Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills

The IMLS Project Team and Task Force considered the list of skills commonly referred to as "21st Century Skills" and modified it slightly to better align with library and museum priorities.1

The resulting list includes the following additions: Basic Literacy, Scientific & Numerical Literacy, Visual Literacy, Cross-Disciplinary Skills, and Environmental Literacy.

Not every skill on this list will be aligned with every institution’s vision and mission. Further, not every community will prioritize the same skills. Library and museum leaders should consider this list as a starting point beyond which it should be customized to fit the unique character, requirements, and priorities of the institution and its audiences.

Learning and Innovation Skills

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Reason Effectively

  • Use various types of reasoning (e.g., inductive, deductive, etc.) as appropriate to the situation

Use Systems Thinking

  • Analyze how parts of a whole interact with each other to produce overall outcomes in complex systems

Make Judgments and Decisions

  • Effectively analyze and evaluate evidence, arguments, claims and beliefs
  • Analyze and evaluate major alternative points of view
  • Synthesize and make connections between information and arguments
  • Interpret information and draw conclusions based on the best analysis
  • Reflect critically on learning experiences and processes

Solve Problems

  • Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways
  • Identify and ask significant questions that clarify various points of view and lead to better solutions

Creativity and Innovation

Think Creatively

  • Use a wide range of idea creation techniques (such as brainstorming)
  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze, and evaluate ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts
  • Demonstrate imagination and curiosity

Work Creatively with Others

  • Develop, implement, and communicate new ideas to others effectively
  • Be open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives; incorporate group input and feedback into the work
  • Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work and understand the real world limits to adopting new ideas
  • View failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes

Implement Innovations

  • Act on creative ideas to make a tangible and useful contribution to the field in which the innovation will occur

Communication and Collaboration

Communicate Clearly

  • Articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written, and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts
  • Listen effectively to decipher meaning, including knowledge, values, attitudes, and intentions
  • Use communication for a range of purposes (e.g., to inform, instruct, motivate, and persuade) and in diverse environments (including multi-lingual)
  • Utilize multiple media and technologies, and know how to judge their effectiveness a priori as well as assess their impact

Collaborate with Others

  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams
  • Exercise flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member

Visual Literacy

  • Demonstrate the ability to interpret, recognize, appreciate, and understand information presented through visible actions, objects and symbols, natural or man-made2

Scientific and Numerical Literacy

  • Demonstrate the ability to evaluate the quality of scientific and numerical information on the basis of its sources and the methods used to generate it
  • Demonstrate the capacity to pose and evaluate scientific arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately
  • Demonstrate ability to reason with numbers and other mathematical concepts

Cross-Disciplinary Thinking

  • Apply knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and skills across disciplines in appropriate and effective ways

Basic Literacy

  • Demonstrate the ability to use language to read, write, listen, and speak

Information, Media and Technology Skills

Information Literacy

Access and Evaluate Information

  • Access information efficiently (time) and effectively (sources)
  • Evaluate information critically and competently

Use and Manage Information

  • Use information accurately and creatively for the issue or problem at hand
  • Manage the flow of information from a wide variety of sources
  • Apply a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information

Media Literacy

Analyze Media

  • Understand both how and why media messages are constructed and for what purposes
  • Examine how individuals interpret messages differently, how values and points of view are included or excluded, and how media can influence beliefs and behaviors
  • Apply a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of media

Create Media Products

  • Understand and utilize the most appropriate media creation tools, characteristics, and conventions
  • Understand and effectively utilize the most appropriate expressions and interpretations in diverse, multi-cultural environments

ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) Literacy

Apply Technology Effectively

  • Use technology as a tool to research, organize, evaluate, and communicate information
  • Use digital technologies (e.g., computers, PDAs, media players, GPS, etc.), communication/networking tools, and social networks appropriately to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and create information to successfully function in a knowledge economy
  • Apply a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information technologies

21st Century Themes

Global Awareness

  • Use 21st century skills to understand and address global issues
  • Learn from and work collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions, and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work, and community contexts
  • Understand other nations and cultures, including the use of non-English languages

Financial, Economic, Business, and Entrepreneurial Literacy

  • Demonstrate the ability to make appropriate personal economic choices
  • Understand the role of the economy in society
  • Apply entrepreneurial skills to enhance workplace productivity and career options

Civic Literacy

  • Participate effectively in civic life through knowing how to stay informed and understanding governmental processes
  • Exercise the rights and obligations of citizenship at local, state, national, and global levels
  • Understand the local and global implications of civic decisions

Health Literacy

  • Obtain, interpret, and understand basic health information and services and use such information and services in ways that enhance health
  • Understand preventive physical and mental health measures, including proper diet, nutrition, exercise, risk avoidance, and stress reduction
  • Use available information to make appropriate health-related decisions
  • Establish and monitor personal and family health goals
  • Understand national and international public health and safety issues

Environmental Literacy

  • Demonstrate ecological knowledge and understanding of how natural systems work, as well as knowledge and understanding of how natural systems interface with social systems
    Demonstrate understanding of the relationship between beliefs, political systems, and environmental values of various cultures
    Demonstrate understanding of environmental issues caused as the result of human interaction with the environment, and knowledge related to alternative solutions to issues
    Demonstrate active and considered participation aimed at solving problems and resolving issues3

Life and Career Skills

Flexibility and Adaptability

Adapt to Change

  • Adapt to varied roles, job responsibilities, schedules, and contexts
  • Work effectively in a climate of ambiguity and changing priorities

Be Flexible

  • Incorporate feedback effectively
  • Deal positively with praise, setbacks, and criticism
  • Understand, negotiate, and balance diverse views and beliefs to reach workable solutions, particularly in multi-cultural environments

Initiative and Self-Direction

Manage Goals and Time

  • Set goals with tangible and intangible success criteria
  • Balance tactical (short-term) and strategic (long-term) goals
  • Utilize time and manage workload efficiently

Work Independently

  • Monitor, define, prioritize, and complete tasks without direct oversight

Be Self-directed Learners

  • Go beyond basic mastery of skills and/or curriculum to explore and expand one’s own learning and opportunities to gain expertise
  • Demonstrate initiative to advance skill levels towards a professional level
  • Demonstrate commitment to learning as a lifelong process
  • Reflect critically on past experiences in order to inform future progress

Social and Cross-Cultural Skills

Interact Effectively with Others

  • Know when it is appropriate to listen and when to speak
  • Conduct oneself in a respectable, professional manner

Work Effectively in Diverse Teams

  • Respect cultural differences and work effectively with people from a range of social and cultural backgrounds
  • Respond open-mindedly to different ideas and values
  • Leverage social and cultural differences to create new ideas and increase both innovation and quality of work

Productivity and Accountability

Manage Projects

  • Set and meet goals, even in the face of obstacles and competing pressures
  • Prioritize, plan, and manage work to achieve the intended result

Produce Results

  • Demonstrate additional attributes associated with producing high quality products including the abilities to:
  • Work positively and ethically
  • Manage time and projects effectively
  • Multi-task
  • Participate actively, as well as be reliable and punctual
  • Present oneself professionally and with proper etiquette
  • Collaborate and cooperate effectively with teams
  • Respect and appreciate team diversity
  • Be accountable for results

Leadership and Responsibility

Guide and Lead Others

  • Use interpersonal and problem-solving skills to influence and guide others toward a goal
  • Leverage strengths of others to accomplish a common goal
  • Inspire others to reach their very best via example and selflessness
  • Demonstrate integrity and ethical behavior in using influence and power

Be Responsible to Others

  • Act responsibly with the interests of the larger community in mind

1. Except as otherwise noted, the skills definitions are derived from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills Framework.

2. Derived from definition attributed to John Debes, per the International Visual Literacy Association.

3. Adapted from the Environmental Literacy Council Framework.