Woman Typing on Keyboard

By Helen Gregg Ι Sept. 8, 2015

In September 2012, the American Library Association defined “digital literacy” as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”

I have to admit I am very literate — I almost live on my “information and communication technologies,” which is a good thing if you are a technology trainer. However, literacy (digital or not) can be a very powerful word — and ambiguous. It seems strange to me to say that the concept of literacy is ambiguous.

For most of us over the age of maybe 40, when we were growing up, literacy merely meant a person could read and write well enough to know what’s going on or to support a family. Now that we are in a “Digital Age” there is a concept known as “digital literacy,” and that kind of literacy has become almost a requirement to survive anymore. So many “time cards” are “punched” online, and checks go straight to our bank, and we have to go “online” to see a pay stub. A person has know how to do these things and have an email account just to apply for many jobs now.

I have noticed that we have what I refer to as an “in-between” generation. How must it feel to some of our patrons who find themselves required, either by work or government, to acquire enough digital literacy to access important information or benefits? When they are the “in-between” generation they may have never had the need to use a computer, so never acquired even basic computer skills.

As I have been reading the 2015 Salina Reads selection “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, I have noticed the wide difference in actual digital literacy. Keep in mind I am only about a quarter of the way through the book, so there will be no spoiler alerts here — other than here I am talking about digital literacy and the book is about a world without computers. But hang in there. I think I am making a point. I am “connected” almost 24/7. I do research on the computer; I put together visual presentations on my computer; I read on an eReader; I use a smartphone for email, research, texting, Facebook to keep up with news about all my friends, and Twitter to keep track of my grandson’s football happenings. So I have been noticing and wondering about two related but, at the same time, disparate things in my world since beginning to read “Station Eleven.”

While I function at full speed in a digital world, what would my experience be if I were thrust into a world such as what I am beginning to know in the book? Would that world end up being more peaceful, or lonely, because I am no longer “connected” or surrounded by the familiar.

The other thing to which I have been more sensitive around me is the number of people in our present world who are finding themselves in a “foreign” land because they are required to have an email address for work, or medical records, and have never acquired any digital literacy. I know it turns their world upside down.

Both situations potentially create the same sense of being overwhelmed. At first, in the abstract, I found looking at both situations depressing; but then I remembered our own library’s mission statement, “Connecting people to information, learning and culture.” In today’s digital world, every department at Salina Public Library does just that. Many computer questions are answered and classes offered to give people access to a world that requires at least a basic level of digital literacy in order to connect with information, learning and, often, culture.

In the world of “Station Eleven,” a library would be vital for much the same reason — connecting people to information, learning and culture — in a very non-digital world. Books that we hold, touch, smell and read will continue long after any digital world ends, and librarians (even us techie ones) will still be there to guide us and help us find the answers to questions or escape to another place for a while.

Connections are about people; in our technology-infused library, it is still all about people.