Ask A Librarian

The Latest Information Crisis

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
October 4th, 2017

By Karen Diaz, Interim Dean of Libraries

In the 80’s the crisis was access to information; in the 90’s, it was about the digital divide; in the 2000’s, the challenge became information glut; and now in the 2010’s, we are experiencing the latest round of information challenges – rampant disinformation. Assertions of fake news, Russian intervention in our social media streams, and confirmation-biased streams of information all lead to a crisis of belief in information itself.

One institution rarely mentioned in reports and calls for action to managing information crises are libraries. And yet, libraries have a long view of information flow and are in the thick of each challenge that arises. The current challenge is no different, and WVU Libraries is among those answering the call.

WVU Libraries not only supplies proprietary information to the campus, our bedrock curriculum is information literacy, a term difficult to define, but exactly what is needed in times of information crisis. Librarians are here, not only to help students learn how to use the library, but also how to think about their own thinking so that they become more literate information users.

How do we do this? One way is through an elective credit courses. Our primary course, Introduction to Library Research, continues to evolve and respond to the challenges of the information environment. We also teach an online summer Film and Media Literacy course to help students look more critically at how entertainment and news are delivered through media in order to be more thoughtful consumers of this information. Most recently, we have added our Research for Non-profits course that teaches students how to locate funding for non-profits through service and learning.

Another resource we provide is our LibGuide library of pathways to the best research for many topics. In particular, we have one to help students learn techniques for spotting fake news. Any faculty member at WVU can use these resources in their classes.

We also have a Wikipedian in Residence for Gender Equity who works with faculty, students, and librarians to engage the community to contribute to Wikipedia.  Student contribution to knowledge in such a public and scrutinized venue leads them to understand what it takes to create accurate information for others.  By doing this, they are also learning to be much more careful consumers of that information as well. Kelly Doyle’s focus on Gender Equity points out a “hidden” problem with information on Wikipedia –it is primarily by and about men.  Sometimes the information that is NOT there is as problematic as misinformation that might be there.

Recently the library has also engaged in interesting ways to engage our users in critical thinking about large issues through our Art in the Libraries program. Visual information is also important, such as our Looking at Appalachia exhibit in the Downtown Campus Library that provides an intimate everyday look at the region counteracting the stereotyped images that persist from the War on Poverty; our Face of Homelessness exhibit in the Evansdale library done by photographer Kofi Opoku to raise awareness of the problem in our town; and the Life: Magnified exhibit in the Health Sciences Library that reveals a beauty in the microscopic world of important health research.

In any information crisis, the information professionals at WVU Libraries stand ready to add perspective, insights, content, programming or resources.  Feel free to call on us!

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