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Upping people’s digital IQ

OITP's Larra Clark participates in roundtable, "What's Your Digital IQ?"
OITP’s Larra Clark participates in roundtable discussion, “What’s Your Digital IQ?”

It was my pleasure last week to join the Council of Better Business Bureaus (BBB), Nielsen and the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) in a roundtable discussion on the importance of digital empowerment. “What’s Your Digital IQ?” was opened by Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and former Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill talking about the importance of the $1 trillion digital economy and the need for tools to help people be smart online and protect themselves against hackers and scam.

Brill referenced recent analysis from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) citing that a lack of trust in Internet privacy and security may deter online activities. Forty-five percent of online households reported that privacy and security concerns stopped them from conducting financial transactions, buying goods or services, posting on social networks or expressing opinions on controversial or political issues via the Internet. (This last finding reminded me of past research by the Pew Research Center on Social Media and the Spiral of Silence.)

“Consumers need help,” Brill said. “Digital literacy and consumer education are necessary” to address privacy concerns and keep online economic activities humming.

The BBB has begun to take up this charge with its Digital IQ initiative, and Genie Barton, vice president and director of the BBB’s Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program and Mobile Marketing Initiatives, discussed its commitment to building a trusted marketplace. Nicol Turner-Lee, vice president and chief research & policy officer for MMTC, affirmed the need for increasing people’s digital savvy—particularly among communities of color.

Interestingly, when I took the Digital IQ “challenge,” it reminded me a lot of the digital and information literacy that happens in libraries. One question asked if all the useful results of a web search are found on the first two pages. Others asked about http vs. https, giving personal information for loyalty programs, and offered food for thought regarding online advertising.

Libraries have long been champions of the right to privacy and teachers/guides for improving the digital skills of our community members. Librarians in all types of libraries help youth and new Internet users better understand and protect their digital “footprint” and be smarter online. According to the Digital Inclusion Survey, 57 percent of public libraries report they offer training on safe online practices. And PLA’s online hub for digital literacy support and training provides modules on Internet privacy and online scams. (Thanks also to librarians who emailed me before the panel to share some of your new or favorite resources, like the San Jose Public Library Virtual Privacy Lab and 10 Tips for Protecting Your Digital Privacy.)

Pew researcher John Horrigan specifically calls out libraries as part of the solution for increasing digital readiness. “Libraries, who are already the primary curator on programs to encourage digital readiness in many communities, should embrace and expand that role.”

I think the BBB and libraries could do great things together in this space. Are any of you out there already working with your local BBB? Let me know at

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Larra Clark

Larra Clark is the deputy director of both the Public Library Association and Washington Office’s public policy team. Larra received her bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Arizona and has a M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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