ALA’s Media Literacy in the Library: A Guide for Library Practitioners, released in November 2020, is “designed to support libraries in their efforts to improve the media literacy skills of adults in their communities.” So what exactly is media literacy? According to the guide, the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) defines it as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication.” Simply stated, it’s taking what we see, consume, and create in our daily lives and figuring out how all of that makes sense together. For human beings wandering this planet today, media literacy is a critical skill that takes a bit of the old, smooshes it with the new, and hopes to build a global community of thinkers, makers, communications, and doers—who can all contribute to modern society in an effective and positive way.
SO HOW DO I USE THIS THING?
The contributors to the guide are thinking about media literacy as a whole, not just in bits and pieces that are solely focused on certain hot-button topics. From the day-to-day interactions with patrons and managing library programs and events all the way to “How can I use this as a library leader to help shape policies?” this document offers a basic entry point for all librarians. As I did my second and third read of the guide, I came away with the thought that a lot of this information would be most helpful for librarians who are interacting with older (35–70-year-old) patrons. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t be helpful for all age groups—it would—but a lot of the talking points, program ideas, and general guidance feels aimed at helping librarians communicate better with folks in that age range.
One of the sections that public librarians will find most useful is Meeting Patrons Where They Are (pages 4–7). There’s so much that a librarian can encounter when working with the public each day. Those patrons that come up to you in the library wanting to talk about politics, or some other hot topic, will never go away, and it feels as if no matter how much we prepare ourselves, we’re always caught off guard by their approach. While this guide won’t be the silver bullet that gets you through every one of these interactions, it will give you some pointers—and, most importantly, the inspiration to face these interactions with kindness, honesty, and facts.
I really appreciate the approach that this guide takes with these interactions, suggesting that the librarian “find ways to introduce media literacy concepts into interactions you already have with your patrons,” while offering great lines to say to the patron when talking about some of these topics, such as, “Why do you feel this source [we’re discussing] is reliable over others? Let me show you a few tools you can use to determine whether the media outlet you’re looking at has the intent of informing you, rather than persuading or entertaining.” Meeting the patrons where they are and using the information offered in this guide could give the on-the-ground librarian the tools to feel comfortable, to manage the situation, and to end the conversation in a way that is positive for all parties involved. Kindness and understanding lead the way.
Connection is highly emphasized in this document, and most of the first part is focused just on that. Short but sweet, the Media Literacy and Your Existing Programs subsection (page 6) will nudge any librarian along the right path toward inspiration on how to incorporate media literacy into the programs and events that libraries are so amazing at running. In the subsection after that, Media Literacy for Staff and Community Partners (page 7), readers may find the guidance a bit flat. It offers some generic advice on how to have conversations and approach the topic of media literacy positively, but it doesn’t really give much in the way of acting as an inspirational starting point for talking to staffers and community partners. In an age when our staffers are the most important part of the library and our community partners are getting more and more involved, it would have been great to focus on how to do this.
THE BIG STUFF
While mostly keeping things at an easy-to-read level, the guide does dive into some big topics. The biggest of all is Misinformation and Disinformation (page 20), which is quite possibly the defining topic of our society since around 2015. Every librarian will probably have to give this section, which focuses on issues such as “filter bubbles” and “infodemics,” a few rereads and then let the information settle in their brains. These are not necessarily subjects that the boots-on-the-ground librarian will be having conversations about with community members, but it is good to know these big concepts so that when you encounter them, you know where to go. Library leaders and directors should take note, pause, and reflect when reading this section, asking themselves, “How can I help my staff help the community understand misinformation and disinformation?” These are the topics that library leaders should be thinking about, always with the staffers that make the library hum and operate at the core of their decisions.
The other big topics—Architecture of the Internet (page 9), Civics (page 12), and Media Landscape and Economics (page 16)—will also not likely not be brought up by patrons while you’re helping them find copies of Star Wars: The Last Jedi in your library system, but they’re here because it’s good for all of us in the profession to be aware of them and to know how they interact with everyone in our modern society. For example, the Media Landscape and Economics section asserts, “Always keep in mind the intended purpose of the media you’re consuming. Your reasons for consuming it, and the meanings you take from it, may or may not match that of its creators.”
Media Literacy in the Library: A Guide for Library Practitioners offers a clear set of possibilities for a path forward to incorporating a media literacy program in your library. It should definitely not be overlooked, even by a librarian who is familiar with the topic of media literacy. The guide is written in a way that is easy to digest, and it takes a basic-overview tone that should resonate with anyone reading it. I was disappointed not to see any Library Freedom Project resources included in this guide; I feel that this organization has done some of the most proactive work out there to educate librarians and their communities about media literacy and privacy issues. I highly suggest you check out its work after reading this guide.
In addition, the guide’s Media Creation and Engagement section (page 23) could have been greatly expanded. In fact, it could probably be made into one of the most helpful library books ever written, as more and more people self-publish and libraries get deeper into makerspaces, creative spaces, and publishing works. (My own Wellington City Libraries recently published an anthology of youth poetry titled Tuhono.)
Small criticisms aside, every public librarian who is or will be working in a public library should be reading this guide. A lot of its information should be very useful to small and midsize, rural and semi-rural public libraries in the U.S., especially where the communities may lean toward conservative ways of thought. The guide will help these types of library staffers adopt key skills and kind approaches on how to bring the topic of media literacy to their communities. For the beginner in media literacy, it will allow them to dive further into the topic. For the advanced media literacy librarian, it is a reminder to keep on learning and to keep this topic fresh in your mind.
THE GUIDE AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Read Media Literacy in the Library: A Guide for Library Practitioners here.
Read ALA’s June 2020 “Media Literacy Education in Libraries for Adult Audiences” Strategic Report here.
Sign up for ALA’s Media Literacy for Adults webinars here.