Librarians Score C+ in Digital Literacy

Librarians Score C+ in Digital Literacy

Evidence that digital literacy training is essential.


Eleven months ago I developed a free diagnostic tool to assess the digital literacy capabilities of library staff.  The assessment is derived from Doug Belshaw’s essential elements of digital literacies and assesses eight fundamental digital literacy competencies that I believe ALL library staff regardless of their position, should know and practice.

To date 246 library staff have completed the assessment and the results offer a fascinating insight into the digital literacy capabilities of the New Zealand library and information profession.

With an average score of 64.1% or C+ there are certainly opportunities for improvement. Below are the top 5 areas in which library staff could do better.

1. Understand digital rights and responsibilities

Only 7% of library staff felt confident that they could provide a simple overview of an individual’s digital rights and responsibilities to others.

43.9% of library staff lack confidence in understanding their digital rights and responsibilities – a fundamental requirement to being a responsible digital citizen and participating with ease in digital spaces.

digital citizen

2. Save, organise and share online information

74% of library staff save and organise online information by using bookmarks or favorites and share links with others via email. These are common library practices that have probably been around since the late 1990’s when librarians discovered how easy it was to collect links from the internet.

Internet Favorites

However these practices are no longer effective in managing and making sense of the deluge of information available today. Only the top 14% of library staff go beyond bookmarks and use a digital information management tool such as Diigo or Evernote to save, organise and share online information.

3. Curate content to add value for readers

Curate Content

85.7% of library staff make lists (Libguides, read-alikes etc) that do not include content that adds more than minimal value for readers – such as their unique perspective or why one resource might be more useful than another.

Content curation is time intensive but it enables library and information professionals to establish and maintain their presence as a trusted filter and source of valuable and relevant information for their members – to be the filter that doesn’t fail.

4. Evaluate search engines

73.3% of library staff have evaluated at least one search engine but their evaluation techniques are questionable  when it comes to applying the information literacy, critical thinking or research skills the library and information profession espouses as fundamental for all – 83% of staff based their evaluation on either the speed in which results are returned or whether the answer appears near the top of the results list.

5. Blog to share expertise

Blog post

39.8% of library staff have never written a blog post. Many ask why blog when you already Facebook? To put it simply, use Facebook to grow your community and use a blog to showcase your interests, expertise and personality.

Blogging increases confidence in communicating with others in online spaces. If you haven’t written a blog post even a private one how can you expect to help community members, academics, students and clients feel more comfortable communicating their expertise and interests with others online?

If libraries are “the route to digital fluency, playing now a significant role in preparing the workforce, students and others for the digital world“, then the results show that there is an urgent need for digital literacy training for all library staff and that training is no longer optional.


  1. CS-Cart says:

    Thank you for the post, you helped me a lot.

  2. Hi Sally

    Given that your introductory overview to the test reads as follows, don’t you think the test is already pre-selecting people with low digital fluency?:

    “Do you feel out of the loop when it comes to understanding digital literacy?
    Do you want to learn how you can improve your fluency in digital literacy to improve your everyday work as a library and information professional?
    Do you want to learn about digital literacy in a way that is meaningful for everyone, not just those in education?”

    1. Sally says:

      Definitely. The data does contain a self-selection bias and one of the problems of self-selection is that it is more likely to attract participants from both ends of the spectrum – digital literacy novices and digital literacy experts (who for example still feel out of the loop or want to learn how they can improve), rather than a representative sample across the entire spectrum.

  3. sengaw says:

    Thanks for the post Sally. Working in an educational library, I take every opportunity to demonstrate to students and staff tools to make life easier and more efficient while explaining why we should consider using them.

    I take Adrian’s point about there being a large number of digitally literate librarians working in our New Zealand libraries. I wonder whether the C+ rating to date is because librarians who have so far used the diagnostic tool Sally provides have done so because they are aware they may not be as digitally savvy as they could be.

    In my own experience, many in the teaching profession are unable to integrate the teaching of digital literacy into their lessons as they do not possess the level of digital skills required themselves.
    Lots of work to be done in this space!

    1. Sally says:

      Thanks for your comments Senga. The data does contain a self-selection bias and one of the problems of self-selection is that it is more likely to attract participants from both ends of the spectrum – digital literacy novices and digital literacy experts, rather than a representative sample across the entire spectrum.

      There is certainly lots of work to be done in this space!

  4. I feel this is interesting, but I question your definition of what being digitally literate means. I consider myself reasonably digitally literate, but I choose not to blog. I don’t consider blogging to be a qualification to be digitally literate. I have accounts for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Evernote, OneNote, Feedly, Innoreader etc. All of my work emails are now in Office 365 and we share documents using OneDrive. We conduct meetings via Skype for Business. We will shortly be getting rid of our landlines and doing our calling via the Internet. At home, I have UFB, and have been using VoIP for my ‘landline’ calls for some time. I know how to evaluate websites, and use groups on Facebook etc. to ensure that appropriate messages go to appropriate people. I use and teach citation management software. I manage various libguides.

    I also question your statement that bookmarks are no longer a useful tool. I agree that, as a whole, librarians can probably do more to be digitally literate, but I think many of us in academic and corporate libraries are already using many digital tools. Perhaps closer to an A- than a C+.

    1. Sally says:

      Thank you for your comments Adrian. I agree that academic library staff are probably more digitally literate (or at least digitally diverse) than warranted by a C+ however the data I have shows the digital literacy capabilities across all sectors and doesn’t contain enough results to be able to significantly distinguish digital literacy capabilities between sectors unfortunately. Perhaps in another 12 months I might be able to do so.

      I also agree that blogging may not be a useful measure to include given the variety of other communication tools that are also useful, however it is only one of 8 fundamental competencies assessed and I imagine others would have commented along the same lines if I had chosen another communication tool.

      It is easy to determine what shouldn’t be assessed when trying to gain an understanding of the digital literacy capabilities of library staff. It is more difficult to decide what should be assessed and how that assessment is measured. I have attempted to do so, and hope through more conversations and discussions we all gain a greater understanding of the varying shades of grey in this area.

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