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Promoting digital skills in the library field
It’s a wonderful digital life

Following the three seminars on digital libraries and technological development conducted by the Goethe-Institut and IFLA, one of the many topics that sparked my interest was librarians’ digital skills and how to improve them. I will argue that as well as new perspectives on our academic curriculum, there should be a close cooperation between librarians all over the world.

By Rita Aleixo

As I watched the presentations and listened to the speakers and my fellow Emerging International Voices, I could not help but feel that the issues we face are very similar, if not the same. After the first seminar I wrote on my social media that, ‘With more or less obstacles, like digital literacy and poverty, we face similar problems and reflect upon them.’[1] After the last seminar I noted that, ‘We agreed that library advocacy, cooperation between library associations and networks, and digital skills development are key factors in thriving in the digital world. These are the paths we need to be crossing.’[2]

Digital skills in Portugal

As we entered an era of fast technological development, the ‘90s witnessed the term information society gain momentum. It is used to describe our current society, where we are bombarded with information at every minute. As Webster defines it from a cultural perspective: ‘There is simply a great deal more information about than ever before, a point easily appreciated when one reflects on the extraordinary growth of symbols in today's society (media, clothing, even body shape all contribute to this environment). Today we have round-the-clock television, a continuous music supply, advertisements at every corner, fashions and styles displayed everywhere – so much information that it can seem perverse not to conclude that this is indeed an ‘information age’.’ (Webster, 2001)

In the late ‘90s, the Portuguese political framework began to consider a strong information policy as a key factor in the social well-being and economic growth of the country (Livro verde para a Sociedade da Informação em Portugal, 1997). In the Green book for Information Society in Portugal, a governmental work published in 1997, one of the chapters is dedicated to digital libraries, stating that there are still many households without a computer and the public library must serve as the gateway to digital information and media (Livro verde para a Sociedade da Informação em Portugal, 1997).

Almost twenty-five years later, and with national programmes designed to promote digital literacy and digital inclusion such as INCoDE.2030[3] and Portugal Digital[4], we still face a digital divide that mainly affects the disadvantaged population, whether because of age, unemployment, poor education, lack of English proficiency, gender, and/or proximity to rural areas (Lapa & Vieira, 2019).

According to the latest Eurostat numbers, one can verify that in the last year 52% of the Portuguese population aged between 16-74 had ‘basic or above basic overall digital skills’. This represents a slow but noticeable change in digital skills ‘fluency’, up from 48% in 2015, as seen in the graphic below.
1 – Fonte: Eurostat 1 - Fonte: Eurostat[5]

On the other hand, the reality seems a little brighter in households with children, where the percentage of individuals with digital skills reaches slightly over 60%, according to Eurostat.

2 - Fonte: Eurostat[6]
2 - Fonte: Eurostat Given this context, where half of the population is still excluded from the information society, libraries have a significant role to play in allowing the freedom and right to information.

Digital skills in the library field

With a rapidly growing technological world, libraries face new challenges. In 2020, libraries are not just a space where you can access a computer, in case you do not have one at home. Now, there are an array of digital services – besides reading/lending electronic documents or eBooks. Interactive content, platform creation, computer databases, virtual communities, social media management and analytics, content creation, webinars, and more. All these topics were widely discussed during the three seminars hosted by the Goethe-Institut and IFLA, some resulting in a new set of challenges for libraries, like how to handle data tracking and facial recognition, whilst ensuring the library’s mission of data protection.

In order to overcome these challenges, we need to rely on library advocacy, cooperation, and digital skills development, focusing on our users’ knowledge but also on librarians’ education.

In 1998, Rodrigues listed the main skills librarians should have: a deep understanding of the internet; the ability to manage electronic resources and create web content; knowledge and skills to maintain an online reference service; knowledge of digitisation methods and media creation; knowledge about database management; and the ability to use and evaluate different software and hardware (Rodrigues, 1998). In 2016, in an article that explores the changes in information professionals’ education in Portugal and Spain, Vitorino and Silva state that in order to consolidate the profession there is a need for partnership between education institutions and library associations, like our national association BAD (Vitorino & Silva, 2016).

One must stress the importance of lifelong learning. New projects like Biblio[7], born of library cooperation, aim to boost the digital skills of librarians in Europe, with an updated curriculum.[8]

In conclusion, when it comes to librarians’ digital skills there is still a road to pave; whether through the higher education curriculum, or national and international library associations’ programs. For the future, I reach for my personal notes and share these thoughts: Are we still being the library? What must we build? Explore options.

[1] FB post
[2] FB post 
[3] Webpage of INCoDE.2030 
[4] Webpage of Portugal Digital 
[5] Eurostat data on digital skills
[6] Eurostat data on digital skills of EU citizens living with children
[7] Biblio’s webpage 
[8] Biblio training programme


Informação, M. p. (1997). Livro verde para a Sociedade da Informação em Portugal. Lisboa: M.S.I. Obtido de http://purl.pt/239/2/

Lapa, T., & Vieira, J. (Dez. de 2019). Divisões digitais em Portugal e na Europa : Portugal ainda à procura do comboio europeu? Sociologia On-Line(nº 21). doi:https://doi.org/10.30553/sociologiaonline.2019.21.3

Rodrigues, E. (1998). Os novos tempos de uma velha profissão: perfis e competências dos bibliotecários na revolução digital. APDIS, (p. 6 p.). Obtido de https://repositorium.sdum.uminho.pt/bitstream/1822/421/1/APDIS98.pdf

Vitorino, E. V., & Silva, A. (jan-jun de 2016). A formação de profissionais da informação em Portugal e Espanha: um contexto necessário para compreender a competência em informação. Cadernos BAD(Nº 1), pp. 137-156. Obtido de https://www.bad.pt/publicacoes/index.php/cadernos/issue/viewFile/70/pdf_6

Webster, F. (2001). Information Society. Em P. B. Neil J. Smelser (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (pp. 7464-7468). Pergamon. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/B0-08-043076-7/04334-5