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Digital citizenship is the University’s business; University Libraries can help

By Sarah Pritchard, Dean of Libraries

We now live in a global society that is increasingly dominated by digital technology. Institutions of higher education are part of that society, and each of us has a responsibility to help our students prepare themselves for personal and professional success in that environment.

We also have a responsibility to contribute to the society in which we live by increasing awareness and understanding, by discovering new knowledge and new possibilities, and by empowering both ourselves and our students to shape its culture in a positive way.

If that sounds a lot like our traditional mission, it is meant to. We need to apply our values, as well as our knowledge and skills, to the challenges of an expanding digital world. One of those challenges is the rapid rate of change in scholarship due to the speed and openness of internet-based communication. We as an institution need to keep up.


Libraries build digital citizens

At Northwestern University Libraries, we have chosen the term “digital citizenship” as shorthand for this aspiration. We want to help ensure that everyone in our community has the information and skills they need to think critically, participate responsibly, and contribute as 21st Century citizens and scholars.

Libraries are well positioned to take leadership roles in the effort to educate good digital citizens. The professional values and expertise of library staff are focused on information access, retrieval, responsible use, and management. Libraries are among the most trusted of modern institutions. In the academic context, libraries serve the entire community, have a cross-disciplinary mission, and traditionally support extra-curricular scholarly exploration and lifelong learning.

We intend to step up, spread the word, and partner with faculty and administration to incorporate digital citizenship into the fabric of Northwestern campus life. This post, the first in a series, announces our commitment and asks for your support. In the weeks ahead several more posts on this site will examine some specific issues in a four-part framework:

  • How finding out, learning, knowing, and sharing happens in the digital world. (Good digital citizens understand the difference between fake news and research findings.)
  • Issues of safety and security. (Good digital citizens are mindful of technology-related dangers to identity, privacy, and reputation.)
  • Law, social awareness, and responsible internet behavior. (Good digital citizens respect intellectual property and critically evaluate tools, platforms, and technologies.)
  • The changing face of scholarship. (Good digital citizens embrace new forms of scholarly communication, manage data appropriately, and provide for continuing access to their work.)

Among our initial plans are the publication of an open educational resource, creation of a non-credit summer or intersession course, organization of a peer leadership program, and sponsorship of a domain dinner.

Watch for future posts in this series as well as announcements of events and opportunities to get involved. In the meantime, please contact us at to express your interest. Whether you want to collaborate with the libraries to increase the internet IQ of students, to seek assistance with a digital scholarship challenge, or to express an opinion as a concerned digital citizen, we’d like to hear from you.