Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Network Literacy: A Role for Libraries?

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Network Literacy: A Role for Libraries?

Article excerpt

The skills required to use the switch hook flash on one's telephone pale in comparison to the skills and knowledge needed to use resources and services in the evolving National Information Infrastructure (NII) and the Internet/National Research and Education Network (NREN). While some people begin to develop and others expand and refine their network skills and competencies, the vast majority of the public has no skills related to using these new communications technologies, and many live in fear of a passing thunderstorm that might force them to relearn (again) how to reset the LCD time display on their VCR or microwave.

There is an educational disconnect between the rapidly developing communications technologies and information resources available to the public, and the public's ability to use these resources. An elite few, typically academics, researchers, technology enthusiasts, and "network junkies," are network literate. While the gulf between these network-literate "cybernauts" and the nonliterate continues to widen, the educational system remains largely oblivious. Individuals in this emerging electronic society primarily learn on their own to be productive in and empowered by this new environment, or they are left behind.

Significant changes in the communications infrastructure are affecting the very fabric of society. Information technologies in telecommunications, cable television, wireless satellite transmissions, the Internet/NREN, and other areas now provide an incredible, and seemingly endless, array of information resources and services. Experts knowledgeable about these technologies tell us that future uses and applications will be limited only by one's imagination (The Info Highway 1993). Network literacy--the ability to identify, access, and use electronic information from the network--will be a critical skill for tomorrow's citizens if they wish to be productive and effective in their personal and professional lives.

The NII, an amorphous term for the collection of these information technologies and the infrastructure that supports them, appears to be taking shape (U.S. Congress 1993a). We are moving toward establishing an ubiquitous electronic network that connects different information technologies to endless streams of digital data throughout the country and the world. Indeed, "network" is an evolving term that includes these various computer, telecommunications, cable TV, and other technologies.

Meanwhile, the telephone, telecommunications, and cable television companies are battling for the rights for (and profits from) wiring individual homes to a massive array of information providers, resources, and services (Stix 1993). But while the battle for connecting individual homes to this evolving information infrastructure is still developing, it is clear that the Internet/NREN already provides a great deal of connectivity throughout the country and will have a significant impact on society. Indeed, the "networked society" is already taking shape.

While the technological developments related to networking are significant and draw much attention, there is also an infrastructure that supports these technologies. The nontechnological aspects of the infrastructure includes the human resources, political and social processes, organizational support, and tools (both physical and attitudinal) people need to use the new technologies. The technological infrastructure that supports the Internet/NREN continues to grow at a much faster rate than our knowledge about how to use the network (to say nothing of the switch hook flash), the network's impacts, its uses, and its effects on organizations and individuals.

Despite the traditional role of libraries in providing a range of information resources and services to the public, federal policy and planning have been inadequate in assisting libraries to make the transition to the networked environment. Nor has adequate planning or assistance been given to the public in order to learn how to use and access these electronic resources. …

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