommunications Union:

Graph comparing shares of libraries offering internet access with shares of the population online

In this graph, each dot is a country for which data is available. Every country over the diagonal line has a higher rate of library connectivity than of general connectivity.


This gap is particularly high in Kenya, Mongolia, Saint Lucia, Thailand, Croatia, Kenya and South Africa, suggesting that they may be particularly interesting places to invest in digital skills programmes in libraries.

Clearly, as ever, the data is incomplete – figures for public library connectivity are only available for 30 countries, and there is the possibility of under-reporting. Nonetheless, this underlines the possibility to apply Library Map of the World data to support this sort of decision-making.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.

Information for Youth: Celebrating World Youth Skills Day 2019

It is a cliché to say that children are the future. However, what is certain is that the experiences of young people today will stay with them for years.

The skills they learn, and how they apply them, have the potential to shape the rest of their careers and personal lives, and the societies they live in.

This is why the United Nations has chosen to dedicate an international day to youth skills – World Youth Skills Day.

This blog explores the reasons behind this, and makes the case for focusing, in particular, on information skills. This, it concludes, is an area where libraries can make a crucial difference.


Why youth, why skills?

As the United Nations’ own website sets out, youth represent a major part of the world population. One in every six people on the planet is aged between 15 and 24 – that’s 1.2 billion people in total.

Such a huge population implies both major opportunities and major challenges.

Get things right, and there is a huge generation of people who are capable, confidence, and ready to tackle global challenges.

Get things wrong, and there will be a wave of young people who are disaffected, disconnected, and frustrated.

Currently, the risk of a negative scenario is high. Young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, and face poorer quality jobs, greater inequalities and more insecurity.

As set out in the introduction, negative experiences in these formative years can have ‘scarring’ effects, leaving many young people permanently disadvantaged and disconnected, socially, economically and democratically.

The goal, then, of World Youth Skills Day is to underline the need to invest in helping youth make the transition from school into the labour market, from childhood to adulthood, and to become active and engaged citizens.


The growing need for information skills

It is perhaps another cliché to talk about the growing importance of the internet and information. Yet this is also a truth, not only when it comes to jobs, but also to broader social, cultural and civic life.

As highlighted in a previous blog, there is a risk of information poverty becoming a factor that reinforces income poverty.

Those who don’t have access to information, and the skills and confidence to use it, are more likely to struggle to find work or benefit from government schemes. They are less likely to be able to take the right decisions, or call for better conditions or laws.

They are also at greater risk of falling victim to some of the negative aspects of online life, such as a loss of privacy, cyber-crime, or the sharing of deliberate misinformation.

In short, if we are thinking about the skills that young people need in order to stay safe and succeed in future, information and digital skill are certainly an important part of the picture.


The contribution of libraries

This is where libraries come in, bringing two key advantages.

First of all, they can offer a valuable complement to the work of schools. In many situations, the education system has not kept up with the digital world. Young people may develop valuable knowledge of academic subjects, but nothing that can be easily operationalised.

In Kenya, for example, the library in Kibera complemented the work of skills by giving young people access to technology and skills training. This paid off in terms of better exam result, and the first ever admissions to prestigious national schools from the town.

For young people who have finished formal schooling, the library can be the only gateway to skills development.

Secondly, libraries have a particular expertise in the way that information is managed, shared and used.

While this has, in the past, primarily been applied to helping researchers choose between resources to use, there is a growing awareness that the ability to find, understand, evaluate and use information – information literacy – can be applied in all areas of life.

While this role is still developing, it is clear, in the US for example, that young people already see libraries as a place to come in order to make better use of information.


The success or not of efforts to support young people to make a successful transition to adulthood will have a major impact on our future economies, societies and democracies.

With an ever-greater role for information in all parts of our lives, the capability and attitudes to make best use of this must play a part in any comprehensive youth skills strategy.

Libraries are already working to make this a reality.

Happy World Youth Skills Day!