Sources, Authors, Publishers, and even Filetypes: Are They Reputable? Can They Be Manipulated?
As a research librarian for the federal government, there are a few considerations that my colleagues and I take while vetting information for credibility. They are as follows:
1. Information Source: If it is a news media organization, is it typically held in high regard or sponsored by entities such as Fortune 500 companies or Government Organizations? Is their content cited often by the same kind of entities, as well as scholarly content from think tanks and peer-reviewed journals? My team typically avoids social networking; however, if it was considered, we would look to see whether. If so, we would seek answers to the questions aforementioned. If it is a think-tank, what are their political leanings?
2. Author: Who produced the information? What organizations are they affiliated with? What are their credentials? In short, to what extent are they an authority on said topic or subject?
3. Filetype: Is it published as a PDF, Word, HTML, or Text file? Though this is subjective, I perceive information presented in PDF format to have a higher chance of being credible than others. In my observation, most PDFs are finished works published by peer reviewed journals, official government websites, think tanks, etc. Information produced in any other format could be manipulated to mislead the public. Filetype is not the end all be all, but it is something to consider.
We compile these resources in a handout that posts to our library website, and we create Libguides that organizes them by topic or subject. Research consultations and presentations are also conducted for one or more patrons wanting to know more about the resources. Either way, they are disseminated to the people we serve.
Whether it is in a specialized setting such as mine or a Public/Academic/School setting, librarians have an obligation to provide access to information in a wide range of formats. With all of the misinformation we encounter, the expectations we are asked to meet with regard to mining the most credible sources will remain high. In addition, our resources should offer information reflecting diversity of thought. Understanding multiple sides of a topic or issue helps foster the common ground we need to move forward as a community.