On Friday, the Department of Commerce’s  National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in collaboration with a number of Federal agencies (including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)  launched of DigitalLiteracy.gov. The Web site serves to “provide libraries, community colleges, schools and workforce training centers a variety of resources and tools for teaching computer and Internet skills, which are increasingly necessary for success in today’s economy.”

This “online portal” serves a dire need and includes:

  • Workforce development materials
  • Curriculum materials
  • Train-the-trainer materials
  • Games and interactive tutorials
  • Reports and articles

Built with a user-friendly taxonomy and easy-to-use search features, the site also includes the opportunity for collaboration and feedback. DigitalLiteracy.gov augments NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, a Recovery Act grant program that invests in projects to expand broadband access and adoption in the United States.

Working Group Members of the Digital Literacy Initiative
What’s Cool

Often, sites launch and then people think about marketing them based on a mentality that “if you build it, they will come.” This might have worked for the Field of Dreams, but marketing and outreach needs to be a core component of launching any product from the get go. So get this:

NTIA is partnering with the American Library Association and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to promote the use of the portal by the nation’s 16,600 public libraries. Now THAT is interesting and THAT is where the real change will occur. This piece of information was the last bit of content shared in the three-page fact sheet about the launch. Yet, it’s where the real meat is (IMO).

Yes, having this resource is great and the fact that so many people are coming together around digital literacy is especially important to recognize. But here’s the thing: The launch of the site is a great milestone, but it’s only the beginning.

Digital Literacy and Public Health

Public health folks need to pay attention. More and more health information is going online and digital. How are the people who most need this information going to use it if 1) they can’t access it and 2) they don’t fully understand it? DigitalLiteracy.gov provides information to those working to help Americans develop digital literacy skills–but there’s also the feedback loop.

Librarians are public health professionals who often advocate to be a part of the solution, but who are sometimes overlooked–not anymore. 16,600 libraries means at least 16,600 stories. Let’s hope we get to hear about how these libraries are using DigitalLiteracy.gov and the impact its having on library patrons.

One of the best parts of the site is the “In the Community” section which highlights best practices from a variety of programs working to address digital inclusion and digital literacy. We need to hear–and listen to–these stories. We need the stories of success–just as much as we need to hear about the ones that failed. Why? Because it’s all about learning. We can learn from those teaching digital literacy and from those developing their digital literacy skills themselves to inform how we produce and deliver public health information.

Broadband access and digital literacy is vitally relevant to public health. Because of this, all public health folks should read the National Broadband Plan, understand it, and advocate for digital literacy and health literacy. Without either, we won’t get too far.