Dan Alexander, Emporia State University
Innovation: Freshman Digital Literacy


Problem Statement:

A large percentage of incoming freshman are not prepared for their undergraduate studies. These young people may be the first generation in their families to attempt to earn a degree, come from households below the poverty line, or come from homes without strong role models. How can libraries help to ensure these students begin their first semester of education out of high school with all of the necessary skills they will need to thrive in their studies?


It is imperative that young people who will seek degrees begin preparations for undergraduate classes long before the first week of school or first-year-student orientation. Digital literacy skills take time to develop, and those in academics are finding that all too often students are very far behind in adopting the skills that are critical to succeeding in modern academic life. After discussing this issue with colleagues at a local university library, I believe that school, public, and academic librarians should work together to ensure that the young people in their community are being given the best opportunities to succeed.

Librarians in academic libraries are possibly the best prepared to lead the way. It is these information professionals that have the strongest awareness of the shortcomings possessed by recent incoming undergraduate students. School librarians are struggling to schedule time for the needed learning opportunities, and with the strict testing schedules and curriculum they may never be able to reclaim classroom time. However, these professionals embedded in the schools know the strengths and weaknesses of the young people in their community better than most. Librarians in public libraries have access to these young adults after school and for most of the summer, however, what I have witnessed is a lack of learning opportunities at the local public library that improve digital literacy in young people.

There is an opportunity here. What is possible when academic, school, and public libraries join forces to champion for today’s youth? Why shouldn’t the academic librarians be preparing online learning modules that can be used well before a young adult begins pursuing a degree? Could we not pair prospective students with graduates that are familiar with the required skills for a student to be successful? Why not bring academic alumni into the public library for programming?

A public librarian may find many unique inroads for finding and building support in their community for these young adults. They could appeal to the school board, working with a district to provide comprehensive strategies aimed at providing digital literacy training. The public library can develop programming and incentives to entice these patrons to use their free time for not just entertainment, but also as an extension of their learning time.

Our school librarians can ensure that none are “left behind”. Their intimate relationship with students and their parents/guardians places them in an ideal position to make certain that students and their families are aware of the new learning opportunities in their community. The school librarian can bring in the public library staff, as they often do for summer reading programs, to guarantee the young adults are not missing the message.

It is a three-pronged attack that I am suggesting. As my late mother used to always say; “if you want someone to learn something, you need to tell them once (the school librarian), tell them twice (the public librarian), and tell them again (the academic librarian).” It is my belief that it is often the public librarian, or public library, that is being left out of the solution to this ongoing problem. Let’s work together to help today’s young adults focus on acquiring the twenty first century skills they need for a fruitful future.