Since before the first Libraries in a Post-Truth World conference at the beginning of this year, I’ve been keeping a list of relevant articles. This list has expanded to include books, studies and reports, and other materials, and I am sharing it here. If you have relevant materials to add, please leave a comment here. If you would like to use this list for library programming, teaching, or related work, please feel free – I’d love to know about it if you do.
Though “fake news” is a term most people recognize these days (unfortunately), it is not the best term to use, for reasons Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan state in their Council of Europe report:
We refrain from using the term ‘fake news’, for two reasons. First, it is woefully inadequate to describe the complex phenomena of information pollution. The term has also begun to be appropriated by politicians around the world to describe news organisations whose coverage they find disagreeable. In this way, it’s becoming a mechanism by which the powerful can clamp down upon, restrict, undermine and circumvent the free press.
We therefore introduce a new conceptual framework for examining information disorder, identifying the three different types: mis-, dis- and mal-information.
Misinformation is when false information is shared with no harmful intent; disinformation is when false information is shared to cause harm; and mal-information is when genuine information is shared to cause harm (e.g. by moving it from the private to the public sphere). Unfortunately, again, we are dealing with all three today (plus satirical sources like The Onion, which are the only good kind of fake news).
Again, feedback is welcomed; please let me know if you use this list, or have anything to add. I am particularly interested in using the rise of interest in the topic of fake news to advocate for librarians in schools, as they are the ones who do the important work of teaching research skills, critical thinking, information literacy, and media literacy.
Back in January, there was a one-day conference called “Libraries in a Post-Truth World,” where panelists, presenters, and participants discussed the problem of “fake news,” the spread of misinformation/disinformation, the nature of truth, and what role librarians can play to help boost information literacy and media literacy. (And more. It was a pretty packed conference. See blog posts one | two | three.)
Another conference this month grew out of that one; the Massachusetts Library Association (MLA) Intellectual Freedom / Social Responsibilities Committee planned it, and it was held at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA, which is by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever attended a conference.
The first speaker was Gail Slater, General Counsel for the Internet Association, based in Washington, DC. She had also spoken at ALA’s Midwinter conference in Boston, where she said she realized that “Librarians are the first responders and guardians of the Constitution” (a nice way to win over your librarian audience right away).
Slater’s topic was “The Right to Be Forgotten: Rulings in the EU, Their Impact on Global Internet Companies and Pending Legislation in the United States.” She spoke about “a wave of public policy challenges” to do with the internet now; one of the key questions is about internet companies’ (“online intermediaries”) responsibilities in terms of content posted by users. At the moment, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects them from liability, but this “safe harbor” law may change.
Slater then moved on to speak about the Right to Be Forgotten. In a key case from Spain in May 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that search engines are responsible for the content they point to. People in the EU have the right to be forgotten; they can petition Google to de-index links to content about themselves, as Mario Costeja Gonzalez did in the Spanish case. The information itself still exists, but a search engine won’t bring it up.
Google handles these requests, weighing the public’s right to know against the individual’s right to privacy. Slater explained that in the EU, they place a higher value on the right to privacy, while in the US, we place a higher value on the right to know and free speech. This is “one of the bigger issues” on the geopolitical scale.
During the Q&A, someone asked a very good question: If a person can claim the Right to Be Forgotten or right of erasure, can a corporation claim it? Slater thought there were two reasons this was unlikely, even in the EU: first, the definition of a “data subject” is an individual citizen, not a corporation; and second, the request itself would become a news event, reminding everyone of the original story that the corporation is trying to erase.
Someone else asked what librarians can do about some of these issues. Slater said librarians can speak out about the importance of speech and the right to know. In the EU, privacy is considered a human right, but free speech is important too. She spoke of these as “competing equities” that require a careful balance.
The second speaker was Shawn McIntosh, Assistant Professor of English and Digital Journalism & Communications at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His topic was “Journalism Today: Learning to Trust the First Rough Draft of History.” Unlike Slater, he read a prepared speech, in the manner of a formal lecture. Rather ironically, he quoted Jay Rosen: “Journalism is a conversation, not a lecture.”
McIntosh spoke about what has and hasn’t changed in journalism. “Fake news” isn’t new, of course – there has always been propaganda, biased and partisan writing, and satire. However, “Willingness to accept the lies or spin them as ‘alternative facts’ or not caring is new.”
McIntosh said that his background in strategic communications (a.k.a. PR, a.k.a. “the dark side”) had been helpful: knowing how and why persuasion works, and how attitudes can be impervious to change even/especially when confronted with facts gives perspective to the news climate today. “Beliefs,” he said, “eat facts for lunch.” Research shows that presenting facts to counter someone’s beliefs does not work to change their minds (a disappointing thing for a roomful of librarians to hear).
Over the past few decades, McIntosh said, there has been a broad shift that is “dangerous to our civic and cultural life,” an erosion of public trust in experts and institutions. Journalists are seen as biased and untrustworthy sources. (Librarians, on the other hand, enjoy a high degree of social trust.)
What are the obstacles? Journalists are overworked and underpaid, and employees and coverage are being cut back, so there is more use of wire service content and less reporting on local issues. Less advertising leads to more cutbacks in a downward spiral. And the 24-hour news cycle certainly doesn’t help.
What can be done? “Journalism has to get back to its roots and break free from its modern traditions.” Rather than attempting or pretending to be objective, journalists must provide context for their stories. “Narrative and stories are how we make sense of the world….News is socially constructed. Acknowledge that.” Furthermore, because of mass communication and social media, the lecture style of journalism no longer works; it must be a conversation. Within this conversation, though, “people will seek trusted voices,” and curation (the librarian ears perk up) “will play more of a role than it has so far.”
In this environment, McIntosh said, “Developing higher-order critical thinking skills is crucial….News literacy and information literacy skills are vital.” Librarians, of course, are on board with information literacy and media literacy, but McIntosh also said, “It can’t be all consumption, it must be production too.” People need to look under the hood to get an idea of how things work. Here, he said, is a “natural place for libraries, educations, journalists to meet.” People meeting face to face in libraries and classrooms can lead to “exchanges and dialogues between people of different views, [which] can start to break down polarization.”
After a lunch break and a walk around the beautiful grounds, we reconvened in the conference room for a panel on “Combating Disinformation in Your Library.” I spoke, along with Andrea Fiorillo of the Reading Public Library and Bernadette Rivard of the Bellingham Public Library, about what we have done in our libraries to increase information literacy and media literacy.
Last December, Bernadette wrote a blog post encouraging library users to “think before you share,” and giving tips on how to evaluate news sources. Andrea ran a “civil civics” series, bringing in speakers such as Melissa Zimdars (who was on the panel at the January conference; she also got online access to newspapers for the library’s patrons. (Most libraries still subscribe to newspapers in print, but because most people read the news online, digital subscriptions are another way the library can help connect people with quality information.) I spoke about my “What Is Fake News?” pamphlet, display, and library blog posts, and went over some tips that I’ll be sharing in a future library blog post.
After the panel, we returned to our tables for small group discussion on the following four questions:
What does the term “fake news” mean for librarians and the communities we serve?
What are some creative and traditional approaches for librarians to support First Amendment awareness and education?
What are your library’s barriers and supports to promoting media literacy?
What has your library done and what would you like to do to support media literacy?
Conference organizers will be compiling the replies and sending them out to participants, so I may share those here later. At our table alone, we had a mix of public librarians (children’s and adult) and school librarians; I imagine academic librarians would have had a different set of answers. The hashtag for the conference, #mlafreedom, purposely didn’t include a date, so it may be used for related events in the future.
What does your library do to promote information literacy and media literacy? What role(s) do you think librarians can play in our current information environment? Do you have blog posts or handouts to share?
LibraryThing has introduced a new feature that enables its users to see their libraries broken down by Dewey Decimal categories.
The purple bars on the chart are from my own LT library – which includes books that are on my “to-read” list as well as ones I’ve read – so these charts are not strictly a representation of my reading history, but a reflection of my reading interests overall. The pale gray bars represent the other members collectively; it’s clear that most LT users are overwhelmingly reading fiction as well.
I’m a little surprised that people aren’t reading more in nonfiction categories, particularly biography and history (and the 900s also include travel). I would guess that the LT user base includes more women than men, because – as a loose general tendency, not a hard-and-fast rule – when reading for pleasure, women tend to read more fiction, and men tend to read nonfiction. (Women also read more books than men.)
After the top-level breakdown, you can see the details within each range. For instance, here are the 300s:
This new feature is mildly interesting to users, particularly those of us in the library field, but I wonder how it will inform future LibraryThing developments. Will knowing that most users are reading mostly fiction change anything about the site or service? The blog post announcing it doesn’t say.
In the Fact, Truth, and Trust group of academic and public librarians and researchers, we discussed confirmation bias, verifying social media content, emotions vs. facts, and building an information diet. We started with introductions and why we had chosen this group. People expressed interest in:
How to separate fact from opinion (“Where does truth lie in a society that’s all about opinion and rhetoric?”)
How to have programs in libraries and schools without political slant or agenda
Advocacy for funding for librarians in schools
Teaching/encouraging critical thinking skills
Information-seeking behavior and narrative theory, how people construct narratives
Trust in/use of data (what people talk about when they talk about data; presentation of data)
One participant commented that “Uncovering bias is one of the highest-order thinking skills we have…it can be almost invisible.” As one of the panelists had pointed out earlier, confirmation bias affects people on both/all political sides. Two people mentioned the site allsides.com (“Don’t be fooled by bias. Think for yourself”), which offers left, right, and central perspectives for real news stories.
Eventually we came to the idea of “building an information diet” and spent most of our time discussing how we might use that idea to offer library programs on information literacy. The diet analogy will be immediately familiar to most people: a healthy information diet, like a healthy food diet, should be varied and mostly wholesome. There are many ways to approach this:
Read/watch/listen to a news source that has the opposite perspective from your usual source(s). Expand/broaden your news-universe; whether or not you agree with it, know where the other side is coming from. Begin to build a bridge from your emotional comfort areas to increase empathy. You may not change your mind, but understand where others are coming from.
Debate whose responsibility it is to curb “fake news”/ propaganda/misinformation/disinformation. Social media platforms? The government? Individuals?
Incorporate international media sources: look at international coverage of world news and U.S. news. If teaching a class or workshop, international examples are less political, as are sports and entertainment/cultural coverage.
Affirm belief in truth and facts: encourage people to be skeptical, but convince them that verification is possible.
As for specific program ideas:
Include it in existing summer reading programs.
Use the “Whole 30” model, or modify it to a day- or week-long challenge. Those who want to participate can meet at the beginning and end to discuss their strategies and results.
Create a game aspect with competition and prizes. Tracking down original sources can be like a mystery or a treasure hunt.
Try a version of the Human Library to encourage discussions across political differences. A conversation with a real live person is more likely to change someone’s mind (or create that empathy bridge) than reading an article.
Checkology from the News Literacy Project can be used in public libraries. It’s designed for students in grades 6-12 but some parts are appropriate for adults as well.
It’s important to maintain the trust that people already have in libraries, and strike a balance between advocacy and alienation. Be aware that the term “fake news” itself is very polarizing. (But “propaganda” is even more so.) Frame information literacy programs as helpful for “brushing up your skills” instead of teaching something entirely new.
The information diet idea isn’t original to the Libraries in a Post-Truth World conference; a NYT article has been published since the conference on the same topic (“Fatigued by the News? Experts Suggest How to Adjust Your Information Diet,” Christopher Mele, The New York Times, February 1, 2017). This article was somewhat short on actual suggestions, however, beyond (1) seeking out positive news as an antidote to the barrage of negativity, (2) reading a print newspaper instead of Internet sources, and (3) not reading or watching the news before bed. It also links to an article that cites Dan Gillmor, who popularized the “slow news” movement, partly as a reaction to the 24-hour news cycle.
I used to read Dan Gillmor’s blog regularly, and actually did an activity he assigns to the students in his media literacy class at ASU: to track your own media consumption for one day. It was interesting to do, and could easily be adapted into a library program if patrons were interested in sharing their experience.
I’m grateful for the experience of attending this conference, and hope to put some of the ideas to work here in my library.
“Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to light” –George Washington
On Thursday, January 26, I attended a one-day conference hosted by Phillips Academy in Andover called “Libraries in a Post-Truth World.” There was some helpful pre-conference reading about fake news and hoaxes, information overload, and media literacy:
The panelists were all informed and articulate, experts in their fields; they could have spoken for much longer, but we used the rest of the day for two presentation sessions (Damaso Reyes on The News Literacy Project and Checkology, Alison J. Head on Project Information Literacy), identifying areas of focus for the afternoon discussion, reforming into discussion topic groups, and reporting our results to the other participants.
“Librarians are good at ferreting out what exists and good at making partnerships. Librarians are in the right position to make an impact.” -Alison Head
I attended Damaso Reyes’ presentation on Checkology (“how to know what to believe”), a news literacy program designed for 6th-12th grade students. Reyes showed us videos created for the program (Peter Sagal was in one!) and guided us briefly through the four modules: (1) Filtering news and information; (2) exercising civic freedoms; (3) navigating today’s information landscape; and (4) how to know what to believe. Some key takeaways:
“Information literacy is not what it should be in our society, and that’s a threat to our democracy.”
When reading/listening to/watching news, ask: What is the primary purpose of this information? (To inform, to entertain, to convince, to provoke, etc.)
Consider the role of algorithms and personalization. The information you’re getting is filtered – think about how and why.
Trying to teach students to be skeptical, not cynical.
Critical thinking & skepticism is an important skill, and should not be outsourced to technology even if it could be (e.g. plugins). “We shouldn’t depend too much on technology to save us.”
What you share online has your credibility attached to it.
We are all susceptible to confirmation bias.
Society stops functioning if we can’t agree on some things (i.e. facts). A fact is something we can all agree on but it is also something we can independently verify.
After the presentation, we talked in small groups to come up with discussion topics for the afternoon. Two of the Phillips Academy librarians sorted our ideas into loose categories:
Partnerships & Collaboration with Faculty Partnerships & Collaboration with Community Professional Development Fact, Truth, & Trust (I was in this group) Access to Information Lesson Plans Teaching Approach “Other”
I will be writing another blog post (or two) soon about the morning panel and the afternoon discussion. In the meantime, I’d like to share a handout I made for my library to accompany our display on media literacy. Here is the PDF of the tri-fold pamphlet: updated 2/16/17, 3/1/2017 – I have made a new version without the Robbins Library logo, with a Creative Commons license. Please feel free to use and share: 2017-01-fakenewsbrochure-update-2017-03
I’ve had this “creative library display ideas” post kicking around in my drafts folder here for the better part of a year, and I realized…someone else should write it. Specifically, my kickass colleague Rob Lorino (@lostboybrarian), because he makes some of the best displays I’ve ever seen. Take it away, Rob!
Confession: Making displays is probably my favorite part of being a librarian. I think that’s due in part to my photography background. I tend to put photographers in two categories: there are the documenters, who try to capture the world as they see it, and there are the constructors, who create objects, situations, and worlds to photograph. I’m firmly in the latter camp, and the skills I’ve developed creating props, outfits, and more for photo shoots have really lent themselves to the art of display making.
Photography background aside, why do I love making displays so much? Making displays combines creativity, problem solving, and self-promotion. (Or is that shelf-promotion?) You get instant feedback and can see how patrons are responding. Honestly, it’s still a small rush for me every time I see an empty spot on one of my displays. It’s also value added for your patrons by collecting materials that don’t necessarily get shelved together. Sure you can point patrons to the 970’s if they’re looking for books for Black History Month, but you’re missing so many other areas that are just as relevant to Black History month: biographies, parts of the 300’s, movies, music, etc.
I’ve been lucky enough to work in libraries that have pretty much allowed me carte blanche in terms of selecting themes for my displays. I largely pick a theme based on what’s been on my mind recently; but that’s not me being lackadaisical. If you’re paying attention to current events and pop culture, what’s on your mind will in all likelihood be what’s on your patrons’ minds. I’ve done displays based on holidays, like Black History Month and Banned Books Week. I look to current events as well, like with my display of Oscar-winning films. Sometimes I’m inspired to highlight a collection that I know some patrons don’t know we have, like Playaways or graphic novels. Other times I’ll use the season or other feature of a month to get a little punny, like a “cold-hearted characters” display I did in December, or a “fall into adventure” display of autumn-colored covers I did in November. Displays are a great way to show off new collections too: I made a display celebrating the addition of adult video games to our collection.
After I’ve got a theme, I try to visualize what I want my display to look like. Bold, graphic, and unexpected are adjectives I try to keep in my head throughout the process. For me, displays are places to catch patron’s attention visually, not necessarily places to feed patrons lots of information. If you can do both, that’s great! But the visual impact is key to making patrons walk over and engage. Don’t muddy the waters by putting too much on your display – negative space is just as important as your visuals. It’s also important to remember that books or other materials will be occupying the same space as the rest of your display. You’ll want to remember to make sure that the materials don’t get in the way of important parts of your display. The materials will also be another layer of visual interest, which is why I try for more simple but graphic visuals on my displays.
When it comes to the actual construction of displays, I try my best to make or borrow as many elements of my display as possible. I will occasionally buy a piece here or there if I’m really married to a specific idea, but a lot of times you can make things using really basic materials like construction paper, poster board, card stock, glue, etc. I recently made a (fake) jumbo size AAA battery using a roll of paper as a base and covering it with construction paper. Websites like Pinterest and other crafty blogs have innumerable guides and tutorials on how to create pretty much anything you’d need. Creating interesting lettering or graphics is easier than ever now with software like Publisher, InDesign, and Photoshop, and free online tools like Canva. I feel like every display I make teaches me something new or a way to be more efficient next time, through trial and error. Learning things like the fact that painting on card stock might make it warp or that different types of glue are more effective on different materials aren’t necessarily intuitive to folks (like me) that don’t craft all the time.
I tend to judge the success of a display by three things: did materials get checked out, did people stop and browse the display, and did patrons comment to staff about the display. Having materials move off the display is the most obvious, but the other two are just as important. Even if a patron doesn’t physically take anything from your display, if you get them to notice it you’ve still given them something. That something could be knowledge of something the library offers. It could be perspective on something in the world; several people relayed that they had an “aha” moment with the tagline “Black History Is Now” I used for my Black History Month display. It could even just a positive experience, like a chuckle at your bad pun or appreciating the artistry of the display itself. Sometimes it’s hard to capture the latter two, so if you notice patrons stopping to look at a coworker’s display or if patrons say something nice about a display, definitely let your coworkers know!
I know that thinking up new displays and executing them every month can feel like a slog to some people, but displays are an incredibly important service we provide to our patrons. They can be a really fun and engaging way to interact with your patrons – don’t underestimate them!
Thanks, Rob! (Again, he’s at @lostboybrarian on Twitter.) Does anyone else have any display ideas they’re proud of? Stuff you’ve always wanted to try? Challenges? Handy crafting tips? Please share in the comments!