Digital Badging: An opportunity for libraries and museums

By Susan H. Hildreth
Director, IMLS

From that scouting badge to a high school diploma to a certificate for continuing education credits, most of us have been collecting physical artifacts that recognize our achievements throughout our lives. As more and more learning is offered online or with an online component, there is a growing movement to recognize skills-based achievements with digital badges.

Many voices are chiming in to explore how digital badging may become part of our lives and help to document our achievements in both formal and informal settings. From federal agencies like the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and IMLS to foundations like the MacArthur Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Mozilla, there are new ideas, research, and innovative practices being developed that could help transform how we document what we know.

Here at IMLS we have just announced a grant to create a digital badging system specifically for libraries. The project will be launched this summer in Brooklyn Public Library and in several partner libraries. The project aims to test a digital badging system within a library environment, evaluate the technology, and present a model that can be adopted by other libraries.

At our WebWise conference in February we got an update on another IMLS-funded badging project – this one at a museum. The State Historical Museum of Colorado is working on a project to help children in the fourth, seventh, and eleventh grades achieve learning standards.  The badges will benefit teachers who are being asked to teach new content with new standards through a variety of teacher resources and professional development opportunities across Colorado. This project will address the statewide initiative to expand the teaching of Colorado history across grade levels.

Academic libraries are part of the mix too. Purdue University is using IMLS funds to develop CrowdAsk, to allow librarians, students, and faculty to ask and answer questions about library resources and tools. CrowdAsk will support ranking of questions and answers and use scores and badges for user motivation. The project addresses issues of fragmented library and academic help channels, content reuse and preservation, and lack of user (particularly expert) participation. CrowdAsk will be open source and shared with the public. The project will give users power to support others in getting research help.

Are you interested in learning about digital badging? Here are some resources to explore:

Expanding Educational and Workforce Opportunities through Digital Badges, a publication of Mozilla and the Alliance for Excellence in Education

STEM Badges: Current Terrain and the Road Ahead, a report on an NSF-supported research project by Michelle M. Riconscente, Amy Kamarainen, and Margaret Honey

Digital Media and Learning project at the Mac Arthur Foundation

Mozilla’s open badges project

Let us know your ideas about how libraries and museums can use digital badges to inspire a nation of learners!

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Education Support, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy) | 2 Comments

NTIA Brings Broadband Opportunities to Alaska

Ed note: This is a cross post of the NTIA Blog. Click here to see the original post.

By Anne Neville
Director, State Broadband Initiative
Last week, I traveled to Anchorage for the annual economic summit hosted by the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, a non-profit regional economic development organization. The Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference is working to improve the quality of life and drive responsible development across the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutian Islands, Bristol Bay, the Kodiak Archipelago and the Pribilof Islands.

Last week’s summit had a packed agenda, covering everything from energy conservation to sustainable fishing practices. One big topic of conversation was broadband and the power of high-speed Internet to open up economic, educational and social opportunities in some of the poorest, most isolated communities in our nation.

It’s no wonder that the Alaska state nickname is “The Last Frontier.” The state is more than double the size of Texas, with more than 3 million lakes, 34,000 miles of shoreline, and 29,000 square miles of ice fields. But with fewer than 750,000 residents, Alaska includes some of the most remote, sparsely populated pockets of the U.S. Many Alaska Natives reside in tiny villages with just a few hundred people and lead subsistence lifestyles.

Broadband offers these communities a way to connect with the wider world and access everything from online classes to healthcare services to job opportunities. It also offers Alaska Natives a way to preserve their indigenous culture for future generations and share it with a global audience.

At the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, we see first-hand evidence of this through our investments in several Alaska broadband projects:

  • With funding from NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rasmuson Foundation, the Alaska State Library established public computer centers at 97 public libraries across the state. The federal investment helped pay for computers and terrestrial and satellite Internet connections, as well as an innovative videoconferencing network. It also helped pay for digital literacy training to help local residents take advantage of everything from electronic commerce and e-government services to online job interviews and distance education offerings.
  • The Online with Libraries – or Alaska OWL – project is using the new videoconferencing capability in all sorts of creative ways. The Juneau Library organized a virtual field trip for local children to see dinosaurs on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada. The Unalaska City Library hosted a session for students in a local high school carpentry class to learn about a union apprenticeship program from the training coordinator for the Anchorage-based Local 367 of the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Union. And libraries in Craig, Haines and Kenai have used the system to facilitate an interactive Shakespeare “Reader’s Theater,” with patrons at each of the libraries taking turns reading play passages.
A new satellite dish installed with BTOP funds in Lake Minchumina, Alaska

A new satellite dish installed with BTOP funds in Lake Minchumina, Alaska


  • Among the archived videoconferences available through the OWL system: a video from the Inupiat Heritage Center that recounts the Inupiaq legend of hunting mammoths near Anaktuvuk Pass, and an introduction to the Tlingit Language that starts with easy words and commonly used phrases.
Videoconferencing in the Craig, Alaska, library with libraries in Anchorage, Juneau and Kenai

Videoconferencing in the Craig, Alaska, library with libraries in Anchorage, Juneau and Kenai

  • The University of Alaska Fairbanks used a separate BTOP award to expand the work of the Alaska Distance Education Consortium, a university-led coalition of partners from across the education, healthcare, social services and non-profit sectors working to expand distance learning opportunities. The federal investment supported a range of projects to help close the digital divide and promote online learning. And it focused much of its work on Alaska Native villages, where the gap is the widest.
  • One project funded through the Distance Education Consortium was a “telehealth coordinator” certificate program run by the non-profit Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The program teaches students how to operate videoconferencing systems and telemedicine carts to gather patient data to be transmitted to distant hospitals. The Consortium also supported a program at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center – part of the State Labor Department’s Institute of Technology – that trains rural Internet technicians known as “Village Internet agents.” Another project funded through the Consortium was an online homework help service run by the Alaska Library Network.
  • With funding from NTIA’s State Broadband Initiative Program, Connect Alaska has partnered with the Association of Alaska School Boards to host a series of local technology workshops in a handful of bush villages. At a recent workshop in Chevak, instructors helped build local e-commerce Websites to let residents show off and sell their native artwork, including dolls, baskets and jewelry. At another workshop in Metlakatla, instructors created community Websites and taught residents how to record and upload traditional stories and cultural folklore.
Chevak village elder Maggie Atcherian and her grandson Matt Atcherian display her native artwork for sale online.

Chevak village elder Maggie Atcherian and her grandson Matt Atcherian display her native artwork for sale online.

  • Connect Alaska also uses NTIA funding to map broadband availability across the state for the National Broadband Map, and to finance the work of the Statewide Broadband Task Force, which aims to close remaining broadband gaps.
Chevak village elder Maggie Atcherian and her grandson Matt Atcherian display her native artwork for sale online.

Chevak village elder Maggie Atcherian and her grandson Matt Atcherian display her native artwork for sale online.

These projects show the potential of technology to connect people living in even the most remote corners of the U.S. to tomorrow’s opportunities, and tie them to the rich cultural heritages of their past. We are proud of NTIA’s role in making these projects possible. And we look forward to hearing more stories about how broadband is improving life in The Last Frontier.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Broadband, Economic/Community Development, Health, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), Lifelong learning/ Intergenerational | Comments Off

Representative Rush Holt (NJ) Teleconference Addresses Health Resources Demand at Libraries

By Gladstone Payton
Congressional Affairs Officer, IMLS

Libraries play an important role in connecting people to information about their health; in fact more than 28 million people used a library computer for health information in one year. Library staff across the country are making an effort to learn everything they can about quality health information resources.

In fact, on Tuesday, February 18, many New Jersey librarians dialed in on a snowy morning to join their one of their congressmen, Representative Rush Holt (NJ) along with IMLS Director Susan Hildreth, New Jersey State Librarian Mary Chute, HHS Region II Director Dr. Jaime Torres and Cognosante Supervisor Bob O’Hara on a conference call with the goal of helping New Jersey library users navigate the wide range of health information available. Director Hildreth spoke to the intensified demand for information computer services as people looked for health insurance information and also to the partnerships that assisted in managing the increased health care information traffic at libraries nationwide.

Representative Holt’s goal for the teleconference was to ensure that librarians in his congressional district and across the state had the most up-to-date resources in addressing patron needs in advance of the March 31 deadline for health insurance open enrollment. By holding the teleconference, Representative Holt helped to continue connecting federal, local and private sector experts to the New Jersey library community and its customers.

You can find more information on the workshop including a recording and presentation materials on Representative Holt’s official webpage here.

And, you can find more webinars and health information resources at

Posted in Health | Comments Off

How to Boost Your Creativity

By Michele Farrell and Timothy Owens
Senior Library Program Officers, IMLS

We recently had the good fortune to participate in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) workshop for librarians at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond. Sponsored by the Library of Virginia with IMLS Grants to States funds, this session brought together over 60 librarians from across the state to learn about STEM resources, get ideas for successful programs, and partner with their museum colleagues.

Presenter Chuck English, Science Museum of Virginia, and Enid Costley, Library of Virginia, holding a kit with activities related to the museum’s Boost! exhibit.

Presenter Chuck English, Science Museum of Virginia, and Enid Costley, Library of Virginia, holding a kit with activities related to the museum’s Boost! exhibit.

Chuck English, Director of Playful Learning and Inquiry at the museum, led a highly interactive session that offered plenty of opportunities for participation. He shared great tips on how to actively engage participants without making STEM intimidating or like formal schoolwork.  It was just what you might expect from someone with his job title.

So how do you get folks to actively learn in a workshop? To be willing to answer questions without fearing that their answers aren’t correct?  One technique is to have each participant write his or her answer on a piece of paper along with his or her rationale, crumple it up in a ball, and throw it into a large tub or basket. Once collected, answers can be pulled out and shared without identifying anyone. You can then discuss the correct answer and why other responses were incorrect.

Participants submit their questions anonymously

Participants submit their questions anonymously

The day was modeled as a program for kids, in this case big kids (adults), and included several “challenges” that made learning fun. For example, we were given a bag of materials and sent off to develop a prosthetic arm for a one-armed monkey. At another point we were handed an iPad and told to make a short video about bones. In another activity, participants were asked to draw the human body. So maybe the workshop could have been called “STEAM,” adding an A for arts. Chuck stressed that one of the keys to success was providing challenges that offered room for creativity. There was no single right way to do something and participants were able to infuse the end product with a bit of their own personality.

At the end of the day, library staff came away with many ideas and resources to offer STEM activities for kids in their own communities. We look forward to hearing their success stories!


Check out a blog post from the YALSA blog about this workshop.

Posted in Afterschool/Out-of-School, Education Support, Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) | Comments Off