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Librarians Lets Be Digitally Awesome

If you go to the UK Joint Information Systems Committee definition for digital literacy it defines it as ‘Those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. And libraries are at the forefront of enabling access to digital skills and digital tools to ensure that those capabilities are available for all. But are we keeping up?

Digital technologies are changing every day and with the changing technologies changing behavior follows. And this is where Libraries definitely need to be checking in on our own unwritten and written rules, our own behaviors and looking at how we engage with our community and how we encourage our community to engage with the library. Opportunities are passing us by as the technology advances and we do not change the behavior of library staff and library culture to take advantage of these advances. Here is an example of new technology and the possibilities for the library.

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Apple Air Pods

Air Pods — AirPods seem to be the same as today’s headphones, except with the wires gone. Sure, we’ll use them just like the old ones, to make phone calls and listen to music. But what is really interesting is what we are doing when we’re not using them. Without the wire getting caught on clothes, doorknobs, and backpacks there is no longer a reason to take them out when not using them. So we won’t. And then it gets interesting because voice first becomes viable and Siri takes precedence. And will that mean that we will connect to more audio content, podcasts, radio, audio books as well as music as we push the boundaries for multi tasking to the limit? The change in behavior opens up more opportunities for the library to curate content to connect to our members.

Dear Reader is a Library Podcast created by two chatty librarians from the City of Melbourne Library Service. It is great to see public library reader’s advisory services branching out into audio and that library staff are willing to try a new way of doing their core business — connecting community to stories and content. And that library staff and librarians in particular are creating content of their own. Changing their behavior!

Increased digital audio content for loan is also a must with ease of use and convenience at the forefront of the demand. The young millennials that I speak to and ask what they are reading or listening to all love audio books and audio content other than music. Their main complaint to me about why they do not use their public library audio content are:

  1. They cannot find it on the website — it is too hard is the main complaint from very digitally savvy, often male, millennials who tell me they listen to an audio book a week.
  2. New titles are not digital: The new books are still being bought on CDs and not as digital copies so they cannot download it when they do find it. This is a source of constant frustration and libraries only get two chances at the most to engage with these digitally savvy users.
  3. Joining the library for online content is difficult in most instances and they do not have time to go into the physical library which is often a prerequisite. Millennials do not have any sense that the digital library should be any different to the physical library so see this requirement as prohibitory. Another change in library behaviors that needs to be a priority.
  4. They also love to share what they do on social media and this is not easy to do from Library websites, or from the library apps. Change in technology means change in behaviors! To respond to this particular change we need to ensure that the sharing button is included in every connection that our members have with our digital content.

Most of the above complaints can be changed easily with an update in policy, understanding our new digital users’ needs and providing good web design with the customer in mind not the collection. It is Librarians and our decisions that are the cause for the library disengaged in our communities.

Too often Library staff stay where we are comfortable — with the very beginner digital skills. ‘You are awesome’ is the feedback we get from the beginner — the person who needs to know how to upload a resume, needs a place to practice their interview techniques and this gives us a positive glow. But what about what the real technical information they also need to know about. Privacy, surveillance, safety, the new technologies just around the corner. How can we, as Librarians, get beyond what we are good at now simply as part of our professional practice?

Library staff and Librarians need to be comfortable learning- All The Time. When did you last YouTube how to do something? Have you snapchatted today? Do you understand who owns the data from the cloud service you are using? And what is a TOR server and why is it important?

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Yes, I Snap Chatted Today!

Understanding that digital technologies are simply tools & then to rethink the opportunity based on the tools capability and the behaviors the technology drives is essential to Digital Literacy and Librarian’s professional practice. And it is essential for how we interpret our services around learning, connecting and information. Understanding what the digital tools can do — not becoming an expert in them — but becoming a digital thinker — means that we can truly re-imagine what we as libraries do. We can ask why those policies, rules and practices are in place and can we do without them.

Tell me please — why does the collection item have to be back in 3 weeks? Why are we making our members renew when automatic renewals can be in place? Why do we need to see an address on a printed piece of paper when we can determine an IP & could build GPS into our systems? Are we challenging the business models of our vendors to meet these new opportunities or just wanting them to keep the same old capabilities to meet our outdated practices? And how do we put our user at the center of our library experience and not the collection? Where do we have these discussions as a profession and then act on them? Again for me as a professional Librarian Digital Literacy is about a mindset — understand the tool and then explore the opportunities it offers us to change.

And as a significant proportion of our community are digitally empowered we need to be digitally aware and work out where our skills, values, and strategies meet and connect with this new digitally connected, digital first community members.

The library can and should be a catalyst to support the shift in perspectives about learning and needs to start with our own staff learning focus. Fostering a culture that creatively incorporates voice and choice, flexibility, personality, and fun into our learning and working environments. By embracing these core principals for learning, librarians can take on this entrepreneurial, DIY spirit and transform the process of making meaning and searching for knowledge. Much like engineers that optimize their designs through building, testing, and then redesigning and building again, librarians who follow a learning culture can freely explore, wonder, and evaluate over multiple iterations until they have reached success or mastery. Start with your focus — what are the real world problems facing your library that you can explore, learn from and collaborate with others to solve?

And do not give me the lament about limited time. What you need to say to me is ‘This is not important” so I am not prioritizing it. Really — your own professional development and work practice is not important? Remember what the air hostess says at the flight safety message — you must put the oxygen mask on yourself first — if you want to have an impact on your community, and your industry then that oxygen mask is digital. But remember it is just the tool to change our thinking.

We have a responsibility to our community to stay relevant, be aware of the technologies impacting on our communities because of the trust that our communities place in us — especially if we want the trust and respect to be maintained. So our skills need to change. Our policies need to change. Our behavior needs to change.

To continue to be awesome — we too must be awesome learners.

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Written by

Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics

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