Libraries and Information Literacy

Helping people understand what it takes to be media and information-literate is a function of school and public libraries. And they are under threat.

Helping people understand what it takes to be media and information-literate is a function of school and public libraries.

One topic discussed for years, but more urgently than in the past decade, is the issue of media and information literacy. The growth of the internet, along with the rise of social media sites where people gather 24/7, have led to mis- and disinformation that spreads like wildfire about nearly any topic imaginable. A Brown University School of Public Health researcher, Claire Wardle, studies the issues that poor information causes. She defines “misinformation” as information shared by accident, even as a significant event is happening. Things are moving too quickly to fact-check easily. She differentiates that from disinformation by noting that the latter is false information deliberately shared to mislead others.

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Unfortunately, mis- and disinformation are prevalent, mainly because it works for the people who want to mislead others. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that only 17% of American adults have the skills and confidence to learn new information effectively online. Exacerbating the problem is confirmation bias, which says people gravitate toward information that aligns with their thinking rather than pursue critical thinking by examining other viewpoints.

For years, helping people understand what it takes to be media and information-literate has been a function of both school and public libraries. As Laura Saunders, division director of Simmons University’s School of Library and Information Science, told EveryLibrary’s John Chrastka, recent research shows that when students are trained in media and information literacy, they do a better job overall and have better academic outcomes.

“What does this have to do with the school library?” she said. “We know that school librarians, in particular, are trained as information experts. They understand information sources; they understand information verification. School librarians in most states are also trained in pedagogy. They also understand some mechanisms behind the instructional design and how to teach students engagingly.”

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In general, studies have shown that school library staffing numbers have an impact on student achievement in various academic areas. But this is where it gets tricky for libraries. There’s the issue that many library communities face today where people in the community are demanding certain books or materials not be available in the library at all. In some communities, library boards are stacked with people who condone book bans and censorship. In other places, library funding is threatened if libraries don’t toe the line to these types of demands. When funding drops, staffing is one of the first budget items looked at, to the detriment of the student body.

What does that mean for the library supporter? It means letting your local and state officials know that libraries and librarians are essential to you and that they should be encouraged to develop media and information literacy programs for patrons of all ages. Or consider donating to EveryLibrary, which is the national PAC for libraries. Funding is used to fight harmful legislation and support library campaigns. Let’s help libraries continue the fight to sort out excellent information from bad information.

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