Librarians in the digital age: experts in e-health

By Susan Marshall

Susan Marshall explains how the school librarian’s role is central in developing students’ digital literacy and e-health, and introduces a free website to support online safety.

No one would argue against the perception that librarians have moved well beyond their traditional role.

The view of the librarian as the keeper of knowledge and the guide to unlocking the best of it has been totally overthrown — and the disruption metaphor is entirely apt. No longer do we even blink at the phrase ‘digital revolution’. The revolution is over, but what persists is the need for experts — yes, most often librarians — to lead, teach and support their colleagues and their students to navigate the fabulous but precipitous world of the internet. With precipices can come falls, and one of the librarian’s key roles is to ensure the e-health of students as they navigate their way through the digital world.

The librarian’s role has never before been so complex and so central to the quality of learning outcomes for students. Internet search engines have opened up a world of options for seeking information and connecting with others. This exhilarating, instantaneous, results-driven phenomenon has resulted in both benefits and challenges for the digital novice, be that teacher or student.

Of central importance to librarians is teaching the skill of evaluating online websites. In a world of ‘fake news’, misleading information, and a plethora of online text and image-distorting tools, it can be a minefield for the gullible. Being able to interrogate online sources using critical evaluation, questioning, and problem- solving ‘know-how’ is essential for success in all learning areas, and a lifelong skill. A useful site for tips on teaching students how to make sure their information is accurate and reliable is Teacher Tap.

Another critical challenge revolves around the shared responsibility of ensuring students know how to keep safe online and to get the most out of their experiences on the internet, as seekers of knowledge and creators of content. In schools, it is often the library where internet safety is first learned. Librarians understand well their role in explicitly teaching skills of safe internet use.

Understanding the interplay of students’ online and offline worlds

Small child sitting on a chair wearing headphones

As educators, we’re aware that the students we teach have never known a world without the internet. Using technologies to learn, play, create, be entertained, or connect are simply viewed as parts of the whole for today’s students. From research, we know that young people check their phone on average 56 times each day, with most activity centred around social media. But competing for internet learning time is only one of the challenges facing educators.

Students require social and emotional competencies to operate in the digital world. It is when the developing brain engages with the immediacy of a digital platform that issues may arise that can have a negative impact on students’ psychology. Supporting students to develop healthy behaviours online is a key responsibility of all educators. Schools with strong policies and implementation processes, and avenues for open dialogue with parents, can ensure a common understanding and approach to complex issues around responsible online behaviour. The National Safe Schools Framework is a sound starting point for educators to find information and resources that support safe, respectful, and supportive learning communities that promote student wellbeing and safety.

Safe internet use enables students to have positive online experiences

What are the key elements of safe internet use, then, that need to be taught? Students need to know how to act in their own best interests and develop behaviours to ensure they have safe and positive experiences online. Teaching students how to maintain their e-health is an important step in future-proofing them to get the most of their time online.

Equipping students with the skills to recognise dangers such as cyberbullying, strategies to manage their online time wisely, and practical help to develop resilience for the digital world are now priorities for educators. For a snapshot of how students’ health can be impacted by the internet, the video 'What the internet is doing to our brains' is a good starting point for developing a teaching approach.

The Student Wellbeing Hub provides great classroom resources, lesson plans, and activities for primary and secondary students as well as a comprehensive professional learning module on online safety. For busy library staff, the accompanying podcast provides a snapshot of what you need to know about e-safety and e-health, and how you can be supported in this important role.

Image credits:

Susan Marshall

Susan Marshall

Content Manager, Student Wellbeing Hub

Education Services Australia