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Media Literacy Training in Irish Public Libraries – a pilot project
At the 2022 World Library and Information Congress in Dublin, Ireland, IFLA’s Public Library Section launched the latest version of the IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto, a powerful document which establishes eleven “key missions” of public libraries, encompassing the broad spectrum of services that are essential to support their communities. Crucially, one of these core missions emphasizes the critical importance of media literacy education in public libraries, alongside their traditional literacy support activities:
“Initiating, supporting and participating in literacy activities and programmes to build reading and writing skills, and facilitating the development of media and information literacy and digital literacy skills for all people at all ages, in the spirit of equipping an informed, democratic society” (IFLA, 2022).
While statements such as this are welcome – and irrefutable – it is also true that public libraries have received less attention than academic and school libraries with regard to media literacy instruction (LaPierre & Kitzie, 2019). Most of the frameworks designed to support librarians in their roles as information, media and digital literacy educators have been tailored to formal educational settings, such as the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (ACRL, 2015). Many public library staff receive no professional training in designing and delivering media literacy programmes, turning instead to self-directed learning, professional networks, and continuing professional development (CPD) to develop their teaching competence. For a mission as critical as this, it is a significant gap.
As a step toward closing this gap, our team of five academics at the School of Information and Communication Studies in University College Dublin worked closely with public librarians in Meath County Council Libraries to create and pilot a bespoke media literacy training programme, tailored specifically to the needs of public library staff. Responding to a request for tender from the Libraries Development Unit of the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA), the team submitted a successful proposal, which set out a three-phase plan for creating and delivering the programme within a five-month timeframe. Work began on the project in February 2021, funded by a donation from Meta (formerly Facebook). We chose Participatory Action Research (PAR) as our approach, a method that intentionally includes project participants as members of the research team from the start. Project stakeholders included the LGMA, the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA), and library staff from Meath County Council Libraries.
The project phases spanned 1) Curriculum Review & Needs Assessment; 2) Module Planning & Development; and 3) Module Delivery & Feedback. In phase 1, we undertook an in-depth review of existing media literacy resources to establish the current state of media literacy training available to Irish public librarians. Although the review produced a useful list of resources, it also highlighted a lack of local training opportunities available to public library staff in Ireland. In phase 2, we carried out an online survey of 33 public library staff in Meath County Council Libraries to gather information about their educational, career, and professional training backgrounds, their self-assessed personal media literacy competence, their self-assessed personal competence in relation to teaching media literacy to others, and their training preferences. While the survey showed a reasonably high level of confidence regarding media literacy knowledge in general, it also revealed a much lower level of confidence in teaching media literacy to others and highlighted a clear need for training in instructional techniques. Finally, we held an interactive online focus group with 20 librarians, for which we created four fictional, but realistic, problem “scenarios” that would require librarians to have media literacy skills to solve, e.g., a patron seeking advice on a SMS text scam. The focus group shed further light on the librarians’ media literacy conceptions and highlighted specific areas of concern. Based on the survey and focus group, five key topics were identified for the pilot training programme workshops:
- Identifying and sharing good media literacy information
- Our data footprints
- Google is not the Internet
- Cyberbullying and hate speech
- Conspiracy theories
Facilitated by the UCD team, the pilot programme ran over five consecutive days at the end of June 2021. Between six to ten librarians from Meath Libraries attended each two-hour interactive workshop on Zoom. Post-pilot evaluations revealed that the participants enjoyed the informal approach and open discussion about media literacy that was encouraged. The librarians also suggested that the workshops could be three hours instead of two, and that more content focusing on teaching skills should be included. Resources used in the workshops, such as Jamboards, Padlets, Poll Everywhere, and infographics were considered extremely valuable as teaching and learning tools.
This project highlighted the need for media literacy training, as well as teacher training for public librarians to enable them to serve their communities effectively. An anticipated next step in this project is to roll out the programme more widely in Irish public libraries nationwide, to make it available to all.
Claire McGuinness & Crystal Fulton, University College Dublin, Ireland
Article reposted with permission from Media & Learning Association