PLA, day three: “The big ideas of the Internet were beautiful”

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Tim Wu at PLA

Tim Wu is a lawyer who clerked for a Supreme Court justice, worked at a Silicon Valley startup, then moved into academia; he’s now a professor at Columbia and a columnist for the New York Times. But if his name rings a bell for you, it’s probably because he coined the term “Net[work] Neutrality” in 2003.

The fundamental idea of Net Neutrality, said Wu, is that the user should decide what the internet is. The carrier (Internet Service Provider, or ISP) shouldn’t get in the way. ISPs should be “a medium in the true sense of the word medium, respecting the wishes of those on each side.” They should be “faithful agents” providing reliable service, not blocking, discriminating, or censoring.

The federal government adopted Net Neutrality as a rule under the Bush administration, but the Trump administration killed it (though it’s likely to return under the next administration). Why were they focused on that? “Free flows of information can be very threatening to those who wish to consolidate their power. The censorial instinct remains very strong.”

The next issue threatening our democracy, said Wu, is the “crisis of attention.” (His newest book is called The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads.) “Our attention has become our scarcest and most valuable resource…[and] when you have a purely attention-based business model, the competition runs to the bottom. It’s not who can be the most accurate, it’s who can capture attention.” 

As Cory Doctorow says, if you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product. Wu put it differently, as he described an 1830s New York newspaper publisher’s idea to re-conceive the audience as a product to sell to advertisers. The advertising model, he said, is “the harvesting and resale of human attention.” And this is the “original sin” of nearly all of the Internet’s giants: they “embraced advertising as their only business model and tied themselves business to attention harvesting.” (Wikipedia, as a recent New York Magazine article pointed out, is an exception.) This, despite Google founders’ early recognition that “advertising-supported search engine will always be biased, always serving two masters (users and advertisers) and cannot be expected to produce reliable results.”

The dark consequences of this setup are clear, with new examples in the news every day (most recently, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal). Sites and platforms based on an advertising model are driven to capture people’s time and attention, and to learn more about them in order to offer targeted ads – or to manipulate them.

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“We’re at a moment in our democracy…information flow has changed how this country is governed.” What can be done? What should be done? Wu asked. Whose responsibility is it, who are the trustees of our time? He argued, “The largest information intermediaries of our time…must start operating with a true sense of fiduciary public duty or face regulatory consequences….The goal of aiming for truth is something that the tech industry needs to learn right now. The time has come.”

For the final two programs of the day, I indulged my YA-loving side. First was “How to Adult: Teaching Life Skills to Teens” presented by Kayla Marie Figard of San Mateo County Libraries and Elizabeth “Biz” Tanner of the County of Los Angeles Public Library. Their “How to Adult” programs teach “life hacks,” i.e. necessary life skills like healthy cooking, public speaking, car maintenance, etiquette, time management, organization, stress management, mindfulness, finding a first apartment, money management, self-defense, first aid, laundry (and sewing and mending), and the list goes on!

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A slide from “How to Adult” shows a word cloud of some popular topics

The presenters provided many short activities (tongue twisters for public speaking; a “multitasking is a myth” task) and a very handy program planning worksheet (see below). Some of their workshops for teens were single events, while others were a series. Nearly all included food, a surefire way to boost attendance at any program. Librarians ran some workshops, while others were conducted by outside presenters. With some research, you can find willing partners, like county/city/town departments, credit unions,  and local businesses; some presenters may come for free, others may charge a fee.

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Program planning worksheet

To decide on the topic(s), ask teens what they want to know! Think about your own young adult life – what did you wish you had known, and what surprised you? Talk to teachers at local high schools – they will know what school does(n’t) offer and where students’ knowledge gaps are.

Along with planning and running the programs, the presenters discussed evaluation and measuring outcomes – required for grant-funded programs, but good for every program. They suggested: (1) determine anticipated outcomes, (2) ask: do the programs teach teens something? Do they feel better prepared for adulthood? (3) conduct pre- and post-program surveys to assess growth.

This was an excellent program: the presenters were good speakers, and came prepared not just with their slides, but with copies of their worksheets, planning documents, examples and activities from their workshops. A+!

For the very last PLA program, I went to the YA Crossover, or “AAP Crossover Appeal: Books that Work for Teens and Adults.” Despite the program’s title, it didn’t really focus on the “crossover” aspect so much as the teen aspect, except in the sense that some of the audience had read some of the authors’ books as young adults, and still loved them.

Luanne Toth of School Library Journal moderated the panel of four authors: Ally Carter, Carolyn Mackler, Gayle Forman, and Ashley Woodfolk. Woodfolk is a debut author (The Beauty That Remains), and the other three are further into their careers. Mackler’s most recent book, The Universe is Expanding and So Am I, is a sequel to The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things (a Printz honor book in 2004).

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Here are a few quotes and paraphrases from the panel:

  • “I write about young people but I don’t write young stories” -Gayle Forman
  • “Young people are given license to feel your feelings.” There’s this idea that as you age you don’t feel things as strongly/intensely. You do have to moderate your feelings but you do have them. Satisfying as a writer and a reader. -Gayle Forman
  • “A lot of what happens in high school shapes your adult life….And you don’t really get it until you get older.” YA writing is cathartic because it helps revisit and dissect what happened & what you felt. -Ashley Woodfolk
  • “The world would be a lot better if we all read more broadly and more representatively.” -Ally Carter
  • “Libraries are our outposts in every corner of the country” (some places don’t have bookstores or people can’t afford books) -Ally Carter
  • “Encourage people to read everything…a kid might want to read something you won’t expect they want to read. Find out what a kid wants/needs” – Ashley Woodfolk
  • “Every book is a mirror. No matter how different somebody is from you, there is still an emotional through-line.” -Gayle Forman

And that is a wrap! See all PLA 2018 posts here. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go to this conference, and I think I made the most of it, attending a variety of sessions and programs. I do wish I had a Time-Turner and could have been to even more. If you were at PLA, or followed along via a great blog or Twitter thread, please share your favorite links!

 

 

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PLA, day two: Because fake news is harmful to your health

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.My new favorite #LibrariesTransform item

My first event on Friday was another stop at the PLA Pavilion for “Early Literacy Enhanced Storytimes: Intentionality is the Key” with Saroj Ghoting, an early childhood literacy consultant (earlylit.net). Presenters packed a lot into these 20-minute sessions; Ghoting addressed the challenge of keeping adults engaged during children’s storytimes, and provided several specific examples* to make storytimes more interactive. She also noted the different types of interaction during a storytime: librarian-children, librarian-adults, children-adults, and adults-adults. Adults value time with and advice from each other, and if they’re engaged during stortytime, they’re more likely to do the same activities with kids at home. Adult-child interaction also supports rich language development for children.

*Examples included books that lent themselves to two call-and-response parts, like Too Much Noise (kids make animal sounds, adults say “too noisy!”), The Cow Loves Cookies (adults say “but the cow loves…” and kids say “cookies!”), and Jump, Frog, Jump (adults say “how did the frog get away?” and kids say “jump frog jump!”).

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Slide from Saroj Ghoting’s presentation: song lyrics to “Cell Phones,” to be sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”

After the “Enhanced Storytimes” session, I went over to the Children’s Book Buzz on the other side of the exhibit hall to hear about more upcoming children’s and teen titles, but left in time to get to the first morning program, “The Path to U.S. Citizenship Can Start at Public Libraries.” Laura Patching from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) spoke first, giving a short history of the service and talking about its work in and with libraries: sending community relations officers to do naturalization workshops, including mock interviews; setting up “Citizenship Corners” or “New Americans Corners”; and the “Bridges to Citizenship” program. Community relations officers will visit any library; find your local one by e-mailing public.engagement@uscis.dhs.gov.

Next, Tiffany Nardella and Nate Eddy from the Free Library of Philadelphia (“Start here. Go anywhere”) spoke about their work welcoming new Americans in the library, in partnership with USCIS and with other partners, like the Office of Adult Education and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians. And Michelle Gordon of the Fresno County Public Library in California said that naturalization ceremonies in libraries are “the best thing that I do,” and “If you don’t work with USCIS yet, do it! It’s worth it.” She suggested inviting local representatives to these ceremonies – new citizens are new voters! Elected officials might come or not, but it’s nice to invite them.

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A tweet from the program “Eliminating Fines and Fees on Children’s Materials to Create a Win-Win for Your Library and Your Community,” during the same morning time slot as the citizenship program.

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After the citizenship program, I followed a tweet from @NYPLRecommends and chatted with the hosts of the New York Public Library’s “The Librarian Is In” podcast, Gwen Glazer and Frank Collerius, who were delightful. I rarely listen to podcasts, but I am sure I would enjoy theirs.

I ate my lunch sitting on the floor and listening to the Adult Book Buzz, and then it was time for the afternoon programs. The first one I attended was “Refuting the Idea of ‘Neutral’: Supporting Civic Engagement & Information in the Library,” presented by Amy Holcomb, Amy Koester, and Mimosa Shah, an enthusiastic team from Skokie, IL. As the title of their program indicated, they refuted the idea that libraries are neutral: “If your library adheres to the Library Bill of Rights, you are not neutral.” Being neutral, however, is not the same as being nonpartisan; the library can have a stance (being in favor of access to good information) without taking a political position.

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A tweet from the “Refuting the Idea of ‘Neutral'” panel

The Skokie Public Library started a Civic Lab to promote and facilitate citizen engagement by increasing awareness of issues, facilitating conversation, and providing access to quality information. They hoped to achieve several goals: to have patrons participate, not just passively consume; to offer more active, participatory experiences; and to have patrons engage with information so they feel confident and can make decisions based on that information. “We don’t want to get them to a particular point of view, we want them to have a point of view. If you have bad information, whoever gave you that information is making up your mind for you.”

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The Civic Lab is a pop-up event in the library four times a month, addressing topics planned in advance as well as those that are timely and topical . Library staff at the pop-up station facilitate discussion between patrons, and each pop-up has a banner, display crates, media, books, and an activity. They suggest having “multiple access points [e.g. reading, listening, viewing]….There isn’t a right way to engage, it’s whatever is comfortable for the patron.”

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How do we define “civic engagement”? Slide from Skokie.

Skokie also offers news discussion groups, which are scheduled events about quality news sources and how to navigate through the many news outlets. These cover news literacy in general as well as specific topics. They employ the reflective listening model for discussion.

There were also some good strategies for engaging kids and teens, from gamification (activities and questions that are more like trivia than quizzes) to clever program titles (“The media wants your brains” for teens). To get adults – patrons and staff alike – engaged, have them bring experiences from their own lives and family histories; “help people understand how much they can learn from each other.”

“The library is a place for difficult discourse.”

Programs like these can be equally inspiring and intimidating; you might want to do something similar in your library, but you’re already doing many other programs and displays. “Don’t add ‘civic engagement’ [on top of] everything you’re already doing,” the Skokie team suggested; rather, “Apply a civic engagement lens to what you’re already doing….Do a civic engagement audit of what you already offer.”

During the Q&A after the panel, someone asked, “How do you keep it to a discussion and not regurgitation of strongly entrenched opinions?” The Civic Lab team advised, “As a facilitator, restate what they’re saying and then ask to hear from someone else.” You can say, “You obviously believe this very strongly. How did you come to hold that belief, what are your sources? Tell me more, where can I find more information?” They said, “Opinions are fine, we want people to have informed opinions based on facts.”

“We want people to have informed opinions based on facts.”

For the final program of the day, I went to “The Information Needs of Citizens,” presented by Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center. Lee Rainie is a regular at library conferences; he is an excellent speaker, with excellent data which, it just so happens, supports the value of libraries. Although the country is experiencing “a crisis of truth, a crisis of trust, a crisis of democracy,” there are a few institutions and professionals that the public still trusts: librarians, teachers, and the military.

It’s no surprise that someone from a “fact tank” still believes that “facts matter.”

  • “Facts are the atomic unit of truth.”
  • “Facts drive outcomes for individuals and societies.”
  • “Facts underlie justice” – they are the cornerstone of democracy.
  • Facts are democratic. Facts are tied to trust – when trust grows, good things come from that. Trust in a culture binds people together, to overcome vulnerability and uncertainty. Trust cements interdependence.

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Librarians, Rainie said, are in the vanguard of people who are going to help us solve these problems. Libraries are a free, open, trusted institution for learning. Research shows that people are glad that libraries are still here and providing access to information, helping bridge the digital divide and navigate the information environment online, and serving people and communities and on issues like net neutrality.

Lee Rainie from Pew Research Center
Lee Rainie from the Pew Research Center with a slide about what people say they want/need from libraries and librarians

The next library will be built around five new insights:

  1. People seek personal enrichment and entertainment in new ways
  2. People seek knowledge and reference expertise in new ways (reference questions have gone down in number, but up in complexity)
  3. Some groups especially need and want access to technology through trusted institutions (library as tech hub, tech support, wifi)
  4. Learning is a social process, an ongoing process (learning happens in networks)
  5. Where they fit on these continuums (PDF: ALA’s Confronting the Future report) physical/virtual, individual/community focus, collection/creation, archive/portal, everything for everyone/specialized niche
Figure 1 from Confronting the Future report
Figure 1 from the ALA Confronting the Future Report

Rainie concluded, “A day spent with librarians is a better day.”

Catch up on the two previous PLA blog posts if you missed them, and stay tuned for one more.

Fake News, a.k.a. Information Disorder: an ongoing reading list

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).

Fake News a.k.a. Information Disorder: A Resource List

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.

 

Libraries in a Post-Truth World: The Conversation Continues

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.

View of Wachusett from Tower Hill Botanic Garden
View from Tower Hill Botanic Garden

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.

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A hanging plant, Tower Hill Botanic Garden

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.

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Turtle fountains in the Winter Garden, Tower Hill Botanic Garden

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.)

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A tree with fall foliage, Tower Hill Botanic Garden

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.”

Stone bench and plants

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.

Photo of panel from a conference attendee's Twitter account
Bernadette Rivard, Jenny Arch, Andrea Fiorillo

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.

View of the pergolas from the Secret Garden
View of the pergolas from the Secret Garden

After the panel, we returned to our tables for small group discussion on the following four questions:

  1. What does the term “fake news” mean for librarians and the communities we serve?
  2. What are some creative and traditional approaches for librarians to support First Amendment awareness and education?
  3. What are your library’s barriers and supports to promoting media literacy?
  4. 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?

 

 

 

 

 

Dewey Decimal visualization of reading

LibraryThing has introduced a new feature that enables its users to see their libraries broken down by Dewey Decimal categories.

Screenshot of DDC overview of my LT library
Here’s the “top-level” view of my library. No surprise that nearly 75% of it is Literature (fiction and essays).

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:

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The 300s are the Social Sciences, including political science, education, communication, etiquette, and folklore.

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.

“What is fake news?” informational pamphlet

People from several libraries have asked if they can use the “What is fake news?” pamphlet that I created to go with my library’s January display on this topic. The answer is yes, please feel free to use and share it! I made a new version with a Creative Commons license instead of my library’s logo: 2017-01-fakenewsbrochure-update-2017-03

Indiana University created a helpful LibGuide about fake news as well. If you have similar materials to share, please do. Information literacy and news literacy are more important now than ever.

Libraries in a Post-Truth World, Part III: Afternoon Discussion

See Part I and Part II of Libraries in a Post-Truth World.

Workshop Ideas posterboard with post-its

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