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Creative Ways To Fight Fake News

by on February 9, 2017

Earlier today, a long-time friend shared an article on Facebook titled, “Mike Pence Disappointed In The 200,000 Husbands And Fathers Who Permitted Women To Attend March.” Moments later a comment appeared from one of his friends. The comment said only, “the Onion.” The post was deleted as quickly as it appeared. It occurred to me that he fell for The Onion’s satirical headline.

In Librarian Takes It Off in the Stacks, Goes Viral, I left off with some unanswered questions: How do public libraries teach information literacy? How do they incorporate it into their programming? In “Fighting Fake News,” Marcus Banks spotlights an eight-week training course in community journalism for high school students hosted by the Dallas Public Library called “Storytellers without Borders.” Programs like this exist for college and high school students, but what about everyone else? How do public librarians reach the rest of the population?

As librarians, we approach each and every question with the utmost professionalism. We cover all perspectives of a subject and gather multiple sources so our researchers can come to the most truthful conclusion. But in our hyperconnected, networked world, where information flows freely to devices with the tap of a finger, librarians are no longer the gatekeepers of information. Promoting our detective-like information-finding skills is important so people know they can still turn to us when Google can’t cough up a good answer.

I have put together some innovative ways librarians can shine the light on reference services and continue to be the super info-professionals in their communities:

The Roaming Reference Librarian

Visit with some of your regular patrons while they are roaming the stacks or in front of a computer, like the Chattanooga Public Library did. Let them know you are promoting the library’s reference and research services and would be happy to help them research any topic above and beyond what they have found on Google. Equip yourself with a tablet in one hand (and perhaps a pencil behind your ear to look official). You may not get any takers on your first round, but continue to do that for a few weeks, and they will soon seek you out with their advanced research questions.

Straight from the Source: Government Documents

Librarians can continue to grow civic-minded communities by highlighting both local and national government documents. Rather then read editorialized and possibly skewed (maybe fake) news, show your patrons how to get theirs directly from the source by following presidential executive orders, memorandums, and proclamations. Logs like the Congressional Record and the Federal Register help us keep up with congressional activities and proposed rules, final rules and public notices, respectively. Since combing through these sites is often time-consuming, teach your patrons how to utilize the site’s search alerts and social media feeds; ”like” or ”follow” to import the sites into Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds.

Set the Record Straight with Database Content

By using social media streams, librarians can help set the record straight by offering multiple sources from the library’s premium databases. Yes, you can actually share full-text news and articles from some of the subscription-based databases in your digital collection—look for the “share” symbol! Sharing articles with the library’s social media fans promotes the vetted, trustworthy, but often underused resources and helps to validate the librarian’s role in the information space. Be mindful of your sources’ political leanings by providing balanced perspectives and viewpoints or sticking to middle-of-the road publications.

Gamification: Escape from the Library

By getting creative with gaming in the library, librarians can teach critical thinking skills that lead to scrutinizing sources and finding accurate information. One way to accomplish that is to create an escape locked in a room at the library. Escape rooms are physical adventure games in which a team is given a series of puzzles to solve and questions to answer in a limited time. A team may unlock one room only to enter a second room and answer additional questions. Escape rooms incorporate engaging elements such as collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity, which make them very popular with all ages.

I hope these ideas are just a start for you to engage further with your community and position librarians at the center of the information revolution. This is a great opportunity for librarians to flex their info-muscles and help our communities develop information and media literacy skills so they are better prepared to digest and think critically about the world around them.

I welcome your comments, questions and thoughts about innovative ways librarians can fight fake news in their libraries.

Further Reading

Before The Internet, Librarians Would ‘Answer Everything’ — And Still Do,” npr.org, December 28, 2014.

See how they did it in Chattanooga Public Library: Meredith Levine, “A Roving Reference Assessment in Teen Services,” Public Libraries Online, January 21, 2016.

Katie O’Reilly, “Libraries on Lockdown: Escape rooms, a breakout trend in youth programming,” American Libraries, September 1, 2016.

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