Moderator Pick
January 29th, 2021

Beyond Information Literacy, Trust.

Disinformation is less about credibility of individual pieces of information and more about credibility of sources. Credibility of sources is less about the media that carry the information and more about the value attached to or perceived in the source through trust built on human connections associated with the source. Fact checking rarely convinces because it does little to penetrate the shield of distrust.

A piece of information is good to a person when they see the value of human relationships attached to the source that carries the information. They trust the human connections they see in the source. They see the worth of information because they value the human connection they find in the source that reinforces the trust. When trust is a much more convenient and intuitive factor in human information seeking behaviors, there is little or no incentive nor motive for further analysis and evaluation of the piece of information consumed.

Librarians may be able to teach information literacy in k-12 and higher education to a limited degree of success. It’s unlikely however to teach the same to the public where credibility of information is a much more subjective, intuitive decision-making process. In this sense, the “war” against disinformation is less about teaching people how to read, analyze, and evaluate information and the sources (i.e., carriers) of information, and more about expanding the scope of their human connections by introducing new trusted relationships in their lives. The goal is to help people become more open and receptive to more diverse sources of information.

Librarians do not just work on information. More than that, librarians are in a good position to help members of our community build human relationships and expand the world they trust.

Tags: Disinformation, information literacy, Public trust

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Comments (5)

Comments (5)

Yes, it’s a tall order. So is teaching Information Literacy. Fortunately, the LIS discipline has a long history with a wealth of scholarly literature on Information Literacy to guide librarians in developing strategies in practice, as we have read on this forum. There is not much scholarly attention to the soft aspects of information seeking behavior, such as emotion and human relations, which makes a topic like Public Trust Building daunting though no less important. In a backward planning way, here is my take on the “how to” of Public Trust Building to combat disinformation. Please feel free to add, to disagree, and to offer your counterpoints.

FIRST: What is the ultimate vision of Public Trust Building in Information Literacy?
An informed citizenry in which members of the community not only welcome a diversity of perspectives and are comfortable speaking up for the truth but also actively seek new information sources in their everyday decision-making.

SECOND: What characterizes an informed citizenry?
a. Belief in information sharing, not information defense
b. Curiosity in what else is out there
c. Respect for people who disagree as dissents or opponents, and not enemies
d. Desire to better their personal information seeking strategies
e. Participation in local activities to protect democracy
f. Activism in systemic equity and social justice for all

THIRD: What is the role of librarians in Public Trust Building?
Librarians are already well equipped with the strategies for teaching Information Literacy and will continue to be engaged in scholarship and practice of Information Literacy. Outside the classroom of any educational setting, we need to facilitate a public environment to allow people to trust our expertise to broaden their information view and to become comfortable trusting their fellow community members in information sharing.

FOURTH: How do librarians facilitate Public Trust Building?
By belonging to the community where we want to help build trust. Rather than inviting them to our library to attend our service activities, we become an insider in the community by taking our library work to where they are and help them integrate our ideas into their activities. In the process, we use our library skills to facilitate community activities and contribute library resources to the collective success. We take ownership of our own community by showing our vested interest in the progress of the local community.

By demonstrating that we live what we teach. Information Literacy is not merely organized 2-hour workshops in the community room on a weekday afternoon to go through 37 Powerpoint slides and three scenario exercises. We do not leave it in our office when we are done at the end of the day and pick it up the next day. When we practice Information Literacy as a 24/7 way of life, we break our own silos and reach out to those who are different in the community. We share information from “opposition” sources. We intentionally showcase new human stories. And we are genuinely interested in what people are doing and saying, so that they feel heard, not taught, that they trust us to be there with them next time they have an information question, and that they are willing to break their own silos and trust other information sources because they trust us.

In sum, we practice community-based Information Literacy. With diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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Hi Ling:

Fascinating! But also a tall order, I think. What steps can a librarian take to start that process?

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I love the idea of this approach. Since I work with teenagers, I see that dynamic played out regularly. They really do operate on the basis of trust and intuition, as well as emotions, to discern whether a piece of information is true or false. I can even see this playing out in my own life, in terms of news sources, and confess that I don't like listening to news from "the other side," because I don't trust them as humans since their views are adamantly opposed to mine. I think we can all work on expanding our concentric circles of trust, as long as we believe that those sources also have society's best interest as heart and are not just promoting an agenda for their own special interest groups.

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Hi Ling! I agree that one of our goals as librarians is to " help people become more open and receptive to more diverse sources of information." We can't move forward as communities without the exchange of different information and ideas.

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This is a great take. Are folks more likely to trust the opinions of some academic elite in an online newspaper behind a paywall, or this article that their brother shared on Facebook? I also love the way you've framed the opportunity to "expand the world they trust" What an intersection of Library values! Information Literacy hiding in the Community Space.

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