Advancing Digital Equity in Public Libraries:
Assessing Library Patrons’ Problem Solving in Technology Rich Environments

This research project is designed to improve library practices, programs, and services for adult patrons — especially economically vulnerable and socially isolated adults, seniors, English learners, unemployed and others lacking digital problem solving skills. The project provides the opportunity to administer and interpret data from the “Problem Solving in Technology Rich Environments” (PSTRE) survey, a portion of the Education and Skills Online (ESO) assessment, developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).  The assessment allows the opportunity to administer an online set of automatically scored tasks.  Researchers can  use the data to examine local trends in adults’ digital literacy skills.  These local trends can be examined alongside national and international data to make comparisons that have practical as well as policy implications.

Our project team has collected data collected from a diverse sample of Multnomah County’s adult library patrons (ages 16 to 65).  Analyzing these data will provide valuable insights into how libraries can invest resources and direct services to improve patrons’ digital problem solving skills. These are the types of skills that are particularly important during an economic downturn to help people address their educational, employment, health, information, and other needs, and to seek out classes and other learning opportunities in the community.

By administering the PSTRE and analyzing test-takers problem solving strategies, this research offers a grounded understanding of what constitutes the different levels of digital problem solving skills based on observable behaviors.  We are in the midst of using these data to create a learning progression that represents the full range of these skills, grounded particularly within a library contexts.  As a result, our work moves beyond what PSTRE scores alone can provide.

We intend that the protocols and procedures for administering the PSTRE assessment developed through this project can serve as a guide for other libraries. Collecting PSTRE data and interpreting the results will aid libraries nationally in responding to the growing need within their communities to help vulnerable adult populations become fully digitally proficient. Administering the PSTRE, and reflecting on what the results mean for library patrons, invites libraries into the national and international conversations taking place among policymakers, educators, and community organizations around PIAAC data and positions library leaders to design better and more data-driven life- long learning opportunities.

Stay tuned here for future posts that will feature emerging findings from this exciting and ground-breaking research.

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