Out of the Comfort Zone: Web Literacy Training for Library Staff

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The Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library is currently participating in the Mozilla Foundation’s Web Literacy pilot funded by an IMLS grant. The pilot includes 8 other libraries spread across the US from New York to Oregon.

The web literacy framework is based on three core 21st century skills: read, write, and participate. These areas are divided into more specific skills such as search, navigate, code, and protect.

A framework for entry-level web literacy & 21st Century skills. Source credit: learning.mozilla.org

Public libraries are a natural partner in figuring out the best strategies to help modern day citizens gain this important skill set. Many librarians struggle to keep their skills up to date with the rapid pace of change in the technology sphere as patron’s questions and needs become more nuanced. Librarian professionals are often expected to be experts when they are facing most of the same challenges as their patron base: password woes, security breaches, privacy concerns, and managing an online identity.

In some cases, these skills are already in the wheelhouse of informational professional. Even before fake news became a part of the everyday vernacular, librarians have been helping users find accurate and reliable information. Other skills like HTML tags & javascript have not been a part of traditional library work.

Typical staff training in libraries has traditionally focused on learning something specific such as navigating the library catalog, how to download an ebook, or how to use an analytic tool. These training are often delivered with a Power Point and a lecture. In contrast, the Mozilla Web Literacy training is wide ranging, engaging, and interactive.

Our goal for phase 1 of the pilot was to train at least 4 public service/ reference staff members from each location. Our library system is made up of 4 libraries that service 7 communities with a population of 65,000. We wanted to train a diverse selection of staff. We also didn’t want to train only the tech gurus. We wanted less techie staff to be involved in the sessions as this training is really about building skills and confidence.

YA Librarians at the Mozilla Web Literacy Training at the Willowick Library

We developed an agenda for a 2 hour workshop with staff. Each session had roughly 4–10 participants. Phase 1 of this training took place in the winter of 2017. The workshop started with a basic introduction to the internet, followed by understanding HTML tags and using Thimble, and wrapped up with a the creation of a privacy recipe using the web chef recipe template.

Privacy Recipe

The last training session was held on February 28th the same day of the Amazon’s massive AWS outage. This resulted in some impromptu offline activities as Thimble and other Mozilla tools were impacted by the outage. It also resulted in lots of discussion about how vulnerable the internet can be. It was a teachable moment.

In total we trained 18 public service employees that work in three different departments within our library branches: Adult Services, Young Adult, and Children’s.

We received a lot of favorable comments about the training. One staff member said that it gave her a more holistic view of the internet. These topics had been fragmented in the past which made them difficult to understand.

Other staff comments about the training included:

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!

I really like the idea of teaching patrons how to be more proactive regarding their privacy on the internet.

I love how hands on it was.

I enjoyed the Who Am I portion of the presentation the most, but I can honestly say I really liked everything! I learned so much in a short period of time!

Delivering the Web Literacy training using Mozilla’s teaching methods nudged us to step outside of our comfort zones with rewarding results. The web literacy map not only helps empower internet users but also the trainers of future internet users.


Out of the Comfort Zone: Web Literacy Training for Library Staff was originally published in Read, Write, Participate on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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