Moderator Pick
January 31st, 2021

High-Profile, National IL Campaign that Leverages Public Trust in Librarians

Problem: The growth in the dissemination of disinformation online coupled with inadequate information literacy (IL) skills among the general population of Internet users, creating a threat to democracy.

Suggested Solution: The seriousness and magnitude of this problem call for bold, large-scale action that is in the public interest, such as the following: a national information literacy program, targeted to all members of the public, DESIGNED BY LIBRARIANS, and supported by a high-profile, multi-media marketing effort to raise public awareness. Ideally a consortium of public and private organizations would come together to facilitate the program, led by the ALA and the Library of Congress.

I believe librarians are in a highly unique position to take on a VISIBLE LEADERSHIP ROLE and have a significant influence on the urgent problem of disinformation and misinformation. Librarians are trusted by the public and are recognized as information experts. Working together to produce a national IL program for the public, librarians can solve this pressing problem.

The suggested solution envisions a coordinated, high-profile information literacy campaign at a national level that is visibly led by librarians who would be the public face of the campaign. (What would this look like? For example, librarians giving interviews in the news media, social media engagement, traditional advertising vehicles such as billboards, etc.) This program would leverage the high level of trust that the public already places in librarians and libraries, encouraging the public's participation and engagement, and thereby resulting in collectively stronger information literacy skills among the general population.

Tags: critical thinking, Democracy, Disinformation, information literacy, Media, Public trust, Social media

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Comments (4)

Comments (4)

Alexandra - I agree with you, and your outlined plan would be critical in building that. Other organizations and industries spend millions of dollars building their message every day (i.e., "Beef, it's what's for dinner.") I would also hope that communications professionals could be enlisted to help with such a campaign, including polling, focus groups, etc.

I actually proposed something similar on a much smaller scale to my statewide library association, but it was shot down for a few reasons. I am in a smaller, more rural state. One issue was that our public libraries have been overwhelmed with the pandemic, and the capacity to bring in a new program was just too much. Another issue is that many didn't feel like their many of their staff members were at a level to be able to handle anything dealing with politically-charged misinformation.

ALA and anyone else leading a national charge will need the buy-in and support of the state organizations and state library leadership.

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Hi Kate,

Thanks for your post and for mentioning the importance of state-level library associations. Absolutely--they should be members of any consortium for a national campaign.

Thanks also for sharing your experience with suggesting an awareness campaign to your state association. It is unfortunate that it wasn't able to go ahead. I can understand it could be seen as daunting for some libraries to implement without a great deal of staff support as well as training. I think doing something like this at a national level would help mitigate these issues at the state level and for individual libraries. Especially if the national campaign didn't rely on individual libraries to implement anything, but rather, was designed with flexibility so that individual libraries could choose to participate and also choose the resources/materials/features of the campaign that make sense for their own community. What do you think?


HI Alexandra:

Thanks for joining our conversation. What's the first step toward creating this national campaign? Is there a way to start at the community level? How would you do it?

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Thank you for your questions. This is how I would propose creating this national public service announcement (PSA) campaign:

The leadership of the ALA and Library of Congress—supported by the IMLS—would provide oversight of the project and initiate the creation of a consortium of institutions and organizations to plan, manage, and execute the campaign. These organizations would ideally include:

--library and education associations (e.g., any appropriate groups with interest and expertise in information literacy and/or media literacy such as RUSA, PLA, SLA, NAMLE, etc.; representatives would be librarians, ideally from ALL library types);
--universities/colleges (representatives would be scholars from the library and information science, education, psychology, business/marketing, communications, and journalism departments);
--other organizations focused on education and media/news literacy including the News Literacy Project, First Draft, Ad Fontes Media, etc.;
--media companies; and
--social media platforms and appropriate tech companies (e.g., Microsoft, which has recently developed tools to fight disinformation online such as identifying deep fakes).

Members of the consortium would collaborate to:
--develop specific goals and objectives of the campaign;
--develop timelines and budgets;
--form committees to manage all campaign steps and logistics;
--evaluate successful PSA campaigns (e.g., wearing seat belts, anti-smoking, MADD) and determine best practices to follow;
--evaluate empirical research to have a common understanding of how mis/disinformation works, why it is accepted and embraced by individuals, how it spreads, etc.
--evaluate empirical research on effective strategies for combating mis/disinformation (e.g., “The Debunking Handbook 2020: A consensus-based handbook of recommendations for correcting or preventing misinformation,” by S. Lewandowsky, J. Cook, U.K.H. Ecker);
--identify, approach, and invite influencers to participate publicly in the campaign (e.g., similar to ALA’s READ campaign);
--determine specific population targets (e.g., demographics, geographic);
--determine specific PSA messages for each target group;
--determine variety of communication vehicles to reach each target group;
--work with appropriate agencies to develop and implement all aspects of the campaign;
--measure results of the campaign against objectives.

The implementation of the campaign would ideally include:
--national advertising vehicles such as outdoor (e.g., billboards, transit); radio; Internet
--social media platforms (perhaps with national, high-profile contests to encourage individuals to actively engage with the messaging);
--high-profile media interviews with librarians and participating influencers (e.g., television, print, radio, podcasts);
--in libraries: campaign will produce materials that individual libraries (of all types) can select from and customize for their own community’s needs (e.g., posters, booklets, bookmarks, contests, displays, programming).

The more places the campaign’s messages appear, with a variety of messages targeted to different populations, and appearing with repetition, the greater the chances of success.

**Key part of the messaging and visuals of the campaign is the presence and voice of librarians. The main idea is for librarians to be the public face of the campaign (alongside influencers) and for the messaging to be seen as non-partisan, objective, and based on librarians’ expertise (and NOT government agencies, corporations, etc.), in order to leverage the high level of trust that the public places in librarians.**

I realize that what I have outlined here is ambitious on many levels. However, I believe that the stakes and urgency of the problem require no less than a significant and sustained collaborative effort in order to have a meaningful impact.