Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Digital Literacy: Tools and Methodologies for Information Society. Pier Cesare Rivoltella, ed. IGI Publishing, Hershey, NY, 2008. List price: $99.95. ISBN: 1599047985
Science-technology-medical (STM) librarianship is a specialized field that regularly both consumes and contributes to research in educational as well as sociological areas. A volume with the title Digital Literacy: Tools and Methodologies for Information Society is certain to attract the attention of many readers of ISTL. Pier Cesare Rivoltella has brought together a volume of essays that touch on all aspects of digital literacy and offers diverse yet highly abstruse perspectives on this topic. Unfortunately, however, the compilation does not sustain the interest its title and packaging generate: it is extremely difficult for all but the most initiated post-structuralists to derive practical applications -- or even meaning -- from many of its pages.
The result of a broadly international compilation of theoretical work from Spain, Portugal, Brazil, USA, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, France, and the UK, the book is divided into four sections, the first of which is "The Information Society: A Conceptual Framework." Over the course of five chapters, this section takes on 1) selected facets of the philosophy of knowledge as they relate to digital literacy; 2) the digital tools required to create this knowledge; and 3) some potential applications that are yielded in the process of digital knowledge creation. The first of these chapters, "Knowledge, Culture and Society in the Information Age" by the volume's compiler, Rivoltella, is a very dated and highly convoluted literature review spanning more than three decades of digital knowledge theories that ultimately concludes that "digital learning is an education model that accepts the challenge of speed" (p.23). The second chapter, "Communicating in the Information Society: New Tools for New Practices," is of some interest for STM librarians as it comments on the growth and applications of social networking tools from the development of Internet search engines through the lowering of the digital divide, particularly in electronic publishing through the explosion of Web 2.0. STM librarians in the academic or school library environment who may be grappling with creating relevant and effective reference or instruction sessions will be interested in the discussion in the fifth chapter, "Integrating Technology Literacy and Information Literacy." The analysis of the relationship between these two literacies will be a useful discussion, though some will find the overwrought analysis a distraction. And the chapter's conclusion about these two literacies, i.e., "to be successful, instruction must be designed to balance [them] and integrate them with course content and goals to create meaningful results for students...to position them for lifelong learning" (p. 95) will strike most as mundane.
The second section, "The Information Society: Educative Researches [sic]," offers a collection of five essays on methods and processes used for the investigation of digital literacy studies; it is, therefore, of limited value to the STM library practitioner, though some interesting suggestions for those librarians who research user needs in various educational populations may be found. In this section's Chapter 6, "Growing Up Wireless: Being a Parent and Being a Child in the Age of Mobile Communication," for example, the author makes some observations about the flattening intergenerational impact of the wireless phone on family interaction. Chapter 8 "Adolescents and the Internet: Media Appropriation and Perspectives on Education," which discusses the international Mediappro research project comments on the struggles of adolescents while navigating plural digital environments; such struggles, it suggests, point to the need for improvement in media instruction in middle and high school education. Unfortunately, there is little really new information provided nor much practical applicable material to be found here by the STM librarian. Other well-worn truisms which will be obvious to even the newest STM librarian are offered in Chapter 10, "Learning with New Media at the University: From Representation to Utilization," which concludes that "the Internet is much closer to university students because it can match their everyday language" (p.173).
The three chapters that make up Section 3, "Digital Literacy: Definition and Perspectives," are unfortunately, for the most part free of definitions. And the perspectives to be found in these chapters are difficult to apprehend, ranging from the jarringly personal (particularly in chapter 11) to the highly derivative, such as this example from chapter 13: "the new paradigm seems to be defined by the technologies of the self" (p.227). Those interested in the instruction of girls and young women will find some practical advice in the same chapter, though, particularly pertaining to the efficacy of gaming strategies in the online instructional environment.
Section 4: "Digital Literacy: Educational Outlines" is the least flawed section in this volume. In fact, Chapter 14 "Educating in the Information Society" would arguably have made a better first chapter in that it is, from this reviewer's point of view, the most lucid and interesting overview of digital literacy issues in the book.
Throughout this compilation, there is an unevenness in the standard of scholarship: as previously discussed, some of the authors employ a highly poststructuralist, even esoteric language, while others couldn't be taken seriously by any but the most popular audience. For example, Chapter 7 "Children and Computers: What They Know, What They Do" draws this conclusion about educators: "They are most scared that computers can turn kids into machines" (p.135).
Examined as a whole, in addition to the almost impenetrable jargon on display throughout many of the essays, there is an astounding number of grammatical and language usage errors that detract from any perception of the scholarship within. The third and fourth chapters "Digital Media and Socialization" and "New Episthemologies [sic] in a Changing Media Environment," for example, are written in so incoherent and linguistically sloppy a style that it was difficult for this reviewer, despite several readings, to trace the logic leading to their conclusions.
The reviewer suspects that possibly contributing to the problems discussed are faulty translation and/or hasty proofreading processes. It is also suspected, because of stylistic and even topical differences, that the chapters' abstracts were not consistently written by their authors. The brief abstract for Chapter 15, "Digital Production and Media Education: What do Teachers Need to Know?," is nonsensical and will turn most readers away from the much better writing within the body of the chapter.
Unfortunately, this work is so riddled with errors, incoherencies and non sequiturs that it simply cannot be recommended.
Perhaps a second edition of Digital Literacy: Tools and Methodologies for Information Society, rigorously edited for content, currency, and style, may deliver on the promise to STM librarians and other ISTL readers left unfulfilled by the first.