Intersection 2: Digital Literacies

Teaching new content formats, and the emergence of multiple types of non-textual content

2.1. What Is Changing?

In their draft report, the ALA OITP Digital Literacy Task Force 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” (2012, p. 1). In its statement of recommendations to governments and organizations, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions noted that, “media and information literacy includes all types of information resources: oral, print, and digital” (IFLA 2011). Comprehending all kinds of content, including data, statistical, financial, and visual, as well as text, is a critical outcome intended by media and information literacy programs.

While it is challenging to consider how best to incorporate digital literacies, such as media literacy, visual literacy, and data literacy, into our educational curriculum, these literacies offer promising teachable moments for issues of ownership, authorship, and copyright. Librarians can collaborate to bring knowledge of these issues together with a deep understanding of student learning in a media-rich, and increasingly social, information environment. Scholarly communication librarians are concerned with dissemination and documentation of all types of content. Information literacy librarians are concerned with helping students and faculty navigate a world where text is no longer the dominant format for communicating ideas. Bringing these areas of concern together could contribute to a deeper understanding of how students learn in a media-rich, and increasingly social, information environment, and would benefit both the information literacy and scholarly communication librarians.


Sidebar: Undergraduate Theses in Institutional Repositories

The seniors at our liberal arts college look forward to the time when their honors theses are accepted into the institutional digital repository and made publicly available. Their work may involve text, images, sound, and other kinds of material, all integral to their whole work. As part of this rite of passage, they learn to use a Creative Commons license for their work, develop a deeper understanding of the positive impact of open access to scholarly work, and understand firsthand how complex digital scholarship can be. This process, rather than being a tedious requirement, becomes an engaging way to learn about copyright, open access, and digital publishing. When these students go on to graduate school and their professional careers, they are ready to promote new options for access to scholarship and the use of new kinds of information.


Critical thinking and collaborative learning have been central to information literacy, and continue to be core values in teaching new literacies. In the recent past, the solo term paper or other written project was the most common assignment, but increasingly, students are asked to create different types of projects, such as collaborative videos, wikis, or blogs. They may be asked to use digital storytelling techniques to create their final project. Information literacy programs have to address finding, evaluating, using, citing, and creating a much wider range of material types, and include more emphasis on the technological and rights issues of working with different kinds of media. Digital literacies are fundamental to the goal of developing lifelong learners in that they prepare students to be effective and critical users of information in any path they choose to follow after their undergraduate work.

2.2. Data Literacy

Although competency standards and teaching programs for media and visual literacy are focused on undergraduates, key questions about teaching data literacy tend to focus on graduate students and faculty (Carlson, Fosmire, Miller, and Nelson, 2011). These questions center on understanding how to find and evaluate data, the version of data being found and used, who is responsible for it, how to cite it, and the ethics of data procurement. Data literacy is an area where the impact of external forces, ranging from the increasing demand on students to find and use data to funder mandates to have data management plans, point to a critical area of intersection between scholarly communication and information literacy.

Attention to the development, curation, and interpretation of data has become much more important recently due to an expanding view of what we mean by data. No longer does data refer only to quantitative results drawn from surveys or from scientific experimentation. In the digital environment, text can also become data, as scholars use layers of meta-analysis to seek trends and themes across huge corpuses of textual material. Additionally, numerical results can now be visualized in dramatic ways, and the products of those visualizations also require new approaches for researchers, students, and librarians.

The role of librarians as teachers in this area is rapidly evolving. Data literacy shares some distinguishing features with media literacy, where the use of tools to use and reuse content in ways not imagined by the content creator are a critical part of this literacy. Ownership and rights issues are core in both of these, and librarians need to be able to address these at all levels of instruction. The same is true regarding issues of access, preservation, and curation, since data collections and representations now can be made available apart from, but linked to, the research publications which are based upon them.

Librarians need to be involved in developing ways to handle key issues, such as determining who should have access, how that access can be managed (given the wide variety of formats and technologies involved), and what steps will be necessary to ensure that these data collections remain available over time. Because these decisions have become core to the research process itself, they are precisely a point where scholarly communication and information literacy intersect. Students, both as users and as future creators of data, should be trained to understand how their choices affect access, reuse, and preservation; libraries are better placed than any other academic unit to carry out that training.

The expanding view of data makes data literacy an important part of all instruction of students and future scholars. For example, librarians who specialize in metadata may find themselves engaging in a more explicit teaching function as they work collaboratively on digital scholarship projects, helping faculty understand the metadata needs of their projects. Teaching librarians will also need to develop a deeper understanding of how metadata is created and used to increase the visibility of scholarship in all disciplines.

Humanities and social science scholars represent a new constituency for data literacy education. Humanities scholars are discovering the potential for text-mining and digital representation as research tools, and social scientists are realizing that digital visualizations of their research results can dramatically improve their impact, especially when trying to influence public policy. These researchers need to be trained in techniques of description and preservation and advised about options for providing access to the products of their work. Those who will use the data will need education about how to understand, interpret, and apply what they find. So training in data literacy is not only a rather new field for libraries, but it is one that cuts across disciplinary boundaries and across the traditional structures of academic library organizations.

2.3. Transliteracy

Transliteracy is an emerging concept that challenges the current structures of information literacy and scholarly communication programs alike. The definition indicates that this is a key area where scholarly communication and information literacy intersect:

The essential idea here is that transliteracy is concerned with mapping meaning across different media and not with developing particular literacies about various media. It is not about learning text literacy and visual literacy and digital literacy in isolation from one another but about the interaction among all these literacies. (Ipri, 2010, p. 532)

Transliteracy provides us with the new concept that may actually describe the most pertinent types of collaborations librarians with expertise in teaching and scholarly communication issues could develop to serve the needs of the next generation of students and scholars.

The evolving area of digital literacies requires that librarians with expertise in teaching and scholarly communication issues understand each other’s domains sufficiently to develop programs and services that forward these new literacies, and help to transform the scholarly communication landscape. We discuss the ways librarians’ roles are changing to respond to these needs in Intersection 3.


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