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New Voices RGU Student Series – Ayzel Calder

Category: New Voices, New Voices, RGU Student Series

In the Robert Gordon University Student Series blog, we share the views of RGU students from the MSc in Information and Library Studies course.

Today, we hear from Ayzel Calder, from British Columbia, Canada, who recently achieved a BA in English and History from the University of Alberta. Ayzel is currently studying at RGU for her MSc in Information and Library Studies, and outside of her studies, she reads and writes contemporary fiction. In this blog, she shares why she thinks that Digital Guides should be the future of academic librarianship!

Ayzel Calder, originally from British Columbia, Canada, tells us about the value of Digital Guides in promoting post-pandemic digital literacy.

Digital Guides: Academic Librarians within the COVID-19 Pandemic

Photo by Brett Jordan (all article photos courtesy of Unsplash)

The beginning of the year brought hopeful prospects and the idea of a new and better Roaring Twenties. Instead, the world was thrust into the unknown, where face-to-face services were rapidly replaced with internet services, work offices became home offices, and academics were moved online. The Coronavirus Disease 19 (more commonly known as COVID-19) instigated major change within a manner of weeks, and it has continued to affect what was previously considered the norm, changing it to include layered masks, physical social distancing, and a growing appreciation for the digital world.

Along with many major services, COVID-19 rapidly and unapologetically changed the academic landscape (Burki 2020), and by extension the academic library landscape. With the majority of services forced online, the importance of digitally literate librarians has become even more clear. Digital literacy, as described by West (2020), is so much more than just knowing where to click on a webpage: rather, it is the feeling of confidence in regard to the digital environment. A feeling that includes, but is not limited to, elements such as searching skills, a confidence in retrieved information, and digital problem-solving skills. These elements are products of what I consider the driving force of digital literacy: the Digital Citizen, a benchmark of digital literacy as presented by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) (ANON.).

What makes a Digital Citizen?

Photo by Jason Leung

Firstly, as West notes, it is the ability to “make online spaces as welcoming, engaging, and accessible as possible” (2020 p.13). This requires the ability to manage online resources and organise them in a way that is useful for students and staff alike, and to be actively engaging with individuals via online services. Secondly, it is knowledge of the digital landscape (ANON). It is not merely enough to engage through digital platforms, rather, it is having the ability to understand the platforms, the knowledge to assess technical roadblocks and the skills and confidence to troubleshoot. And thirdly, it is about the ability to cultivate digital identity and to increase investment in digital literacy with users (Wright 2013). It is more than just an assisting role: to be a Digital Citizen is to encourage and educate others in digital literacy, and to promote understanding of the technology that is entrenched in the modern world.

These skills and abilities are not just important in navigating the immediate environment of COVID-19 and social distancing regulations, but they have lasting effects that will continue throughout the length of the professional’s career, even going so far as to aid in the initiation of continual knowledge and learning.

The Digital Citizen Guide

Encouraging more and more the use of online services (ADMINISTRATOR 2020), it is more important than ever for the academic librarian to obtain, develop, and embody the skills of the Digital Citizen. Their knowledge and expertise of the online world significantly aids now disadvantaged academics in their pursuit of not only sources and information, but ultimately their degrees and futures. The Digital Citizen is more than just an individual who knows about information seeking, and it is not a leap to suggest that given the current climate they are gatekeepers and guides. Their role is more than just locating text, but rather as a multifaceted support system wherein their skills of overall literacy in the digital network aid and support students long-distance: building relationships, developing digital literacy within partners and students alike, and maintaining the ability to ensure constant and uninterrupted support.

West further notes that being digitally literate is “also about people’s ability to engage “[…] in online communication, exploration, and learning” (2020 p.12). While West’s statement is vital in the explanation and understanding of digital literacy, I would like to present a more suitable title for academic librarians. Instead of Digital Citizen, I recommend “Digital Guide”, a term that I believe more accurately encapsulates the skills and behaviours of the digitally literate librarian, especially within the context of COVID-19. In their altered roles which now take on a heavier technological element, guiding students and staff through the digital landscape with this level of rigour is both a new and expected skill, but it is also vital to the future existence and maintenance of academic libraries.

Photo by Gunnar Ridderström

COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed the roles of librarians. Looked at objectively, however, within a greater context of long-term sustainability, a newly refined role of the Digital Citizen, or boldly, the Digital Guide, and the skills accompanying that title will not only aid themselves and the participants of the library now, but for years and decades to come.


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