Bridging the Digital Divide by Building Digital Literacy Skills

Kendra Morgan /

Developing digital literacy skills for both patrons and staff has been part of the services of the Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library (OH) for some time. When Collections & Virtual Services Manager, Melanie Wilson, was invited to participate in a program to expand her own digital literacy skills and training toolbox, she welcomed the opportunity. Now the staff at the library and their patrons are both benefitting from involvement in the program.

The training program that Wilson participates in is from Mozilla, the not-for-profit creators of the Firefox web browser. Wilson’s library was invited to the program by colleagues at the nearby Cleveland Public Library. Mozilla has spent a lot of time and resources creating curriculum to support the development of core web literacy skills. The curriculum is freely available to anyone and Wilson is part of a cohort of public library staff exploring and learning curriculum to help prepare library staff to develop and deliver training locally. The project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and includes alignment with the 21st century skills identified by IMLS. Wilson has found that an advantage of the Mozilla curriculum over traditional lecture or presentation-style training is that, “you are focusing on concepts, so that if you follow through with the whole training you can walk away with a good foundation so that you can adapt to technology that changes and shifts.”

Mozilla breaks web literacy skills into three major buckets: participate, write and read (click on the image below to explore their interactive web literacy map). To better understand the curriculum and the Mozilla approach, Wilson attended a face-to-face training hosted by Mozilla, along with the library’s deputy director, Eric Linderman. The event also included participants from other libraries in the project, which allowed time for them to connect with each other and to become familiar with the training content. When Wilson returned to the library, she developed a program to share the curriculum with the library’s staff.  

Training through facilitation

Wilson shared that the biggest shift outside of developing the actual skills, is that Mozilla’s methods made them rethink how Willoughbly-Eastlake offers and teaches digital literacy classes to the public. The Mozilla model puts more emphasis on being a facilitator, which Wilson sees as opening up the library space for patrons, making learning a collaborative effort and moving away from the traditional delivery of training content. “It made us consider how we should be thinking about the skillset needed for facilitators, which isn’t something they prepare you for in library school! Mozilla’s approach to learning and working was amazing to experience and so different from the traditional library culture.” Facilitator tips are embedded throughout the Mozilla curriculum, including questions to ask participants and activities to guide. See this example, “Web Detective.”

Getting staff buy-in

Like many libraries, Wilson and the staff at Willoughby-Eastlake understand that they are always going to need new skills, but acknowledge that it’s a challenge to keep up staff skills and to meet patron needs. One of Wilson’s recommendations is to “let staff know that we’re never going to know everything all at once, and that this is an evolving process. We have limited resources and we don’t need to be the experts on everything.” But, with tools like the Mozilla Web Literacy curriculum, Wilson has found options for developing staff and patron skills that benefit the whole community.

Creating staff buy-in is very much about breaking down the process and helping staff gain confidence. “I want to empower the staff to realize that they can learn these new technologies. Even coding, which staff start off thinking is too technical, they realize that they can do it! What they gain out of the training is empowerment, the belief that they can.”

One of the Willoughby-Eastlake staff who has been at the library for over 20 years, shared this in her evaluation:

“I really enjoyed today's presentation! I think it was one of the best I've attended. The material was way out of my usual comfort zone, but I felt really empowered! You did a great job of teaching it and I thought the time flew by.”

Photo credit: Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library


Looking ahead, Wilson sees an opportunity to seek partnerships outside of the library – particularly with local community organizations which are offering similar things connected to digital literacy training. Wilson believes the library can work with other quality organizations to avoid overlapping their efforts, and that they can create a referral network that can collectively support digital literacy needs. The library doesn’t have the resources to do everything in house, such as creating curriculum, and will continue to leverage existing resources. She is looking at introducing the Learning Circle approach to facilitate conversations around training topics (check out this WebJunction webinar for more information about Learning Circles.) Wilson is also interested in the resources being created by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, including their Digital Inclusion Coalition Guidebook.

Resources to learn more