Special Librarians and Digital Citizenship

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

October 27, 2020

The Special Libraries Association Competencies for Information Professionals includes the competency of Information Ethics.

Elements of this competency include the following:

  • Recognizing ethical issues relative to information handling, including but not limited to privacy and confidentiality, information security, intellectual property and copyright, and intellectual freedom;
  • Modeling ethical information behavior;
  • Teaching, influencing, and coaching others;
  • Contributing to organizational policies, procedures, and other initiatives; and
  • Assessing and auditing the organizational implementation of information ethics.” (Special Libraries Association)

Outside of libraries, information ethics is very similar to the concept of digital citizenship. It behooves librarians to understand digital citizenship, because of its close connection to many areas of librarian expertise.

What is Digital Citizenship?

Digital citizenship is the ability to use technology in safe and appropriate ways. It includes information literacy, privacy, online communication, digital identity, cyberbullying, media balance and well-being and digital etiquette (Common Sense Media). It also includes:

  • Digital Access
  • Digital Commerce
  • Digital Communication and Collaboration
  • Digital Etiquette
  • Digital Fluency
  • Digital Health and Welfare
  • Digital Law
  • Digital Rights and Responsibilities
  • Digital Security and Privacy (Mike Ribble)

*For definitions of each of the components of digital citizenship I recommend visiting the linked sites. 

Promoting Digital Citizenship

Because digital citizenship is aligned with many areas where librarians have expertise, it is important to consider how to promote digital citizenship within our libraries. 

One way to promote digital citizenship is to talk to people about what happens to information that is posted online. Explain how long it stays available. Show the Wayback Machine. Show information about your organization posted 10+ years ago. 

A second thing to do is teach about copyright and Creative Commons. Help individuals understand how content is copyrighted. Then, discuss how users have options with content they create with Creative Commons. This knowledge helps users abide by copyright laws, and it helps users proactively make decisions about content they create. 

A third way to promote digital citizenship is to teach about password management systems. 

Fourth, consider partnering with Human Resources to address topics such as information overload, information anxiety, digital welfare, and information security. 

Fifth, partner with legal to address issues of privacy, copyright, and digital law. 

Your organization likely has specific needs regarding digital citizenship. I encourage you to explore what is possible. 

Modeling Digital Citizenship

Another thing to consider is your library is to make sure you are modeling digital citizenship for your library users. One way to model digital citizenship is to be aware of accounts you have library stakeholders use and know what data is kept by those companies. Post and link to privacy information for those companies.

Finally, be transparent about how digital tools are selected for inclusion in the library. Let users know about things that were taken into consideration that have to do with digital citizenship. Discuss privacy, data collection, and account management.

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri. Please read her other posts about skills for special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful ILS, SydneyEnterpriseused daily by innovative special librarians.


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