February 2nd, 2021

We Need Help Now

In 1962, John F. Kennedy said, “We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

Nearly 60 years later, instead of having risen to the challenge of becoming better discerners of information, we use unvetted social media posts, search engines that feed us information based on algorithms we help create, and endless hours of commentary (not news) as the foundation for our beliefs and opinions.

Libraries need to be leaders in the effort of reversing our living in a “world of disinformation.” We can help do that by ensuring we have a variety of views represented in the materials we have and display. We need to be proactive at being inclusive in our programing. We must be seen as impartial and offer a safe place for community discussion.

In a public library, it’s important that the staff seem as unbiased as possible. The library is a place where ideas are not just shared but challenged. Challenge doesn’t mean confrontation but open discussion. In encounters with patrons who make questionable statements, I respond with comments such as “Others feel differently. They may be getting different information about this topic.” “How do we know that the information we’re given is accurate?” Giving someone a pause in their thought process can open a door to seeing a different side.

When identifying and vetting credible information sources, I remember that I am as biased as anyone else and that although I am looking at information through my lens, I need to use objectivity. Then I examine the source. I consider the intention of the person/media outlet. Are they trying to persuade me or to inform me? Are they providing information or are they playing toward my emotions? What types are words are they using: highly charged words or simple words that explain the information as much without bias as possible. I share those ideas when talking with patrons.

Persuading people to discontinue a belief in alternative facts is an incredible challenge. I can’t think of anything more important for our country and the world.

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Comments (4)

Comments (4)

Hi Linda:

Thanks for sharing your process. Do you get pushback from library users when you ask them to think about their beliefs?

I'm also intrigued by the idea of presenting multiple views. It's a key question, I think. How do you deal with the mis/disinformation that some library users might believe (e.g. the election was stolen or books by anti-vaxers). If you know it's been proven not to be true, do you still present that "side" of an issue? If not, how do you defend that choice when a true believer asks?

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Hello Cindy,

Sometimes when I offer a conflicting viewpoint, I get some pushback, usually in the form of a “well I heard (read)” or some other non-specific rebuke. During a “discussion”, I try not to put a barrier between the other person & myself – no desk, etc. While that may seem counterintuitive, I think it is an equalizer. Of course, I would not put myself in harm’s way. The library is generally a safe place, discussions are often one-one-one or two, whereas I would behave differently in a street crowd.

In situations where someone is telling me information that has been proven to be false, I assume that in that moment I likely won’t be able to convince them they are wrong, but I might get them to consider/question that other information may be true. I don’t personally believe that in many instances there is another side, there are no alternative facts. While I can guess how a person came to believe the misinformation, to have a discussion, I can’t be condescending or choose to judge the person. I have to recognize their beliefs and counter them with factual information, but again, not in a condescending way.

I’ve had conversations about both of the subjects you mentioned. In the discussion about the election being stolen, I said I too had heard those stories (instead of those lies, that misinformation, etc. - a story can be fact or fiction, so I don’t sound as though I’m putting down what they believe), but that I wonder what motive the republican election officials or judges who voted for Trump would have to certify the results as they did. Seems they must have believed them to be accurate. I didn’t get an assent, but I got a “well, you know, I’m still questioning the results.” I at least planted a seed, and the conversation was friendly.

If another discussion, a person said that he didn’t want to be a guinea pig for the vaccine and that it was all too fast to be safe. I agreed it had been fast, but so was the polio vaccine that saved many lives. And I added that I admired the 44,000 people who participated in the trials – they were brave guinea pigs! He said he didn’t realize that many people had gone through the trails (I didn’t, but should have recommended he review the CDC information.). Again, he didn’t tell me he would rush out to get the vaccine, but he had accepted information that contradicted his believe.

Some people will never believe facts, some will come around. In working towards eliminating/stopping disinformation, I think it’s important to foster discussion.


Wow! That's a great quote from JFK. I'll be sharing that with my students!

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I've thought so, too, Maggie. I used it often when I was teaching.