The challenge facing libraries in an era of fake news

library

Written by Donald A. Barclay, University of California, Merced

Imagine, for a moment, the technology of 2017 had existed on Jan. 11, 1964 – the day Luther Terry, surgeon general of the United States, released “Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States.”

What would be some likely scenarios?

The social media noise machine explodes; conservative websites immediately paint the report as a nanny-government attack on personal freedom and masculinity; the report’s findings are hit with a flood of satirical memes, outraged Facebook posts, attack videos and click-bait fake news stories; Big Tobacco’s publicity machine begins pumping out disinformation via both popular social media and pseudoscientific predatory journals willing to print anything for a price; Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater characterizes “Smoking and Health” a “communist-inspired hoax.”

Eventually, the Johnson administration distances itself from the surgeon general’s controversial report.

Of course none of the above actually occurred. While Big Tobacco spent decades doing all that it could to muddy the waters on the health impacts of smoking, in the end scientific fact triumphed over corporate fiction.

Today, thanks to responsible science and the public policies it inspired, only 15 percent of adults in the United States smoke, down from 42.4 percent in 1965.

One might ask: Would it have been possible to achieve this remarkable public health victory had today’s social media environment of fake news and information echo chambers existed in 1964?

Maybe not. As a long-time academic librarian, I have spent a good part of my career teaching college students to think critically about information. And the fact is that I watch many of them struggle with the challenges of discovering, internalizing, evaluating and applying credible information. For me, the recent spate of stories about large segments of the population falling for fake news stories was no surprise.

Making sense of information is hard, maybe increasingly so in today’s world. So what role have academic libraries played in helping people make sense of world bursting at the seams with information?

History of information literacy

Since the 19th century, academic librarians have been actively engaged in teaching students how to negotiate increasingly complex information environments.

Evidence exists of library instruction dating back to the 1820s at Harvard University. Courses on using libraries emerged at a number of colleges and universities after the Civil War. Until well into the 20th century, however, academic librarians largely gave library building tours, and their instruction was aimed at mastery of the local card catalog.

Beginning in the 1960s, academic librarians experienced a broadening of their role in instruction. This broadening was inspired by a number of factors: increases in the sheer size of academic library collections; the emergence of such technologies as microfilm, photocopiers and even classroom projection; and such educational trends as the introduction of new majors and emphasis on self-directed learning.

An elementary school librarian in the 1980s. theunquietlibrarian, CC BY-NC

The new instructional role of academic librarians was notably reflected in the coining of the phrase “information literacy” in 1974 by Paul G. Zurkowski, then president of the Information Industry Association.

Rather than being limited to locating items in a given library, information literacy recognized that students needed to be equipped with skills required to identify, organize and cite information. More than that, it focused on the ability to critically evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of information sources.

Changes in a complex world

In today’s digital world, information literacy is a far more complex subject than it was when the phrase was coined. Back then, the universe of credible academic information was analog and (for better or worse) handpicked by librarians and faculty.

Students’ information hunting grounds was effectively limited to the campus library, and information literacy amounted to mastering a handful of relatively straightforward skills, such as using periodical indexes and library catalogs, understanding the difference between primary and secondary sources of information, and distinguishing between popular and scholarly books and journals.

Today, the situation is far more nuanced. And not just because of the hyperpartisan noise of social media.

Thirty or 40 years ago, a student writing a research paper on the topic of acid rain might have needed to decide whether an article from a scientific journal like Nature was a more appropriate source than an article from a popular magazine like Time.

Today’s students, however, must know how to distinguish between articles published by genuine scholarly journals and those churned out by look-alike predatory and fake journals that falsely claim to be scholarly and peer-reviewed.

This is a far trickier proposition.

Further complicating the situation is the relativism of the postmodern philosophy underpinning much of postmodern scholarly thinking. Postmodernism rejects the notion that concepts such as truth and beauty exist as absolutes that can be revealed through the work of creative “authorities” (authors, painters, composers, philosophers, etc.).

While postmodernism has had such positive effects as opening up the literary canon beyond the writings of the proverbial “dead white males,” it has simultaneously undermined the concept of authority. If, as postmodernist philosophy contends, truth is constructed rather than given, what gives anyone the right to say one source of information is credible and another is not?

Further complicating the situation are serious questions surrounding the legitimacy of mainstream scholarly communication. In addition to predatory and fake journals, recent scandals include researchers faking results, fraudulent peer review and the barriers to conducting and publishing replication studies that seek to either verify or disprove earlier studies.

So, what’s the future?

In such an environment, how is a librarian or faculty member supposed to respond to a bright student who sincerely asks, “How can you say that a blog post attacking GMO food is less credible than some journal article supporting the safety of GMO food? What if the journal article’s research results were faked? Have the results been replicated? At the end of the day, aren’t facts a matter of context?”

How can students be trained to be information-literate? Mary Woodard, CC BY-NC-ND

In recognition of a dynamic and often unpredictable information landscape and a rapidly changing higher education environment in which students are often creators of new knowledge rather than just consumers of information, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) launched its Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, the first revision to the ACRL’s standards for information literacy in over 15 years.

The framework recognizes that information literacy is too nuanced to be conceived of as a treasure hunt in which information resources neatly divide into binary categories of “good” and “bad.”

Notably, the first of the framework’s six subsections is titled “Authority Is Constructed and Contextual” and calls for librarians to approach the notions of authority and credibility as dependent on the context in which the information is used rather than as absolutes.

This new approach asks students to put in the time and effort required to determine the credibility and appropriateness of each information source for the use to which they intend to put it.

For students this is far more challenging than either a) simply accepting authority without question or b) rejecting all authority as an anachronism in a post-truth world. Formally adopted in June 2016, the framework represents a way forward for information literacy.

While I approve of the direction taken by the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, I do not see it as the ultimate solution to the information literacy challenge. Real progress in information literacy will require librarians, faculty and administrators working together.

Indeed, it will require higher education, as well as secondary and primary education, to make information literacy a priority across the curriculum. Without such concerted effort, a likely outcome could be a future of election results and public policies based on whatever information – credible or not – bubbles to the top of the social media noise machine.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.  Reposted under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Daily Links and Deals: Pew: younger people actually prefer reading the news to watching it

daily_links_1Daily Links for Friday, October 7,  2016:

Google’s open source Noto: Free font covers 800 languages, including dead ones (ZD Net) As both a font fan and a fan of archaeology and old languages, this seems like a great idea!

Yep, there’s now a subscription handbag service: Ivory Clasp (Techcrunch) This is what technology is for, right? Now, if they can just do shoes….

Remove ransomware infections from your PC using these free tools (ZD Net) Good resource to have as ransomware becomes more and more prevalent.

Pew: younger people actually prefer reading the news to watching it (Techcrunch) It is so much easier to skim to get to what you really want to know about.

Deals of the Day:

Amazon’s selection of Kindle Daily Deals includes The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness by Bari Tessler.

In Today’s Deals, a AVANTEK Wireless FM Transmitter Radio Adapter Car Kit MP3 Player, Remote Control.

Through October 9th, the Alexa-enabled Amazon Tap is available for $100.

This week, Prime members can save on Kindles. The basic Kindle is $50, The Paperwhite is $90 and the Voyage is $150.

The Echo inow available in white. There is also an  All-New Echo Dot (2nd Generation) which will be available in both black and white and retails for $49.99. The Dot is also being offering in a “Buy 5, get 1 free” six-pack and a ““Buy 10, get 2 free” twelve-pack”. The new Echo Dot will be released on October 20, 2016.

The Barnes and Noble Nook Daily Find is My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows. The Romance Daily Find is The Turning Point by Freya North.

Barnes and Noble also has a selection of NOOK Books Under $2.99.

Kobo’s Daily Deal is The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. The Extra Daily Deal is Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand.

Also, a selection of titles called Romance On The Ice for $4.99 or Less until October Until October 31st.

There is also a selection of Great Reads Under $5 and Bargain Reads in Fiction, in Mystery and other genres. The Kobo Aura One (and the Aura Edition 2 e-readers are now available for order at the Kobo store. (The Aura One is out of stock until October 14, 2016.)

iTunes’ Weekly Bestsellers Under $4 includes Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton.

Google Books has a selection of Topsellers Under $10.

(A note on Daily Deals: All prices current at the time of posting and subject to change. Most items marked Daily Deals are good for only the day posted.

Many large promotions have discount pricing that is set by the publisher. This usually means that titles can be found at a discount price across most platforms (with iTunes sometimes being the exception). If you have a favorite retailer you like to patronize, check the title on that website. There is a good chance that they will be matching the sale price.)


Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news. I also post other, different links of interest on Twitter, Facebook, and on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

New Kindle Oasis official

oasisAmazon has officially announced its new Kindle Oasis. The device will cost $289.99, includes the special leather battery charging cover and will begin shipping on April 27, 2016.

Now, for the details. According to the Amazon press release, the Oasis is:

All-New Design–The Thinnest and Lightest Kindle Ever

The new Kindle Oasis is unlike any Kindle you’ve ever held. With an incredibly thin display and an ergonomic grip, Kindle Oasis weighs just 4.6 ounces and is just 3.4 mm at its thinnest point–30% thinner on average and over 20% lighter than any other Kindle. To achieve this, Kindle Oasis has a featherweight polymer frame that is plated with metal by structural electroplating–this makes the device incredibly light while ensuring it has the strength and rigidity of metal so it is resilient enough to take anywhere you want to read.

Designed for Comfortable and Extended Reading

Kindle Oasis is designed for extended reading sessions–with an entirely reimagined shape, Kindle Oasis shifts the center of gravity to your palm, to rest in your hand like the spine of a book so that the device feels balanced for one-handed reading. Effortlessly turn the page with either the touch display or physical buttons. Oasis is comfortable to read on with either hand–a built-in accelerometer detects whether you are reading with your left or right hand, and automatically rotates the page and page turn buttons to match.

Dual-Battery Design Delivers Months of Battery Life–Our Longest Ever

Kindle Oasis introduces a new dual-battery system–as soon as you connect the cover to Kindle Oasis, the battery in the cover begins recharging Kindle Oasis automatically. The battery in the cover uses a custom cell architecture that optimizes power and energy while keeping an incredibly small and light form factor and delivering months of battery life. You can charge the device and cover simultaneously while both are snapped together and plugged in. Plus, a new hibernation mode minimizes power consumption when your Kindle is inactive.

The included charging cover is made of high-quality leather and is available in black, merlot, or walnut. The cover opens like a book and fits closely around the bezel, waking Kindle Oasis when opened and putting it to sleep when closed. Twelve magnets form a secure and solid attachment between the device and cover, while ensuring it is easy to detach when you choose to read without the cover.

Next Generation Paperwhite Display

Kindle Oasis features the latest generation high-resolution 300 ppi Paperwhite display for crisp, laser-quality text. A redesigned built-in front light features 60% more LEDs for our brightest Kindle display ever and leverages new cylindrical diffractive patterns to increase the consistency and range of screen brightness for improved reading in all types of lighting. The new Paperwhite display on Oasis is the first Kindle display designed using a ground-breaking 200 micron display backplane that is as thin as a single sheet of aluminum foil, but is robust enough for you to throw in your bag and take with you on-the-go, combined with a custom cover glass engineered from chemically-reinforced glass.

Most of this information (save for the shipping date and price) had already leaked online. You can find more detail on the device here.

Comparing the Kindle Oasis to the previous Kindle models, this one is thinner, lighter, has better LED lighting and a totally unique design. Here is the chart comparing the features on the various models:

Oasis_comparison

Click = big

There is evidently quite a bit of interest in the Oasis.  Already, I am seeing “Due to popular demand, some configurations will ship after April 27th. See the latest shipping dates at checkout” listed on the item page.  I am also seeing an offer to purchase this for 5 monthly payments of $58.00,  but I am a prime member, so I don’t know if everyone sees that offer. It will be interesting to see if this sells out. Hint: Don’t delay too long if you are interested.

I will be back later with some thoughts about the new device, including talking about some of the features some of us were hoping for but didn’t get.

So, does this model interest you?

Daily Links and Deals: The End of the News as We Know It: How Facebook Swallowed Journalism

daily_links_1Daily Links for Wednesday, March 9, 2016:

Chromecast snags 35 percent of global streamer market in 2015, says Strategy Analytics (Android Central) – That’s an impressive number for a little device.

Wayne State University Libraries launch digital collection of Detroit Sunday Journal (Wayne State) – Unique because it was published by striking newspaper union workers, this is a fascinating piece of Detroit history.

The Great Crossword Plagiarism Scandal (Plagiarism Today) – Fascinating story. Crossword puzzles and plagiarism in the same sentence?

IRS shuts down identity security tool for taxpayers due to security problems (Ars Technica) – There is something deeply disturbing about the fact that even the government can’t protect our data.

The End of the News as We Know It: How Facebook Swallowed Journalism (Medium) – A look at the changing news ecosystem and how social media is changing everything.

The digital world: Crossing the great divide (The Next Web) – This article makes the argument that it is the walled garden that helps create the digital divide..

Deals of the Day:

Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deals includes Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan (Author), Howard Goldblatt (Translator) for $1.99.

Amazon’s Today’s Deals includes up to 60% off select Wi-Fi routers, range extenders, modems, security cameras, and more.

The Barnes and Noble Nook Daily Find is The Hidden: A Novel of Suspense by Bill Pronzini for $1.99. The Romance Daily Find is My Kind of Wonderful (Cedar Ridge Series #2) by Jill Shalvis for $1.99.

Kobo’s Daily Deal is Miracles from Heaven A Little Girl and Her Amazing Story of Healing by Christy Wilson Beam for $2.99.

iTunes’ Weekly Bestsellers Under $4 includes The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society by Beth Pattillo for $1.99.

(A note on Daily Deals: All prices current at the time of posting and subject to change. Most items marked Daily Deals are good for only the day posted.

Many large promotions have discount pricing that is set by the publisher. This usually means that titles can be found at a discount price across most platforms (with iTunes sometimes being the exception). If you have a favorite retailer you like to patronize, check the title on that website. There is a good chance that they will be matching the sale price.)


Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news. I also post other, different links of interest on Twitter and on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

Daily Links: Paying for news with your privacy

daily_links_1Think you’re reading the news for free? New research shows you’re likely paying with your privacy  (The Conversation) – Yes, I have been stalked by a pair of shoes – and a piece or two of furniture as well.

Cord cutters cut off from presidential debates (CNET) – Media is changing and the debates are one area where online viewing has not caught up.

UK gov’t promises all homes will have legal right to 10Mbps broadband by 2020 (Ars Technica) – The big question is can the UK actually pull this off?

An Archive of 10,000 Cylinder Recordings Readied for the Spotify Era (Hyperallergic) – Yes, you can actually listen to (and download) works from this amazing collection from the UCSB Library.

On Amazon, the Kindle, the Paperwhite and the Kindle Kids bundle are all $20 off  until Wednesday.

Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news. I also post other, different links of interest on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

News Bits and Bytes for 10-20-2011

Kobo has announced their new color reader, the Vox. It is available for pre-order and will be shipping on October 28. You can read the press release here.  Kobo is also having a contest in which you can win a Vox.

According to this article from SlashGear, Amazon has added Kindles to their electronics trade in program.

What do you do if your beloved eReader is [Gasp] lost or stolen? This article from Mashable has some tips.

Barnes and Noble is expanding their Marketplace,  “adding over one million new products to the catalog,” according to today’s press release. 

For self-publishers, Amazon has announce Kindle Format 8, which has HTML 5 support. Read Mike Cane’s take on the news here.