top of page

Blindingly obvious! Digital literacy starts in the school Library

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

streaks of light in a dark room

There are so many conversations these days about the importance of digital literacy and the need for our children to have the skill set to navigate the internet safely, that we seem to have missed the blindingly obvious. Children's digital literacy journey starts in learning how to use the school library.

I recently had a conversation with Barney Jenkins from Softlink who asked me if I knew why more schools don't use their school library management systems to start their students journey in digital literacy. I did have to say that this was probably because most teachers do not know or understand that it had this capability but it did get me thinking about how school librarians can use the system they know so well to support digital literacy.

Schools often talk about the cost of the library management systems thinking that they are just used to issue and return books. I agree, many are just used for that, usually having being bought by the school librarian as an essential tool to keep a school library running well and, because of this, many SLT's (Senior Leadership teams) really don't know it's capability. However in this time of budget cuts should we not be ensuring that resources already being paid for in school are actually being used to their full potential. It's really time for schools to learn that they already have something they can really use to help children start the journey of digital literacy and inquiry based learning.

As an SLS (Schools' Library Service) librarian I was regularly asked to help with online research. My first question was always about the school library catalogue and if they wanted to start there. Most said they did not realise that it was available outside the library and other said that they had all the books they wanted. This opened the conversation to the importance of children being able to find their own books and how it could also link to websites. We all know teachers who have files of websites that they have found for their children to use on specific topics. I would talk about putting these websites onto the catalogue so that this empowered the children to find them for themselves and moved away from spoon feeding them. On this very simple level a keyword search in the library catalogue would give the children a list of books and also a list of websites to choose from. I found It was a great way to discuss how the skill set of exploring the internet safely could be done through starting with their school library catalogue.

Some teachers would say that this is restricting their independence. Meaning that children should be allowed to search the internet. What I would then say is that this is like running before you can walk. We use books to teach research because we can explain the quality aspect of the information being checked before publication. We use websites selected by the teacher or librarian again for quality and age appropriateness. Independence is far more than just finding the information it is about demonstrating your understanding by being able to read the information found and then writing it in your own words. It also gave us the opportunity to talk about giving credit for what they found.

The first steps to digital literacy is finding and using appropriate information to answer questions. If we allow our children to head straight to the internet we know that they are going to find something quickly but can they read and understand it? How many times have we seen wonderful posters created by children where the information has been cut and pasted with words used that we know the children don't understand. Where is the learning here? Even very small children can be taught to cut and paste. If children know about the library catalogue and choose to check for information there first themselves this is the start of independent learning.

Those of us who have hosted library management systems already are in a great position to offer our schools something more that they don't have to pay extra for. Speak to your line manager or talk to the digital literacy co-ordinator and let them know about this wonderful tool that you can help use to teach digital literacy in their classrooms.

Barney also said that Oliver will also link to any online tool that your school currently buys into, such as Britannica online or Q-Files. This being the case makes the library catalogue even more appealing. Using one tool you can then search all your resources in one place. I am not sure if other systems do this but it is certainly worth checking out.

This simple closed, safe environment is one of the best tools to start the journey of digital literacy in any school. If you are already doing this I would love to hear your story.


Harriet Wilton from @JCSResouces wrote a blog about her digital experience at school. It seems a nice fit to say if we teach our children digital literacy at school they won’t be trying to work it out once they leave.

Lacking Research Skills, Students Struggle. School Librarians Can Help Solve the College Readiness Gap by Wayne D'Orio

Check out my pre-recorded webinars which include digital literacy and the school library.

Photo by By Ahmad Dirini on Unsplashed

657 views0 comments


bottom of page