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Media Literacy

How to Use the ALA Media Literacy Guide


Down Media Literacy in the Library: A Guide for Library Practitioners, published November 2020, aims to “support libraries in their efforts to improve the media literacy of adults in their communities”. What actually is media literacy? According to the instructions National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) defines it as “the ability to access all forms of communication, to analyze, evaluate, shape and act”. Simply put, it’s about taking what we see, consume and create in our daily lives and figure out how it all makes sense together. For the people traveling this planet today, media literacy is a crucial skill that takes a bit of the old, refines it with new, and hopes to build a global community of thinkers, doers, communications, and doers – all of whom can contribute to modern society effective and positive.


The guide’s contributors think about media literacy as a whole, not just pieces that focus solely on specific hot button topics. From day-to-day interactions with users and managing library programs and events, to “As a library manager, how can I use this to help shape policy?” This document provides a basic entry point for all librarians. The second and third time I read the guide, it occurred to me that much of this information would be most helpful for librarians interacting with older (35-70 year old) clients. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t – it would – be helpful for all ages, but many of the discussion points, program ideas, and general guidelines are intended to help librarians communicate better with people in that age group.

One of the sections that public librarians will find most useful is “Meeting Customers Where They Are” (pages 4-7). There is so much a librarian can encounter in their daily work with the public. The visitors who come to you at the library to talk about politics or any other hot topic will never leave and it feels like no matter how much we prepare, we are always surprised by their approach. While this guide isn’t the silver bullet to walk you through each of these interactions, it does give you some pointers – and most importantly, the inspiration to approach these interactions with kindness, honesty, and fact.

I really appreciate the approach this guide takes to these interactions as it suggests that the librarian “find ways to introduce media literacy concepts into interactions you already have with your clients” while offering great lines to the client when he does talks about some of them topics like “Why do you feel this source? [we’re discussing] is reliable to others? Let me show you a few tools to help you determine if the media company you are looking for is trying to educate you, rather than convince or entertain. ”Meeting customers where they are, and the information in this guide use, the on-site librarian can have the opportunity to feel comfortable, manage the situation, and end the conversation in a way that is positive for everyone involved. Friendliness and understanding show the way.

Connection is very emphasized in this document, and most of the first part focuses on that. In a nutshell, the Media Literacy and Your Existing Programs subsection (page 6) will put any librarian on the right track for inspiration on how to incorporate media literacy into the programs and events that libraries do so well. In the subsection Media Literacy for Employees and Community Partners (page 7) below, readers may find the guide a bit flat. It does offer some general advice on how to have a conversation and be positive about media literacy, but it’s not really an inspiring starting point for conversations with staff and community partners. At a time when our staff is the most important part of the library and our community partners are getting more involved, it would have been great to focus on how to do this.


While the guide mostly keeps things at an easy-to-read level, it delves into some big topics. The biggest of them all is the misinformation and disinformation (page 20), which may have been the dominant issue in our society since around 2015. This section, which focuses on topics such as “filter bubbles” and “infodemics”, will probably have to be given by every librarian, “some read it again and then let the information rest in their heads. These are not necessarily topics that the on-site librarian will be having discussions with community members about, but it is good to understand these great concepts so that you know where to go if you come across them. As library leaders and directors read this section, read, pause, and think and ask themselves, “How can I help my staff help the community understand misinformation and disinformation?” These are the issues library leaders should think about , always with the staff who make the library buzz and are at the center of their decisions.

Also, the other big topics – Internet architecture (page 9), civics (page 12), and the media landscape and economics (page 16) – are unlikely to be addressed by customers while you help them get copies of Star. Wars: The Last Jedi in your library system, but they are here because it is good for all of us to know them and how they interact with everyone in our modern society. For example, the “Media Landscape and Economics” section states: “Always consider the intended purpose of the media you are consuming. Your reasons for consuming it and the importance you get from it may or may not coincide with those of their creators. “


Media Literacy in the Library: A Guide for Library Practitioners provides a clear set of options for another way to incorporate a media literacy program into your library. It should definitely not be overlooked, even by a librarian who is familiar with the subject of media literacy. The guide is easy to read and has a basic overview tone that should resonate with anyone who reads it. I was disappointed not to see any Library Freedom Project resources included in this guide; I believe this organization has done some of the most proactive work in educating librarians and their communities about media literacy and privacy issues. I strongly recommend that you check out his work after reading this guide.

In addition, the Media Creation and Engagement (page 23) section of the manual could have been greatly expanded. In fact, it could possibly become one of the most helpful library books ever written as more people become self-publishing and libraries dig deeper into makerspaces, creative spaces, and publishing. (My own Wellington City Libraries recently published an anthology of youth poetry entitled Tuhono.)

Other than minor criticisms, any public librarian who works or will work in a public library should read this guide. Much of their information should be very useful to small and medium-sized, rural and semi-rural public libraries in the United States, especially where communities tend to be conservative in thinking. The guide will help these types of library staff develop key skills and friendly approaches to bringing the topic of media literacy to their communities. For newcomers to media literacy, it allows them to delve deeper into the topic. For the advanced media literacy librarian, it is a reminder to keep studying and keeping this topic fresh in your mind.


Reading Media Literacy in the Library: A Guide for Library Practitioners here.

Read ALA’s June 2020 Strategy Report “Media Literacy Education in Libraries for Adult Audiences”. here.

Sign up for ALA’s adult media literacy webinars here.


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