Thoughts about a Digital Literacy Scholar’s Lab


Inspired by recent conversations with colleagues, as well as reading around interesting subjects such as digital humanities research, curation, data management and elearning technologies (with a focus on the role of the library in all of this), I have been thinking about how good it would be to create a Digital Literacy Scholars Lab.   The aim of such an entity would be to foster collaborative projects between the academic library and faculty which enhances the development of digital literacy skills within the university community and beyond.  

There are plenty of examples of library-based centres involving collaborations between library and researchers.  The University of Virginia Library’s Scholar’s Lab is focussed on projects in the “digital humanities, geospatial information and scholarly making and building at the intersection of the digital and physical worlds”. Other examples are the Digital Humanities Centre at Columbia University and the Centre for Digital Research in the Humanities at UNL.  There are also interesting Australian examples of visualisations of digital collections – for a list of examples, see Mal Booth’s post, Collective Visualisation.

What would a Digital Literacy Scholars Lab look like?   It would be underpinned by an emphasis on learning, and aim to be a space for trying new things in a digital environment which, in turn, would foster the development of digital literacy skills of those involved.  Constructivist pedagogy, which situates the learning process in the context of the learner’s own experience and knowledge, and which supports the idea of life-long learning, could provide a theoretical foundation.

Among the many definitions of digital literacy that exist, I like this one:

Digital literacy represents a person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment… Literacy includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments. Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan: Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century.

Digital literacies are essential skills for all members of the higher education community, from undergraduates to postgraduates, academics, researchers, teaching and general staff. The level and types of digital literacy skills among the university population varies greatlly, and thus people can learn a lot from one another.

Some of the areas in which the library could engage with academics, researchers, alt-acs and students to enhance digital literacy are:

Digital humanities

The academic library’s involvement in this exciting, developing area is natural and compelling. The library can use its existing, and develop further, expertise in particular skills and knowledge required to help facilitate digital humanities projects.  They can collaborate in assisting researchers to create interesting and innovative ways to engage with research data, for example through data visualisation technologies.  Moreover, libraries have the opportunity to benefit from the expertise of digital humanities researchers to develop and promote their own collections such as unique archives or the research output of the institution.  These digital humanities projects could have a teaching/ learning component through which certain digital literacy skills are taught.

Support for research centres and institutions

It would be great to engage with particular research groups as case studies in order to consider relevant digital literacy issues and develop customised strategies to enable the group to increase proficiency in these skills within the context of their research.  The focus could be on areas such as accessing and managing information resources, research data management, digital dissemination of research outputs, research impact measurement and analysis, and online social media engagement.

Digital literacy research

Research into digital literacy is a natural extension of the information literacy research largely conducted by information studies researchers, much of which involves contributions by academic librarians.   Research in digital literacy also has a place within other research areas such as media studies, internet studies, film and tv, communication and cultural studies, heritage studies and education.  There are many opportunities for collaboration between researchers and the library if stakeholders with shared interests can find common ground.

Action research

Using action research to provide a framework for certain projects within the library itself, or in collaboration with other university services such as learning centres or research development units, could be worthwhile.  Such projects could include, for example, creating learning objects designed to improve digital literacy skills and embedding them in learning management systems; gamification of library services to engage and interest clients; develop learning analytics by harvesting and analysing data about library use and student learning to improve library and learning services.

At my institution a number of projects that might fall within the scope of a Digital Literacy Scholar’s lab are already being done or are planned.  A hub or centre underpinned by a shared philosophy and vision would provide common ground for such projects, as well as new ones.  It would be a meeting space for library and faculty, research and teaching/learning, technology and people.

I guess it’s easy enough to imagine what a Digital Literacy Scholar’s Lab might look like – the challenge is working out how to make something like it a reality.

5 Responses

  1. I think you may also be interested in the distinction between digital literacy and digital fluency: “Note that a literate person is perfectly capable of using the tools. They know how to use them and what to do with them, but the outcome is less likely to match their intention. It is not until that person reaches a level of fluency, however, that they are comfortable with when to use the tools to achieve the desired outcome, and even why the tools they are using are likely to have the desired outcome at all.”
    More here:

  2. And another lab/centre that may interest you
    “The USC Libraries, USC Information Technology Services and USC Shoah Foundation Institute have launched a new center to supply Digital Repository functions to research efforts and digital collections at USC. Expanding the systems employed to digitize, catalog, digitally preserve and provide access to the 8 petaybyte collection of video in the USC Shoah Foundation Institute archives, the USC community can now process collections of all media types and sizes for the incremental costs […]”

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