February 2nd, 2021

Commuication, Civic Engagement & Re-Localization

Librarians can address fake news through communication, civic engagement and re-localization

Studies of climate change deniers have shown that logical arguments don't work and that repeating disinformation can re-enforce false beliefs. Communication to combat false information needs to identify the fallacy and avoid repeating the lie. However, librarians need to understand that false information is not accidental-- weaponized disinformation is a deliberate strategy that is being used to confuse people about the truth, persuade them to vote against their own interests and sabotage democratic forms of government. Big money and political forces behind disinformation are much, much more powerful than any number of well-intentioned librarians. Still, librarians can take the side of facts by integrating civic literacy into reference and instruction.
Librarians need a fast-acting effective strategy to teach critical information literacy and civic engagement. The typical books/journals strategy fails to make the connection that laws, regulations and policies create the conditions that citizens experience. Nearly any reference question can be answered with a strategy of identifying stakeholders and why they care, and by identifying which government agencies deal with that issue. This way of answering questions helps students engage with primary sources (rather than pure propaganda) and to consider the role of government and Donella Meadows' concept of "leverage points" to intervene in the system.
In a democratic society, the FOUR branches of government are Legislative, Executive, Judicial and Citizens. One reason people fall for fake information is that they feel disempowered. Addressing questions in terms of stakeholders and government helps identify gaps where some people have been marginalized. It helps people find the proper level of government to let their voices be heard.
Since the 2020 election, I have a new idea I'd like to experiment with. Political campaigns act as if each candidate's position on issues are key, and library civics education tells people to "research the candidates" and vote. This is wrongheaded since the best public servants are not people who have ideologically inflexible ideas, but those who can change their minds when they get new information. I beleve a better approach would be for libraries to publish online guides about what each office on the ballot does. The guide could frame the election as as a job search where citizens are looking for the best candidate to fill the actual job.
A third important role for libraries is, compensating for the demise of local news. Communities without local news tend to become more politically polarized. ALL libraries should identify the community they serve and make sure that part of their collection is re-localized.

Brunvand, Amy. "Researching Bears Ears: reference practice for civic engagement." Reference Services Review 48, no. 1 (2020): 49-61.

Brunvand, Amy. “Re-localizing the library: considerations for the Anthropocene.” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies, 3 no1 (2020) https://journals.litwinbooks.com/index.php/jclis/article/view/94

Tags: critical thinking, Democracy, information literacy, Local newspapers

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Comments (3)

Comments (3)

I am all in on the idea that we need to normalize valuing candidates (and people!) who are willing to change their minds. Somehow, and I'm not entirely sure at what point in our history this happened, Americans have developed the notion that standing for what you believe in equates to never changing what you believe in ... no matter what.

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Hi Amy:

Thanks for joining our conversation. Have you tried any of these approaches in your library? If so, how did it go? If not, how would you start?

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Yes, I've spent years fine-tuning ways to include civic literacy in instruction. It really does boil down to identifying stakeholders and government organizations. I'm an academic librarian so evidence of success is instructor feedback and students who come back and say, "wow, I never knew how that worked before." I've had less success persuading other librarians to adopt re-localization strategies. The typical response is that Special Collections does that, so, not our job. I have not yet tried the idea of a guide to what government does. It's just an idea right now.