I’ll Just Garble That: Thoughts on Digital Literacy

I did a lot of research for this post. By that, I mean I started by skimming through my usual go-to sites and blogs–the bibles of “digital potpourri’ creator and guiding light Adriano Fruzzetti. Then I followed certain leads to other websites, published studies, and interviews with digital publishing insiders/gurus. Then I took notes on main ideas, wrestling unfamiliar terms and complex concepts into some simplified pretzel formally known as a “gist”. Then I looked at pictures of literary cakes [Flavorwire]…


…until procrastination could be justified no longer. Then I started typing. This brings us to the present moment. And to the point. I was researching the latest evidence that kids don’t know how to research.

On some level this is old news. Anyone who’s tuned in for the ongoing debates over Common Core Standards knows that secondary school teachers across the country are struggling to address their students’ subpar reading and comprehension skills [School Library Journal]. And anyone not living under a rock has figured out that access to digital tools has impacted the way kids seek out information [Pew Internet] much the way fast food chains affect our dining choices.

But it’s also new news. According to a not-yet-released Credo survey, 37% of college students (keep this in mind: college students) are, in the words of one paraphrasing headline, “unprepared for digital literacy” [Good e-Reader]. In other words, while many [young people] are proficient in information gathering, [especially via technology] they lack the ability to process that information for application.” [still Good e-Reader]. Today’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed recruits to the world of higher education know how to use a smartphone to win at trivia, but they couldn’t pick a reputable scholarly journal out of a police lineup. (Too harsh, you think? I direct you to the second paragraph of the Credo press release.) 

When it comes to, say, putting together a report–whether it’s for your sixth grade History Day project or your senior thesis–a search engine can only get you so far. You need solid research skills to take you the rest of the way. Today’s young’uns (cough, my generation, cough) run into trouble there, because despite all the information available to them, they haven’t been taught how to think critically about it. They can’t separate the wheat from the chaff, much less thoroughly digest the wheat. (…Those cakes looked really tasty. When is lunchtime again?…) 

That’s where digital publishing–specifically, digital publishing for children’s books–comes in. (Not for the college crowd, alas, but for the next wave of students who are in danger of slipping through this same crack.) You know by now that many of Lerner’s books are meant to help kids learn–not just by expanding their horizons and igniting their imaginations but by laying the foundations for concrete knowledge-gathering. For instance, our nonfiction books introduce our youngest readers to indexes, glossaries, “suggestions for further reading,” and other in-text resources that will help them navigate more advanced information-hunting later. As often as I’ve inwardly groaned at the need to confirm that all the glossary words in an iBook link properly to their pop-up definitions, this is where information literacy starts. And that’s especially crucial for our digital offerings, so that kids can learn to recognize substance along with style in their techified resources. These are the first stepping stones that kids need on their journey toward becoming discerning readers. 

Or on their journey toward writing Adriano Fruzzetti’s blog posts. You really never know when research skills can come in handy.

On that note, enjoy the latest batch of web links:

Library by day, digital publisher by…the rest of the day [Infodocket]
John Ingram articulates what should be the publishing industry’s new motto: “We are talking about being brave, not stupid” [TOC O’Reilly]
For bookworms with lots of time on their hands: I guarantee this kind of hobby could cross over into digital.  [Nina Katchadourian]
New York Times Arts Beat maestros David Carr and A. O. Scott survey their colleagues to find out whether they prefer their books tactile or tech-y