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Digital competence landscape in public libraries: examining the role of age and gender in the development of digital skills

Maria Borbely (Department of Library and Information Science, Faculty of Humanities, University of Debrecen, Debrecen, Hungary)
Margit Némethi-Takács (Department of Library and Information Science, Faculty of Humanities, University of Debrecen, Debrecen, Hungary)

Performance Measurement and Metrics

ISSN: 1467-8047

Article publication date: 4 September 2023

Issue publication date: 31 October 2023

334

Abstract

Purpose

As part of the EFOP-3.3.3-VEKOP-16–2016-00001 “Museum and Library Development for All” project, a national representative digital literacy survey was conducted in Hungary's public libraries at the end of 2019. The aim of the present study is to provide a deeper analysis of the data collected during the survey to answer the question of the role of gender and age in the development of digital skills amongst librarians working in public libraries. This study was designed to answer the following four research questions: Are there levels of proficiency defined by DigComp 2.1 that are more specific to men or more specific to women? Are there areas of competence and competences that are clearly perceived as stronger or weaker for men or women? Are there areas of competence that are clearly influenced by age and others that are not or only moderately influenced by age? Which competences are clearly age-related, and which are not or only slightly affected by age?

Design/methodology/approach

The main target group of the study were library professionals working in county libraries. The survey, based on the DigComp 2.1 (Gomez et al., 2017) framework, was conducted using an online questionnaire in the form of a self-assessment and explored four levels of digital literacy. A 30-question questionnaire was completed by 1,868 respondents. The sampling procedure was essentially stratified sampling. The large number of respondents and the sampling procedure combined with the representativeness of the sample meant that the results of the survey can be considered as generalisable to the whole Hungarian public library sector.

Findings

Of the five competency areas assessed by the DigComp framework, librarians were found to be most competent in information and data literacy, and least competent in content development, according to the proportion of those with basic skills. 32 percent of women and 22 percent of men working in libraries rated their digital skills as basic, and both groups were weak or less weak in the same skills, with a few exceptions. At the intermediate level, there is a predominance of women. In the information and communication competency areas and in the content development and integrating and re-elaborating digital content in the content creation area, a high proportion of women consider their digital skills to be medium. Relatively few men rate their own competence in these areas as average. They are most likely to have advanced and highly specialised skills. The advanced level in DigComp2.1 implies, in addition to strong digital skills, the willingness and ability to help others, while the highly specialised level requires innovative and creative use of digital technology and knowledge transfer. These top two skill levels are more common amongst men. 34 per cent of men and 27 per cent of women have advanced skills, while 13 per cent of men and 6 per cent of women have highly specialised’s level. The age of librarians has only a minimal influence in certain areas of competence and for certain competences. Skills in the information and data literacy competency area are less age sensitive. For the data management competency, which requires more technological skills, a stronger correlation between age and skill levels is observed, especially for basic and highly specialised skills. In the communication competence area, the youngest age group of librarians has the highest percentage of advanced and the lowest percentage of basic level. The proportion of advanced learners decreases steadily as age groups progress and the proportion of basic learners increases at a similar steady rate. The effect of age on the content creation is much more modest than expected. Age clearly has an impact on the safety competence area. As age increases, the proportion of those at advanced level decreases and the proportion at basic level increases. Age also has a significant effect on the problem-solving competence area. One in two librarians in the 50 and 60s have only basic level skills, compared to one in four in the youngest age group and one in three in the 40s.

Originality/value

Using the DigComp 2.1 framework, a digital competence survey of a whole professional group of library professionals working in public libraries in Hungary was carried out. The study provides new insights into the impact of gender and age as variables on digital competence.

Keywords

Citation

Borbely, M. and Némethi-Takács, M. (2023), "Digital competence landscape in public libraries: examining the role of age and gender in the development of digital skills", Performance Measurement and Metrics, Vol. 24 No. 3/4, pp. 155-175. https://doi.org/10.1108/PMM-03-2022-0012

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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