Catalyst Fund 2018: Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

Submitting Organization: Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

Idea Title: Pocket Librarian

Idea Statement of Purpose: Today digital literacy is an essential skill but it is frequently difficult to find reliable resources on the internet. Pocket Librarian enables librarians to connect with their users outside of the walls of the library. Our project will increase digital literacy, expand the library community and provide easy access to all library resources even when people can’t make it to the library.

Problem Statement

In today’s world driven by internet and social media, people are increasingly communicating over the internet. Our world is full of information that we often access even more so now through social media. The largest users of today’s internet and social media are Gen Z teens and as they grow up in the age of technology, they need guidance on finding reliable information.  A recent ALA report found that 99% of young adults use the internet daily compared to 87% of adults aged 50-65 aged 50-65 (  Digital literacy is an important skill  but teens today have no formal education to learn these skills. For example, only 25% of K-12 schools offer computer science classes ( We want to make digital literacy a universal skill that all teens and younger generations can learn. In particular, we would also like to address internet literacy. Teens are bombarded with information everywhere, especially through their phones, and they often don’t evaluate the legitimacy of their information. In fact, 60% of teachers agree with the assertion that today’s technologies make it harder for students to find credible sources of information (

This is where libraries can make a difference. Libraries are an amazing resource for their communities and, in fact, there has been a resurgence of teens and young adults using public libraries. A study reported that youth ages 14–24 make up 25% of all public library users (

Libraries provide free access to media, education materials, technology assistance, and general help, but unfortunately, these resources typically only extend as far as the library walls. This is an especially large issue for underfunded libraries that have limited hours and those that serve communities of people who don’t have the time during the workday to visit the library.

A recent Pew survey found that 52% of adults were hesitant about technology ( They either didn’t have the skills to use computers, the skills to know which sources are reliable and which ones are not, or had little knowledge about the resources that computers and access to technology can provide. The term digital divide no longer means who has access to digital resources and who doesn’t, but rather a divide between people who know how to use digital resources and those who don’t.

Addressing the Problem

We want to address these problems by making libraries relevant in a digital age providing mobile access to the library’s resources and easy communication with librarians to encourage teens to make librarians a more frequently used resource. We want to reach teens in places they use most like social media.

Currently, libraries communicate through traditional methods like emailing newsletters or through online accounts. Rather, to reach today’s audience, libraries need to use mobile technology and social media. Imagine if every local library consortium had a mobile application that allowed them to easily communicate with library patrons and teach them about internet literacy. Libraries could market this application through social media to target teens, who especially need guidance in internet literacy.

Smartphone use continues to climb among adults and currently, 77% of adults own a smartphone (  By allowing people to easily communicate with librarians through their smartphone  our project will increase access to resources that can help adults with digital literacy in several different ways. For people who don’t know what resources they can trust, and which ones they can’t, having access to knowledgeable librarians will help them learn about trustworthy and untrustworthy resources. For people who have little knowledge about computers and digital resources, our project will encourage them to fully use their library community and utilize the libraries digital learning resources.

Benefit to the LYRASIS community.

Our project will ensure that knowledge is: accessible by allowing people to use the library even when they can’t make it to the library; shareable by connecting the library community and connecting librarians to library users; and usable by providing easy access to the best sources of reliable information. We realize that our project is generally more geared towards public libraries and not necessarily all members of the LYRASIS community, but we believe that our project will encourage teens in particular to use libraries and library resources, and the habits of going to the library and utilizing the librarians will continue as they go to college and begin using LYRASIS member libraries. We believe that our project will increase library use and access in all libraries including LYRASIS members. By providing connections between librarians and library users, our app will also increase digital literacy which is an essential skill today. Digital literacy is an issue for all libraries including LYRASIS members.

Interest in future development

Yes, we are interested in continuing this project. The reason we are submitting this as an idea instead of a proposal is because we believe that this will be an extremely useful tool, but we are currently students at Olin College of Engineering, and we don’t have the time or the skills to realize this idea.

Potential partners

Olin College of Engineering

We encourage constructive comments that would help define solutions to the issues raised by the ideas and/or provide context for how these ideas impact your organization.


  1. Emily Reiher says:

    A clever idea for reaching patrons in a way that is most useful for them. This reflects the changing ways people acquire information and how they asses it. Digital literacy will continue to be an issue in our increasingly online world.

  2. Sharla Lair says:

    K-12 schools are addressing digital literacy, not necessarily through their school libraries though. It would be interesting to see if you could partner with your local K-12 school librarians on this project. See what they are already teaching and find out how a Pocket Librarian can enhance what they are already doing. School libraries often have relationships with the local public libraries especially in regards to summer reading programs. There is bound to be a technology-themed summer reading program coming up soon. This could be another opportunity for a partnership that would expand a teen’s local information network. This idea, given the proper partnership investments, could make a big impact to increase digital literacy. Thank you for submitting your idea!