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Developing librarian resources to enhance patrons’ digital literacy

Guest post by Jessica Vitak

Applying for jobs, social services, or food stamps. Obtaining health care. Filing taxes. Each of these tasks requires digital skills to transmit sensitive and private information about one’s finances, health, and location in a safe and secure manner through the Web. However, many low-SES individuals face compounding problems: they must use the Web or other communication technologies to get access to important resources but they often lack both direct access to the technologies and the requisite knowledge and skills to successfully navigate them.

Digital literacy is an increasingly critical skill in modern society to ensure that sensitive personal information submitted through online channels is not compromised. That said, many Americans—and especially those in economically disadvantaged groups—lack the proper knowledge or training to safely and securely navigate the Internet.IMLS logo

This is where librarians enter. Public librarians serve a critical role in local communities. When it comes to engaging with technology, they act as information intermediaries, assisting patrons in exchanging and disseminating personal information, translating technical information, and making information easier to use. Librarians wear many hats in their jobs; they must manage a wide range of information sources and develop a wide range of privacy and security skills to most effectively serve patrons. This makes it essential to identify the most important challenges they face when providing services to their communities and to develop resources that counter those challenges.

Drs. Jessica Vitak and Mega Subramaniam, faculty in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, recently received an IMLS National Leadership Grant to address this research problem. During the next three years, they will be working with key stakeholders, including public librarians and economically disadvantaged and immigrant families—as well as their children—to identify the areas of greatest need around digital literacy and privacy/security, to develop sustainable resources for each group, and to implement these resources in library settings. The project strives to build skills and abilities in the library workforce and provide ongoing and evolving resources that adapt to stakeholders’ needs over time.

Interested in contributing to this project?
During the ALA Midwinter Conference in Atlanta, Drs. Vitak and Subramaniam are conducting focus groups with public librarians to discuss the most salient challenges they face around digital literacy when serving their constituents. If you’ll be at the conference, they would love to speak with you about their experiences. They have two times available on Sunday, January 22: 8:30-10:00am and 1:00-2:30pm, both at the Georgia World Convention Center. Snacks will be provided.

To participate, sign-up is required. If you are interested, please submit your information via this Google Form.

More information can be found on the project’s website, Safe Data | Safe Families. Questions can be directed to Dr. Vitak at

Jessica Vitak (@jvitak) is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies, studying different populations’ knowledge of, attitudes toward, and enactment of privacy strategies in online spaces. She is the Director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Communities and Information (CASCI).

Mega Subramaniam (@mmsubram) is an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies, studying young adults’ use of libraries for their development of digital literacies and information practices. 

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Marijke Visser

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