Why digital literacy should include privacy education.

A friend pointed me to an article about educating novice users about technology: Joining the Surveillance Society? New Internet Users in an Age of Tracking (full article PDF). The article calls them “marginal users” which is a term I hadn’t heard before but it seems apt. While I don’t agree with every aspect of the article, the thesis is strong and worth exploring. Only some of the classes mentioned are library classes.

Recent digital inclusion policies that aim to increase digital literacy of new Internet and computer users, promote civic engagement, and improve economic development do not currently address the privacy needs of new users. This paper presents an in-depth look at surveillance and privacy problems faced by individuals who turn to digital literacy organizations for training and Internet access, including low income individuals, people of color, immigrants, the elderly, and non-English speakers. These individuals are coming online without adequate skills, know-how, and social support to confront digitally enabled government surveillance and corporate intrusions of personal privacy.

Of particular note in the article

  • Competency of people doing the instructing: “Some staff members revealed that they did not know what cookies are”
  • Bias of the tools being used: “A study conducted at Harvard University showed how search engine queries for “African American sounding” names yield advertisements for criminal background checks. Searches for “Caucasian sounding” names do not.”
  • Appropriateness of tasks to the students: “The (computer training) center required its students to send an e-mail to any city agency or official using the agency’s or official’s website. Staff members said that a majority of their students refrained from this exercise, due to anxiety over being contacted or targeted by government.”
  • Needs exceed offerings: “none of the organizations reported offering privacy education to beginning learners. (The library did offer one-off sessions for privacy and safety…) … issues related to information sharing arose in an ad hoc manner in every class observed.”

The New America Foundation who published the report has a board of directors chaired by Eric Schmidt from Google.

One School, One Library, One Librarian

Why South Africa is failing its children and what people are doing to try to solve the problem.

[F]ewer than 7% of schools in South Africa have a functioning library. Perhaps 21% have some kind of structure called a reading room, but these are usually used for classrooms, are seldom stocked properly and do not have a library professional in charge to ensure that the right books are there and that they are used properly. The lack of libraries compounds the many problems, such as teachers’ poor subject knowledge and poor access to textbooks, that plague our schooling system. These factors combine to make our reading outcomes, at all grade levels, among the worst in Africa.

nuns vs. librarians spelling bee cage match of dooooooom

When nuns are using the Internet to practice for the spelling bee, do the librarians stand a chance, especially when the nuns know a lot of Latin? The librarians have won the last two years in a row, but the nuns haven’t been in the running since 2001. The ninth annual bee happens tomorrow and is a benefit for a Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission helping adults with literacy skills. update: check the comments, librarians win!!

the illiterate libraran, a community library in an impoverished Brazilian neighborhood

The Community Library, 18th Street. A labor of love library in Sao Goncalo, Brazil.

The house has been christened, as the big, hand-painted sign on the roof proudly announces, the Community Library, 18th Street. On busy afternoons, it’s standing room only. Patrons vie for one of the mismatched chairs, which scrape along a floor lined with discarded tiles that Leite and his friends scrounged….

Brazilians are handicapped by lack of access. Government officials say that nearly 1,000 of the country’s 5,500 municipalities have no public library. Buying a book is even less of an option….

A study in 2001 estimated that 16% of the population owns nearly 75% of all the books in Brazil — hardly surprising considering that a standard paperback routinely sells for about $15, or one-eighth of the minimum monthly salary.

Moreover, illiteracy remains high; 16 million Brazilians older than 15 cannot read or write.

[thanks jesse]

serving lower literacy users through effective web design

Low-literacy users have different online behaviors than high-literacy users. They don’t scan, they read. It’s easier for them to miss important information that is outside of the normal text-areas. The good news? it’s easy to improve usability for low-literacy users without compromising the effectiveness of web sites for higher-literacy users. Read more at Jakob Nielsen’s excellent usability site, Alertbox, which also has good tips on usability for seniors.