Enhancing Digital Privacy and Security Skills for Low-Socioeconomic Families: Resources for Librarians and Patrons

The project detailed below responds to the IMLS National Leadership Grants for Libraries (Research grant category). The direct audiences for this research grant are economically disadvantaged families in Maryland and the public librarians that serve them. This project brings together interdisciplinary faculty from the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland (UMD), economically disadvantaged/low socioeconomic status (SES) families, and public library partners to identify the privacy and security challenges librarians and low-SES families face using internet and communication technologies (ICTs) and to develop a suite of educational and professional development resources for both librarians and low-SES families to minimize risks to the privacy and security of individuals’ personal information. Our partners are the Division of Library Development & Services (DLDS) at the Maryland State Department of Education and the Center for the Future of Libraries (CFL) at the American Library Association. As a partner, DLDS has identified four library branches in Maryland (at four different library systems—two branches serving urban areas and two branches serving rural areas) that will work with the researchers on all project activities. These library branches were chosen as research sites because their primary patrons are economically disadvantaged, including immigrants and low-income families. In addition, we will work with DLDS and CFL to assist with the development, iteration, and dissemination of the research findings and educational materials beyond these library sites.

In Year 1 of the project, we will work with partner libraries to recruit 40-50 economically disadvantaged families and conduct in-depth interviews with them to identify the main challenges they face accessing and successfully using the Web to gain access to various financial, health, and other resources. We will also ask them about how, if at all, they make use of information intermediaries like librarians or information brokers like their children or other young adults in their families to help them reduce the digital literacy/privacy skills gap. We will also conduct 6-8 focus groups with 30-40 librarians who serve economically disadvantaged populations to identify the challenges they face when providing resources to these families and to articulate their needs in this area.

Based on the emergent themes from these data sources, we will conduct participatory design sessions with low-SES families and librarians during the first half of Year 2 to jointly create informational and educational resources to enhance digital skills and reduce privacy and security risks these families face. The initial set of developed resources will be implemented at the four partner libraries across Maryland during the second half of Year 2 and the first half of Year 3. During pilot implementation, we will continue to test the resources with both stakeholders through design and evaluation sessions, collecting quantitative and qualitative metrics of satisfaction, comprehension, and overall privacy and security knowledge.

During the final half of Year 3, we will work with our partners, partner libraries, and advisory board members to widely disseminate the research findings and finalized resources. Data, research reports, and resources will be widely accessible through our project website, and we will share findings with broad audiences through conference presentations, stakeholder talks, and social media. Finally, during this time period, we will work with partners (CFL and DLDS) to cohost four Webinars for librarians to introduce them to the research and resources, answer questions about implementation, and request feedback about missing resources that might be context specific. We will also disseminate the research findings at each stage to scholars outside the library and information science such as learning scientists and communication scholars to promote and create awareness of privacy literacy research in libraries.

The proposed project fills a significant gap in the research on digital privacy and security challenges faced by librarians and their patrons, and will provide valuable theoretical outcomes by extending theoretical work around librarians as information intermediaries, digital literacy, the digital divide, and mental models of privacy among economically disadvantaged Americans, as well as tangible outcomes in the form of informational and educational resources to assist highly most vulnerable families and the public librarians tasked with helping them navigate new communication technologies safely.

December 2016 - January 2021

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