Digital Natives – Critical Need for Information and Digital Literacy

Finally, a book that addresses information and digital technology literacy for the young!

While the reviews of Digital Natives: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives overall do not rank high, I applaud Palfrey and  Gasser on addressing the benefits of technology on the Digital Natives and even more so for the importance of information and digital technology literacy instruction and guidance for our youth. So often the topic of information literacy is targeted at college students and adults. I have struggled to understand why the youth so inundated with technological interference  in their lives since birth have been left out of the topic on information literacy. I further applaud the authors for highlighting the fact that the responsibility to introduce, guide, educate, trust, and protect our Digital Natives – and the rest of us for that matter – involves various key groups including the Digital Natives themselves, parents, teachers, technology companies, business, libraries and even government.

The book is further criticized for being too general without specific guidance on how to do the job of guiding and protecting our Digital Natives but it appears those critics were missing some key points. First, there is no single solution that would not interfere with another benefit, privilege, or law when as it relates to privacy, freedom of speech, copyright, and creativity. Second, without a broader approach to guiding our Digital Natives, we often result to strategies that inhibit dangerous online behavior and facilitate distrust among Digital Natives and their parents, teachers, and even the law. Third, that many of the “dangers” that lurk online (bullying, stalking, identify theft, peer-induced psychological harm, etc.) are not different, beyond their platform, than they are in  the offline world. Fourth, that in fact the behaviors, opportunities, and developments impacted by our Digital Natives online will in fact propel our society – and our democracy – forward in many ways (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008).

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Despite its critics, the book is not without advice. In fact, it charges the responsibility for parents and teachers to come up to speed with the technological platform so they are more competent in working with Digital Natives in making good decisions online in their social, educational, and participatory activities. Despite its delay, I was pleased when the authors addressed the role libraries and librarians can play in supporting Digital Natives. What better entity than a library staffed with librarians skilled in the latest technologies and knowledgeable about information literacy to help guide Digital Natives in their online endeavors!

While the authors adequately outline the specific roles librarians can fulfill for the Digital Natives, they do miss a critical role in offering support to the Digital Native’s support system – their parents and teachers. Libraries can bring parents and teachers up to speed on the latest technologies, software programs, information literacy skills, privacy policies, and online communications that will provide them the tools to be competent, reliable, and trustworthy resources for the Digital Natives they care about. While the authors develop a strong argument on the broad responsibility to support and guide the Digital Natives, little attention was devoted to the tools and resources those groups would need in order to provide the needed solutions. Libraries and, more specifically, librarians are already equipped to provide that support and advocacy needed to support our Digital Natives. Libraries, librarians, and library instruction needs to be pushed more to the forefront of information and digital literacy not only for our Digital Natives, but the community at large who will be guided both those same Digital Natives in the very near future.

Palfrey, J. & Gasser, U. (2008). Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. Basic Books, Philadelphia, PA.

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