Rights and Rites of Access to Virtual Communities

Margaret Mackey


Community engagement today may be visible and face-to-face or it may be virtual and conducted in online “affinity spaces” (Gee, 2004, 77) rather than real-life locations. In an era of unequal access to digital equipment, librarians need to ask themselves what is truly needed to provide any interested person with a reasonable chance of developing the requisite competencies, the background knowledge and the ready fluency required to engage successfully in digital communities. Those with domestic access to extensive computer time draw on the experience of extended play to develop the tacit and explicit knowledge required to engage with virtual communities. For those dependent on the library for their online portals, the right to extended play as a necessary initiation to digital participation should be considered as a provision of genuine access. The implications of this stance are significant for libraries and for LIS education.


This session will explore the significance of extensive play as essential to the development of significant digital literacies, and consider the importance of this finding for libraries, librarians, and LIS educators.


The session will draw upon a qualitative research project that explored the print and digital literacies of nine adults, aged 19-36 (author, in press), and will consider the findings in the context of LIS education.


Research questions
(a) How do young adults acquire literate understanding of a range of print and digital media?
(b) What are the implications of a greater understanding of young adults’ domestic and recreational digital behaviours for the institutional decisions of libraries?


Each participant was interviewed individually over five two-hour periods, and invited to respond to a range of texts in formats both known and unfamiliar: texts on paper (novels, stories, picture books, graphic novels, literary magazines), DVDs (film, television), digital games (computer, PlayStation, GameBoy), electronic texts (hypertext fiction, online poetry) and Internet sites (sites that extend fictional worlds and real-world information sites). Comparative analysis led to the development of common themes and descriptors for new literate behaviours.


Research base
The purposive sample was drawn from the population of young adults who have grown up taking a variety of media for granted.


Libraries supply books and they also support extended access to books through the provision of reading spaces, thus enabling the acquisition of both tacit and explicit reading skills. Access to other media is not so well supported, but this study indicates that extensive exposure to digital media is equally significant for the development of full, rich literacies. The institutional, financial and social implications for libraries are significant, and LIS educators need to explore the full complexity of these implications with their students.


Author. (2007, in press)
Gee, J.P. (2004) Situated Language and Learning: A Critique of Traditional Schooling. New York: Routledge