Digital media: New tools to create new connections at the library

By Maren Hunt

Among the glitter, neon, and flashing lights of Las Vegas, the glow of digital screens held their own as a major focus of the 2014 American Library Association Annual Conference. From the opening general session, delivered by games researcher and forecaster Jane McGonigal, it was evident that libraries – and library concerns – are firmly embedded in the digital age. McGonigal, Director of Research and Development at the non-profit research group Institute for the Future, stated that people around the world spend more than 7 billion hours a week playing games. With use of tablet devices becoming more widespread, game-playing is becoming prevalent even among the very young: 92 percent of 2-year-olds play games, McGonigal said. But, according to McGonigal, that’s just fine. She posited that playing games teaches gamers important life skills such as resilience, creativity, and the ability to overcome failure.

Regardless of whether you agree with McGonigal, games and digital media are part of libraries’ reality. Libraries around the country are working within that reality to build literacy and digital literacy in their communities. In the sessions The Apps are All Right! Exploring the Role of Apps in Children’s and Teen Services and ECRR 2.0: Using Apps and eBooks in Early Literacy Programs, librarians who are using digital media to build early literacy skills drew on their personal and professional experience as they explored ways in which librarians are using literacy-based games and other apps on mobile devices to deliver content and instruction to children and teens. Cen Campbell, library consultant and founder of the digital literacy blog, Little eLit, urged librarians to help parents use tablets as a way to build relationships with their children and model healthy behaviors.

In the Saturday morning session, Is the Public Library the New Education Institution of the Future?, the need for libraries to understand and effectively use digital media was reiterated. Pam Smith of Colorado’s Anythink Libraries moderated a panel of speakers who discussed recent Aspen Institute reports on the future of public libraries and their role in online learning. In this session and others, presenters stressed that people are shifting from being consumers of digital content to being creators of it. In the Sunday session Connected Learning and Libraries: At the Intersection of Arts, Media, New Technologies, and Informal Learning, Dr. Kylie Peppler of Indiana University made the point that kids see digital media as another tool to do and create what they’ve always been doing.

The world of media in which libraries exist is rapidly evolving, and libraries are changing along with it. Charles Firestone, Executive Director of Communications and Society Program at the Aspen Institute, said recent Pew research has shown that people love libraries, but they love a nostalgic idea of spending their youth among books. As libraries develop ways to use 21st-century tools to connect people to their communities, they will develop a new nostalgia for libraries as a center of learning in all available formats.

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