21 March 2012

Digital literacy and the digital divide in genealogy

Literacy represents a person’s ability to read, write, and solve problems using both spoken and written language. Digital literacy is the ability to apply those same skills using technology such as desktop computers, ebook readers and smartphones.
That's a definition from the New York Library Association.

Although digitally literacy is increasing rapidly, virtually everyone now in the workforce and the newly retiring is digitally literate, the age structure of those interested in family history means there is still a substantial proportion of the community who are uncomfortable with or even antagonistic to computers. There's a digital divide.

Family history societies can help with education, but still need to make accommodations as they introduce digital media and methods. The Ontario Genealogical Society recently fully converted their NewsLeaf newsletter to online, but left open the option of receiving a hardcopy on request. They hope the demand will be small enough they can run off the required number on a photocopier.

Technology doesn't stand still. A new digital divide is rapidly opening up involving mobile computing and smartphones. Smartphone sales have overtaken those of desktop and laptop computers. 35% of all adults use a smartphone in the US. How is the genealogical community moving to adapt?

  • Ancestry have an app for where you can work on your family tree from a smartphone, not just view the information you have in the Ancestry cloud but view original records (with subscription). You can update your tree and add new information and people. There are others with which I have no experience.
  • FamilySearch has produced an app for people who want to help index the US 1940 census on a smartphone.
  • Accessibility to podcasts, such as the Genealogy Guys and Genealogy Gems.
  • Genealogy magazines, such Family Chronicle, Internet Genealogy and Family Tree (UK) are available for smartphones as well as in hardcopy.
  • If you read this, and some other genealogy blogs on a smartphone the information is formatted for the device.
  • Conferences have their own app meaning you don't have to lug around a conference program or syllabus book. You get updates as soon are they're posted.
  • Conferences are making facilities available to permit attendees to spread the word about what's happening, and so raise interest in a new generation, through social networks. 
Is your family history or genealogy society embracing the trend?

1 comment:

Cannuk said...

You bet our society supports digital (and all) literacy. The first step is to have a really useful website. Check out ours, that is the Victoria Genealogical Society at www.victoriags.org. Another step is to have a good place for people to meet to learn from each other. We have a Resource Centre. We don't call it a library because, although we have lots of resources and have catalogued them, it is much more of a gathering (and on some occasions, party) place. We have computers there. People bring in laptops, and what have you, and we share our knowledge...and have a lot of fun with it.