Digital Literacy

Community members come into public libraries every day, hoping to complete life tasks many of us take for granted, but lacking the basic computer skills to accomplish them. Whether it’s finding and applying for a job online, learning more about a health condition, connecting to their grandchildren online, or looking up new recipes, they often know what they want to do but are unable to do it without basic computer help.

The Pew Research Center report Libraries at the Crossroads suggests that the public wants libraries to teach digital literacy, and that library efforts can help the most vulnerable groups. According to the Pew report, 94% of respondents said libraries should “offer programs to teach people, including kids and senior citizens, how to use digital tools such as computers, smartphones and apps.” A strong majority of all Americans—76%—say that libraries should “definitely” offer programs to teach people how to protect their privacy and security online. Pew research also shows the connection between library support of digital literacy skills and employment. Contributing to the economic health of the community, and the economic success of individuals, are major reasons that teaching digital literacy skills is important.

Public libraries are teaching digital literacy, and doing it well. 75% of Pew respondents say libraries have been effective at helping people learn how to use new technologies. But there is opportunity to do more—just 7% say they have taken a library class on how to use the internet or computers, and 3% of the full population used a library’s computer or internet connection in the past year to acquire job-related skills or to increase their income.

Through its digital literacy efforts, the Public Library Association supports its members to make their libraries digital literacy learning centers.

About DigitalLearn.org

DigitalLearn.org logoPLA’s DigitalLearn.org launched in June 2013. DigitalLearn.org is a collection of self-directed tutorials for end-users to increase their digital literacy. Feedback from public library staff directed PLA to develop courses on the most basic skills, such as using a computer, navigating a web site, and searching. Modules are video-based with narration, 6 to 22 minutes long, written at the 4th grade reading level, and help learners practice skills like using a mouse and setting up passwords. Nearly all modules are available in Spanish as well as English. Nearly 60,000 users complete 15,000 modules each year on DigitalLearn.org.

DigitalLearn.org also features a community of practice to help digital literacy trainers, library staff who are interested in digital literacy training, and others share information. From 2014 to early 2016, PLA had over 10,000 registered users on the community of practice, with over 400 posts to share information and seek resources.

DigitalLearn.org For Your Library

Public libraries can leverage PLA’s digital literacy training site to empower the digital skills trainers in your library and the learners in your community. Libraries can set up their own branded, DigitalLearn website, accessible to patrons at any time, that shows the library is providing digital literacy training as a service. The site can include any of DigitalLearn.org’s growing collection of courses as well as custom course and page content from the library. Participating libraries can track and demonstrate impact through learner analytics, and learners visiting your library’s site can create and personalize their course lists, tailor content through a course recommendation tool, track progress and receive certificates for course completions. If you are interested in creating your library’s own DigitalLearn site, contact Scott Allen at PLA via e-mail or phone at 312-280-5858. Libraries with DigitalLearn sites are listed below:

Continuing Education

Using DigitalLearn in Your Library cover slide imageUsing DigitalLearn in Your Library: In June 2017, PLA preseented this webinar about how DigitalLearn.org can complement the classes and one-on-one training your library staff are already providing as well as specific information on how your library can start the process of creating its own DigitalLearn site.


Digital Literacy Training Tutorials for Libraries cover slide imageDigital Literacy Training Tutorials for Libraries: In March 2016, TechSoup presented this webinar promoting GCFLearnFree.org and DigitalLearn.org as two resources for free digital literacy and technology training tutorials that can be used by library staff to assist patrons.


Connecting Patrons to the Digital World cover slide imageConnecting Patrons to the Digital World: PLA and the Chicago Public Library described how DigitalLearn was adapted to provide a customized portal and administrative features for Chicago on this March 2016 webinar for the Florida Bureau of Library Development.


Other Digital Literacy Resources

For more digital literary resources and training tools:

  • Visit the PLA Professional Tools section on Digital Literacy
  • Visit the ALA Government Relations Training Programs and Resources page, which includes links to computer tutorials, educator resources, and examples of public library computer literacy programs.