21st Century Skills & Libraries

There is presently much debate going on about what skills are required by students, workers and citizens  to enable them to participate fully in the educational, social, economic and cultural  activities in the emerging digital age.  Fast broadband and Internet connection (gradually replacing the slow dial-up access using 56 kbps modems) will drive our  information society to the next phase of development which is likely to drastically change the current information/knowledge-based economy.  In democratic set ups like America, Great Britain and many other countries, there is a growing awareness about this “21st century skills”. Many government authorities have adopted explicit policies and attempt to ensure that all their citizens have adequate opportunities to access and effectively use ICTs in their daily lives.  In the US, association like The Partnership for 21st Century Skills which is supported by the U. S. Department of Education and which is promoting the goals of No Child Left Behind programme,   aims to define and incorporate into learning the skills that are necessary for every student’s success in the 21st Century. Another association, the NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Education) mentions that  “media literacy is finally on Congress radar.” A bill introduced in the Senate provides that  “Students need to go beyond just learning today’s academic context to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, communications skills, creativity and innovation skills, collaboration skills, contextual learning skills, and information and media literacy skills.”

The European Commission (EC) too views that “Europeans young and old could miss out on the benefits of today’s high-tech information society unless more is done to make them ‘media literate’ enough to access, analyse and evaluate images, sounds and texts and use traditional and new media to communicate and create media content.” [Read more at http://www.sofiaecho.com/2009/08/20/772502_european-commission-urges-new-media-literacy.The EC recommendation on media literacy may be accessed at: http://ec.europa.eu/avpolicy/media_literacy/index_en.htm ]

Information Literacy and Librarians

Professional library associations like the American Library Association (ALA) and the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) have for years developed information literacy programmes.  As per the definition of ALIA, information literacy is “the ability to recognise the need for information and to identify, locate, access, evaluate and effectively use the information to address and help resolve personal, job related or broader social issues and problems.”

It is clear that the term ’21st century skills‘ includes information literacy skills, digital literacy skills, media literacy skills, information and communication skills, critical thinking and problem-solving skills and  interpersonal and self-directional skills. To succeed in the 21st century, one should  have all these  21st century skills.

Role of libraries

Research papers have concluded that libraries and librarians can play a critical role both in making their users information literate and bridge the digital divide that exists at local, regional or national levels. Libraries can provide digitized full-text content, provide free access to computers and Internet and become national portals of digital information resources. In the changed environment, the librarian’s role have to shift from that of information locator (custodian role) to that of an information evaluator and instructor in the use and evaluation of information sources.

Libraries in local context

In the local context, unfortunately there are still some big libraries which are entirely dependent on print media. Automation of libraries is still a dream while  employees are often seen performing all library house-keeping jobs manually. With regards to ICTs, the attitudes of some librarians having charge of  important libraries are really frustrating. As soon as they hear about computers or computer-related technologies in the LIS field, their first reflex is that such things are the realm of computer technicians, systems analysts, database managers, not for librarians or library people. Such behaviours on behalf of those at the head of institutions are detrimental to the library profession in general. They forget that technology permeates all branches of learning, all disciplines and every sphere of our life. Lawyers, engineers, medical practitioners, people of all walks of life need ICTs in their daily personal and professional lives. If  librarians and library employees are themselves not fully conversant with ICTs, it is difficult to see them having a role in the information literacy programmes. They may not be of any assistance in bridging the digital gap.

Library people have time and again complained about lack of training to develop ICT skills in employees. They wrongly believe that the onus of training falls entirely on their employers. In a climate of cataclysmic change, no one is guaranteed a job for a life time. Those who train themselves by constantly updating their skills and become multi-skilled and who are engaged in life long learning are those who have greater chance of employability in such changing workplaces. In the past, employers made it a duty to train their employees but nowadays this responsibility is given less importance. In difficult economic situations, they downsize their personnel and redeploy those who suit the new market requirements. Others are easily laid off as they become redundant due to lack of new skills to fit the new organisation. In the local context, our librarians and information workers need to give a serious thought about the exigencies of the 21st century and the skills required to meet all the forthcoming challenges.

P. Hauroo


1. Wallis, Jake: Digital Directions: Cyberspace, Information Literacy and the Information Society. Library Review. Vol. 54 No. 4, 2005

2. Aqili, S. V and Moghaddam, A.I: Bridging the Digital Divide – The Role of Librarians and Information Professionals in the Third Millenium. The Electronic Library. Vol. 26 No. 2, 2008.