Addressing More than Credible Sources
To some extent, I worry that this prompt begs the question of whether or not patrons value that their sources are credible. At times, I feel that some segments of the library field are placing too much emphasis on traditional approaches to information literacy as a solution to disinformation. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of rigorous and empirical evidence that information literacy approaches are broadly effective in changing patron behavior. And, significant research indicates that disinformation campaigns are quite effective at exploiting our emotions, psychological biases, and even our identity to ensure that we become personally invested in alternative facts. When this is the case, asking patrons to use credible sources can feel like an attempt to undermine their core beliefs and identity. In many instances this is more likely to lead to backlash than to improved information seeking behavior. We can teach patrons all the information literacy skills in the world, but they won’t be useful if patrons do not choose to use them in their everyday lives.
I am certainly not saying that information literacy is a bad thing – it is obviously more important than ever, and is a valuable tool in the fight against disinformation. Traditional approaches to information literacy can also be updated to be more effective, such as through programming on the psychological biases that make us vulnerable to disinformation. But, information literacy is not nearly enough, and libraries cannot treat it like a silver bullet. Discussions of credible sources, and other topics of information literacy, need to be paired with programming that addresses the social and political dimensions of disinformation. Libraries have a long history of being trusted community partners that are tapped into the needs and desires of their communities. We need to leverage that knowledge and trust to create strong community identities that do not need to rely on alternative facts and political antagonism. I think that this requires diverse programming ranging from discussions of economic inequity and political polarization to intervening in digital divides and building civic literacy. This programming can help bring patrons together to discuss issues that matter in their everyday lives, and to realize that the truth is a fundamental building blocks for effectively deliberating over and creating a future together. This is what will encourage patrons to care about whether their sources are credible, and to come to libraries looking for guidance and information literacy skills.
I recognize that this political and social work is difficult and messy, and requires librarians to be deeply integrated into the ongoing conversations in their communities. At times this work will also require bravery, and it will almost certainly add new dimensions to ongoing conversations about the role of librarians as neutral community actors. But, I think it will be far more transformative than information literacy alone. At the end of the day, if we want to get patrons to use credible sources, then we need to show them how using credible sources will directly improve their communities and their lives.
A final, parting though – whatever solutions we gravitate toward, it would be powerful if there could be more institutional support for rigorous evaluation of their success at improving the long-term information-seeking behaviors of patrons. This could actually be a huge contribution from the library field, if they could act as ‘field laboratories’ to test various approaches being suggested. This sort of real-world evaluation data is largely missing across the field of misinformation studies, but is so important for figuring out what solutions actually have an impact.