I have used Blender regularly for years and don't consider myself a newbie by any means. But I have no idea if there is any way to tell what the active layer is. When creating a new object, linking in an instance from another .blend, etc. the new item will be placed on the active layer. But, as far as I know, there is no way to know which layer that is by looking at the UI.
We've got the little circles in the Layers panel indicating levels containing objects. And we've got the highlighted circle that shows which layer the selected object resides on. But nothing that shows what the active layer is.
Have I been missing something obvious all these years?