“Can Librarians Save us from Fake News?”

Can Librarians Save us from Fake News?” was the recent headline of a VICE article. For centuries, individuals have shaped and used information for personal and political gain. However, by the mid- 20th century, we had two professions solidly in place that provided a check on “fake news”–journalists and librarians. Journalists, abiding by a Code of Ethics, ensured that to the degree possible, the information they reported was fair and without bias. Libraries provided citizens access to information, and in their reference role, librarians helped citizens find quality information.

Enter the internet. While both librarians and journalists continue to serve these same critical functions, the internet has offered unfettered access to both the creation and consumption of information.

Despite all of the grief “fake news” has caused us, it has brought about one good thing–an emerging awareness that the ability to find information does not automatically lead to the ability to find GOOD information. There is a long history of librarians teaching students to be critical consumers of information; librarians refer to this ability as “information literacy”.  In 2000, the Association of College and Research Libraries adopted the  “Information Literacy Competency Standards,” which have since evolved into the “Framework for Information Literary for Higher Education,” understanding information literacy as “a set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.”  At DePaul, our librarians continue this tradition and work to build our students’ competency in navigating and evaluating this world of information throughout their academic careers.

Over the last few months, different “solutions” to the “fake news” problem have been proposed. Many of them look to technology to solve the problem. But “fake news” is not a technological problem; it is a critical thinking problem. Luckily, journalists, educators, and librarians have been collaborating to come up with interesting approaches, including offering a course on fake news, continuing the work of the Center for News Literacy and developing the Digital Polarization Initiative.

This conversation will continue on April 4, when the DePaul Library will participate in the “Fake News: What to Do About It” panel discussion sponsored by DePaul University’s Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence and the College of Communication Journalism Program. Hope you can join the conversation.

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