[Guest post by Sally Gore]
Thanks to the NN/LM NER for supporting me financially to attend the Medical Library Association’s Annual Meeting in Austin, TX last week. It was a terrific meeting, filled with great speakers, papers, presentations, posters, opportunities to network, and a good bit of fun dancing and taking in the live music that Austin is known for. Being a music lover and band member, I loved that part of the trip. It was an awfully nice bonus.
I attended many sessions that left me with much to think about, ideas for projects, and new resources to seek out. One of these was the final plenary session, featuring Eszter Hargittai, the April McClain-Delaney and John Delaney Research Professor in the Communication Studies Department and faculty associate of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University in Chicago, IL. Hargittai’s talk focused on the skills people have – and more importantly, need – when it comes to using the Internet.
As she stated from the outset, “It’s NOT just about the technology, it’s about the SKILLS to use the technology.” This sentiment resonated with me as I often notice how our tendency to solve our problems – from health care to communication and everything in between – involves throwing some piece of technology at it, believing that it alone will do the trick. Electronic health records are praised as being the great fix to our health care problems, but the technology behind EHRs is only as good as the skills those using them possess, be they providers or patients.
Hargittai listed five skills that she believes users of technology need to have in order to efficiently and effectively utilize the Internet:
- Awareness and understanding
- Efficient information seeking
- Credibility assessment
- Knowledge of privacy and security
Librarians have talked about the value of information literacy for a long time, taking it on as a charge for our profession. Sadly, however, we remain in a society where the overwhelming majority of Internet users are woefully lacking in these skills. Where are we failing? What are we missing? How can we do a better job of teaching these skills to patrons? These are some of the questions I came away with, as I listened to the talk.
It’s a myth (Hargittai offered up a number of myths around Internet use and understanding) that young people today, those that have grown up with the Internet, intuitively know how to use it. We are not born with these skills, as evident by no shortage of news stories about privacy blunders, jobs lost due to social network posts, people believing celebrities more than scientists when it comes to vaccinations, and so much more. We have a responsibility, as librarians and information professionals, to teach these skills and Hargittai’s lecture, filled with results of her research, left no doubt that there’s much work teaching to be done. I imagine others did, too.
Post contributed by:
Sally Gore, MS, MS LIS
Research Evaluation Analyst
UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science
UMass Medical School