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Entries in Digital Literacy (12)


Evidence to the Royal Society of Edinburgh for their enquiry into digital participation

Dear all, copy evidence I have just submitted to RSE.


RSE Evidence: Spreading the benefits of digital participation

From Dr John Crawford, Chair, the Right Information:  Information Skills for a 21st Century Scotland.

Before addressing some of the specific questions below I think it is important to be clear about what digital participation actually is about. Is it:

  • A time limited exercise in the use of electronic technology, or
  • A complex educational, learning, training and skills development exercise extending over several  years which needs to be  properly structured and supported

In other words is it about access and infrastructure issues or is it about the exploitation of information and learning opportunities.

The first view has informed such national projects as Connect Canada and Connect Australia and has resulted in the identification of the training needs which connectivity has raised (Gilton 2013).

It is, I think, helpful to see digital participation in the context of information literacy which has been defined by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) as:

 ‘Information literacy is knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner.’ (CILIP 2004)

However information literacy is much more than about finding information.  Information literacy is about personal and civil rights, participative citizenship, lifelong learning, using technology wisely,  the reduction of the digital divide, skills and economic development, education and critical thinking and the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle.  These points are enshrined in two key policy documents, the Prague Declaration (UNESCO 2003) and the Alexandria Proclamation (Garner 2005). The principles stated in these documents link information literacy to wider human rights issues, specifically links it to the information society, civil rights, the closure of the digital divide, reduction of inequality, improvement in workplace performance and employability and skills development and a culture of lifelong, self administered  learning.

It also seems to be assumed that digital participation is a ‘good thing’ but how can this assumption be made if evidence of informed, purposive usage is lacking and there is no strategy to ensure that this is achieved.

These points RSE makes should inform key factors in your enquiry:

‘and how some people may require help, guidance and protection when going online.’ It will examine issues of skills and motivation,’

If Scotland in the future is a be a high economic performing, skilled, educated, socially inclusive, participative democracy, composed of healthy citizens then understanding how to access information and use  it discriminatingly are key factors.

To address the issues under the heading you list:

1 What do you think are the current benefits of digital participation and using the internet?        

These are well known and include: reduced costs through online booking; time/ money saved by virtual rather than physical visits; fast access to information; access to free and paid for online learning materials; internet shopping (especially useful in rural areas); job opportunities websites, access to information on politics and government to facilitate voting decisions; improved lifestyles for the disabled; a key support for lifelong learning.

2.What are the potential benefits?

Improved health of the nation as a result of using health information websites especially for those with long term or disabling conditions; better decision making in the workplace if people can access the right information. This is a particularly serious issue as the evidence suggests that poor information usage in the workplace is a cost to the economy (De Saulles 2007); more successful lifelong learning policies as information literacy is essential to lifelong learning.

3 How can these benefits be maximised
It is important to build on pre-existing activities and policies and co-ordinate them better. When I was directing the Scottish Information Literacy Project (2004-2010) my research assistant, Christine Irving and I developed the Scottish Information Literacy Framework Scotland which provides a framework of information literacy training extending from early years education through secondary and tertiary education to the workplace and to lifelong learning. See  There is a Scottish Health literacy framework and some good examples of collaboration between public libraries and health professionals to improve health literacy awareness. A culture of constructivist, independent learning also needs to be encouraged. The new Curriculum for Excellence and particularly the literacies components are a good basis for this but all these useful initiatives need to be co-ordinated and properly led. Louise Ballantyne’s work (2008) is a good example of this. While a huge amount of information is available to the Scottish public, both digitally and on paper, the quality of the information is extremely variable and it is necessary to address awareness raising and training issues as indicated below.  Training must be co-ordinated across all educational sectors, in the workplace and throughout lifelong learning and should focus on long term benefits, not short term needs. While it its true, for example, that information literacy is widely provided in Scottish higher education and this is the most successful sector in information literacy training it must focus on the development of employability skills which can be carried over into the workplace and used there.  A recent American study (Head 2012) shows that information literacy skills taught in American higher education are too ‘academic’ and not related to workplace needs.

4. How can the benefits be promoted?          

First of all Scotland needs a national information literacy policy to identify needs and offer a co-ordinated response. Targeted training and awareness are the keys. This already happens to some extent, thanks to the excellent work by community learning and development staff and public librarians, often working together. The example of the work done by Inverclyde Library staff is a good example (Crawford and Irving 2012). There is a need for awareness raising among NHS staff who must be trained to be aware of the value of health literacy and recommend these skills to patients. We will never have information literate school children until we have information literate school teachers and trainee teachers should receive information literacy training so they can pass on their skills to pupils.

5. How could Scotland benefit from wider digital participation and use of the internet?                     

 A key factor here is skills development and employability. Most businesses are small ones composed of staff with little training on how to use information to support their work. This is probably the sector most in need of training. It is however important not to see digital participation and information literacy skills solely as a form of utilitarian education. Cultural, intellectual life, constructive recreation  and self realisation achieved through a lifelong learning agenda must also be supported.  


6. What risks do you associate to digital participation?

The research which has been done in the area of workplace information literacy suggests that information literacy skills in SMEs is poor and is detrimental to economic development.  This matter does not receive systematic attention anywhere in the UK and to highlight it and suggest the need for action could be useful and also groundbreaking.  However what training is needed and who should provide it are major issues. Training for SME staffs needs to be highly targeted and there is evidence that SMEs are unsure of their own training needs and it is undoubtedly the case that many SME employees will be unaware of what information literacy activity is even if they are actually engaging in it; as indicated above information skills among teachers is currently poor; issues to be with Internet safety are well known and should be included in this debate.

7. How can such risks be addressed?  

Risks are best addressed at school age and school librarians could provide Internet awareness risk training in conjunction with class teachers. More generally it is necessary to carry out research to identify the training needs of different sectors of the population.  Public librarians and community learning and development staff are best placed to address these issues with adults. While generic training is useful targeted training programmes for specific needs are required and market segmentation issues need to be addressed. The workplace and developing employability skills are very different markets. For basic IT and Information literacy training to develop employability and life skills training task forces, developed from existing initiatives would be a good idea. 

8. What prevents you from using digital technologies and the internet?                                                

Lack of training opportunities on advanced aspects of IT methods


9. What could be done to increase your use of digital technologies and the internet?

More training opportunities

10. What incentives could be used to increase digital participation?

It is, I think, necessary to do market research to identify areas of need. As I have already indicated SMEs are an obvious example.   The provision of free, targeted programmes in areas of identified need is necessary.  A good exemplar is the Welsh Information Literacy Project, itself based on the Scottish Information Literacy Project (Eynon 2013). It has developed an information literacy training programme for Wales which is linked to educational and social welfare policies. It has organised training for public librarians in IT/information literacy training and trained staff are now beginning to roll out training to the general public. Head teachers are being targeted to be made aware of the benefits of information literacy and departments of education are being contacted to promote the benefits of information literacy skills to trainee teachers. 

The need for a training culture and evaluation culture

Scotland already has a well established culture of training as evidenced by such bodies as Skills Development Scotland, Careers Scotland, community learning and development trainers and the good work being done by public librarians.  This latter is capable of considerable expansion but would require something of a cultural change among public librarians which would have to become more like educators and trainers and less service providers, something which has already happened in higher education. This has training implication for the staff concerned but could have public benefit. The need for this change of culture has been championed by Ronan O’Beirne in his pioneering book:  From lending to learning. (2010).

Finally evaluation of all activities undertaken need to be done in order to establish that digital participation is effective, i.e. making a measurable difference to the lives of the people of Scotland.

Summary points

  • Recognition that the long term issue is an education and skills development one
  • C0-oridnated planning is needed
  • A segmented, targeted training agenda is needed
  • Evaluation is required to find out what progress has been/is being made

I hope you will be able to include some of these points in your final report


Ballantyne, L. (2008) Real and Relevant – Information Literacy Skills for the 21st Century Learner, available at: 

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (2004)  Information literacy definition. London: CILIP. Available at

Crawford, J. and Irving, C. (2009) Information literacy in the workplace: a qualitative exploratory study, Journal of librarianship and information science (41), 29-38 Available at

De Saulles, M. (2007) Information literacy amongst UK SMEs: an information policy gap.  Aslib proceedings, 59 (1) 68-79.

Eynon, A.  (2013) Welsh Information Literacy Project, Library and information research, 37, 114, 17-22

Garner, S.D. (2005) High-Level Colloquium on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning. Available from:

Gilton, D.L. (2012) Lifelong learning in public libraries: principles, programs, and people. Lanham: Scarecrow.  

Head, A. (2012) How college graduates solve information problems once they join the workplace. Project information Literacy Research Report.  Available at

O’Beirne, R.  (2010) From lending to learning: the development and extension of public libraries. Oxford: Chandos.

UNESCO (2003) The Prague Declaration: towards an information literate society. Prague: UNESCO.  Available at:

Dr. John Crawford, BA, MA, PhD, FCLIP, FSA (Scot),

Chair, Information Skills for a 21st Century Scotland,


Information skills for a 21st century Scotland

View my Linked in profile at



Open University: Being digital and the Digital and information Literacy (DIL) framework 

Congratulations to the Open University this year’s Credo Digital Award winner at LILAC with their Digital and Information Literacy (DIL) framework & Being digital site. 

These two freely-available resources cover the following:

The DIL framework builds on the OU’s existing information literacy levels framework and adds communication, sharing, collaboration and creation of new information. The accompanying DIL framework facilitation cards can be used at meetings and workshops to enable discussions about the integration of these skills at different levels of study. They cover the following DIL skills areas:

  • Understand and engage in digital practices
  • Find information
  • Critically evaluate information, online interactions and online tools
  • Manage and communicate information
  • Collaborate and share digital information

 Both the framework and the facilitation cards are licensed under Creative Commons. The Information Literacy team hopes you will find these useful in your own teaching environments. The OU would welcome any feedback on how you’re using them, and examples.


The Being digital site comprises a variety of bite-size interactive learning objects on finding, using and sharing information online.  Open-source software was used to create many of the resources. They cover topics such as:

  • Presenting yourself to best advantage online and managing your digital identity
  • Making the most of online networks
  • Knowing who and what to trust online
  • Using Wikipedia
  • Evaluating and using online tools
  • Searching effectively


The aim is to help learners become confident and critical users of digital tools and resources in any situation. Each learning activity takes no longer than 10 minutes to complete and can be used very flexibly. Learners can select individual activities by browsing an A-Z list or follow a specific pathway to gain a deeper understanding of a topic.

Resources will soon be available with Creative Commons licences attached.

Thanks to Nancy Graham at the University of Birmingham for circulating the above information through LIS-INFOLITERACY@JISCMAIL

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