Who Needs Librarians Anymore? Evidently, Most of America

RHODE ISLAND - DECEMBER 2016 - Hardly a day has passed since the presidential election without the mention of fake news sites on the Internet and their effect on the public’s perception of facts. Too many Web users believe that if something is posted online, it must be true. Last month, Stanford University released a study on that showed:

“Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak. Our ’digital natives’ may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped. ... Ordinary people once relied on publishers, editors, and subject matter experts to vet the information they consumed. But on the unregulated Internet, all bets are off.” 

Who can “ordinary people” rely on now? Their school librarians. 

“Librarians are trained in gleaning the truth from sources; in turn, they train their students to be savvy media consumers,” says Sarah Hunicke of Portsmouth High School, School Librarians of Rhode Island (SLRI) president. She works with classroom teachers who have assigned research projects, teaching students how to evaluate online sources. 

Media literacy is a key component of most school librarians’ curriculum. Lisa Casey, school librarian at Jamestown’s Melrose and Lawn Schools, does a unit about truth in advertising with her grade 5 students. “We discuss viral and commercial fakery; I want them to look at videos with a critical eye, because you really can’t believe everything you see.” The culminating project requires students to find an ad and dissect it. “Kids get commercials presented to them on their phones, on Youtube, in games … even if they don’t watch much TV, they’re surrounded by media messages wanting to sell them something.” 

These skills have value far beyond writing a paper or completing an assignment. Indeed, the Stanford study executive summary states: “At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish.” “We urge all school districts to fund full-time professional librarian positions,” says Hunicke. “Being able to Google something is not the same as being able to analyze results for accuracy and reliability. Students must begin to develop these skills as early as possible."

About SLRI - www.slri.info - @SchLibRI

The purpose of School Librarians of Rhode Island shall be to (1) promote the improvement of instruction through opportunities that broaden the professional knowledge, understanding, and experience of its members; (2) provide leadership in defining, interpreting, and promoting effective library media programs to the community; and (3) serve as facilitator between the State Department of Education, Office of Library and Information Services, professional organizations, and the general public.                                                 

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