Meeting Patrons Where They Are: Teaching skills through reference desk interactions and programming
It is paramount to teach patrons media literacy skills in order to give them the tools they need to discern credibility in sources. And to do this and to get these skills across, we have to meet people where they are. They aren’t going to come to us ask us for training; we need to incorporate it into what we’re already doing.
As information professionals, we must connect with our customers and fight the battle against misinformation and disinformation. That means having skills ourselves, and it means using our trusted position in society to help people understand where their information is coming from and why that’s important. As library workers, we are trusted by those on either side of the political spectrum. We are used by people from all different walks of life, including those who believe in conspiracy theories and that mainstream media is fake. I think it’s essential for us to use this trusted role and set ourselves up as purveyors of sound information.
Since customers are not likely to think their media literacy skills are lacking, we must find ways to work media literacy into reference desk interactions, ongoing programs and displays. When a customer shares fake news with you in the form of a reference question, instead of just offering them resources on that subject, ask them where they got the information and strike up a conversation about reliable media outlets.
Yes, it’s possible the customer may think you’re a part of the conspiracy or a member of the fake news media, but we must continually and repeatedly both offer accurate information and explain why it’s accurate. Remind patrons that libraries are here to provide trusted and sound information and that you have no reason to provide misinformation. I often fall back on PEW research about trusted sources of information and media outlet funding to try and get this message across. Having information like this ready and printed, along with tools like those from NAMLE and The Center for Media Literacy ready will give patrons the opportunity to learn and explore on their own.
It is also possible to teach these skills through programming. Programming creates an environment for sharing ideas and learning. Have a book club? Discuss how the book would be portrayed in the media or if social media were a part of the plot. If you’re teaching basic computer skills, it is essential that you share media literacy skills. You’re giving patrons the whole world at their fingertips. Incorporate local journalists into bigger programs so that customers can meet and conversate with the media in an informal setting.
Yes, combatting disinformation and misinformation is challenging. Yes, it is extra work. But now more than ever, as information professionals, it is our work.