Fact checking checkup

Ferreting out fact from rumor, uninformed opinion, and outright falsehood underpins the work of all types of libraries. As we continue to work in an information ecosystem undergoing explosive growth and publishing access by authorities of every degree of sophistication, taking time for regular fact checking awareness improves our capacity to distinguish what is from what might be. 

Among the most compelling information literacy exercises of which I’m aware was developed more than a decade ago by the school library media teacher (degreed!) in a small and relatively isolated K-5 school. Each year there, each grade level received information learning scaffolded developmentally and occurring through the full term. For the kindergarteners, the teaching was presented by every adult on campus, whenever he or she was audience to any kindergartener’s declaration of any information: the prescriptive adult response, “How do you know that?” provided the pause we all need to reflect on whether a declaration is supportable by fact.

Of course, when it comes to a five-year-old, a typical response might be that she saw it happen or that her older sister told her so. Additional questions might be placed, depending on the matter at hand, to uncover the accuracy of her witnessing position or her sister’s motivation. Across time, the student could begin to notice she couldn’t really claim to have seen an event that had occured while she was in another room, or that her sister had a penchant for pulling her leg about school-related matters but not family ones. 

What we can take away from this simple exercise, regardless of our age, is the benefit of taking a moment to reflect on whether what we are repeating is worthy of that repetition. If we din’t take that moment, how do we recognize when a visit to Snopes.com might be better than forwarding the “news” we’ve just received?

With increasing access to both big data and resources of open government data, our tools for fact checking also gain power and reach. Along with the utility of tools to ferret out the facts, we also need to notice when we are missing facts, or operating with assumptions. That’s when a fact checking check up can uncover a need to boost our assumption immunity.

The regime for fact checking health isn’t new-fangled at all. We can start with that same question posed to the kindergarteners–along with the other four every journalist in training learns:

  • How do I know that?
  • Who said it?
  • Why was it said?
  • When was that?
  • Where was it occurring?

Such fact checking breaks can position how we move forward, and whether we can.

Teaching privacy?

With the word “privacy” appearing in both online and offline discussions of how we live in 2014, how do we make time to analyze and consider, and then put into use, the very best practices we can in libraryland? Here are a few signposts from recent weeks that limn the current thinking:

Back in May, Barbara Fister wrote a “Peer to Peer” opinion piece at Library Journal taking up that issue; to date, the online piece has received a total of four comments, including one from Ms. Fister acknowledging the points made to her original post and summing up for the next question. 

At the OCLC Symposium held at ALA’s Annual Conference, in June, several audience members pushed back against Daniel Obodovski’s suggestions that data collected as libraries do business might prove useful to harvest to support the expansion of knowledge afforded by the Internet of Things. Expanding local library awareness of user needs, wants, and satisfaction levels, done anonymously, was agreeable; suggesting that libraries become purveyors of data collected from our communities drew a resoundingly negative reaction.

The day before Independence Day, Cory Doctorow published a summary of findings that indicate NSA surveillance seems to be keyed to those online who actively seek privacy information there. That would suggest that as librarians, with a duty to explore as well as maintain privacy standards, we stand to put ourselves in the path of having ours exploited.

So, how do we approach a topic that is getting hotter in the public mind even while we become increasingly aware of how slippery the “it” of privacy is? In essence, how do we teach good online privacy hygiene without introducing the kind of damage hand washing efficacy has suffered with the overuse of antibacterial scrubs for frequent use? 

How are you broaching privacy with your staff? With kids in your community? With adults seeking technical assistance? What tools might be useful for digging our way to daylight? Let us all hear!

American news habits and information needs

A week ago, during a multi-organization meeting about how public libraries play a role in connecting federal and state policy information to the community members in need of the real scoop, the topic of broadband access was teased out in a couple salient directions. One I found particularly wanting further discussion is how disconnected a community can become from changing government directions (think the Covered California insurance marketplace as an example) when its online access is limited to public computers? It’s not that skills like using a mouse or email continue to lack penetration; instead, what hasn’t bloomed in such circumstances is the habit of staying informed around civic engagement concerns.

How do we, as information specialists–and civil servants, help community members build the skills and the habits which constant news updating require of anyone participating in our culture?

Joachim Scopfel, Director of the Atelier National de Reproduction des Thèses, Charles de Gaulle University (France), has published an infographic that gives us not only numbers related to how Americans share news, but also points up the very venues for news that may not, after all, be all that available to all Americans. And even when technical availability exists, are community members engaging the most efficient methods for accessing policy updates? The research shows a continuing reliance on email over social media, as the online channel for updates. As with all correspondence, email brings with it the requirement that the recipient evaluate the authority of the sender: is the news included reliable, timely, and appropriate to the recipient’s own situation? On the other hand, a direct Twitter feed, from, in this example, Covered California, guarantees the authority and timeliness, while each message’s design should allow the reader to be able to judge quickly whether it pertains to her situation.

As information guides, can we boost community access to what’s official, help direct community members’ attention to how they, impacted as they know they are by government policy and policy changes, can take control over keeping abreast of those policy news bits, bites and bytes that affect them? What does tech access education look like in libraries offering the news skills needed as we approach the first quarter point of the 21st century?

Twitter as a professional development tool, q&a

A few hours ago, we hosted a webinar on Using Twitter for Professional Development–right up to the moment when the interwebs decided to shut down. Happily, Infopeople’s planful staff had been collecting accruing questions over the previous 52 minutes and Adobe did not erase them when it made like a newspaper and folded. So, here’s a belated series of responses, an expression of thanks for your patience, and a really truly unintended extra plug to consider the webinar’s encouragement to go Twitter.

Sarah asked: What if you don’t have a smartphone? How easy is it to use?

Francisca: In fact, one of Twitter’s strengths for those who really want to access it any time anywhere is that it works just fine on a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone. It is platform agnostic. Some Twitter apps, including TweetDeck, provide nice shortcuts, but any accessing and communicating on Twitter via any internet-connecting equipment with a screen is serviceable and simple.

Sarah:  Do you check Twitter like you might check Facebook throughout the day?

Francisca: This comes under the topics of both time budgeting and responsible professional behavior. As with any social media venue (including Facebook), how often you’re accessing it at work can dilute the time you are assigned to spend doing other duties. A good rule of thumb for many professionals is to align your Twitter catch up time with your email or phone message time: when you start your day, perhaps at lunch, last thing before calling the workday over. This can be tweeked, of course, if you have planned with coworkers to participate in a live-Tweeted event (such as an author interview, a conference program you are attending virtually, etc.) at a specific time…just as you might have scheduled your real time attendance at this afternoon’s webinar.

Darlene: Do you have your staff create twitter accounts using their work information so it can be used for professional development?

Francisca: Great question for Twitter, Darlene, and hope you put it out there and report on your findings! We are responsible for keeping up on professional development, and our workplaces should be supportive–as noted in Tenet 8 of the ALA Code of Ethics.  You as an individual should not expect that all professional development will come to you via your employer–and your employer does have reason to make your accessvto professional development opportunities possible. Of course, if you are expected to use Twitter to speqk there on behalf of your organization, then the account used should be workplace information based.

Sarah: What are the negative implications of just having one Twitter account and not one private and one public?

Francisca: We touched on this just as the big webinar ending crash arrived. Quick recap: if you are really a confirmed Twitter user in your social/family life, you probably want to be careful to keep your professional Twitteratti from overlistening to the exchange you might be having that is, well, personal….asking your son to report in since it’s now 2 am and he was expected home with your car at midnight, etc. Of course, judicious use of direct messaging can address this matter, too, and there are lots of Twitter authorities who swear it’s better to have just one Twitter account and keep your singular persona scrubbed and professional-enough.

Sandra: Is @infotweets in Spanish?

Francisca: I would love such a volunteer to identify him/herself!

Tracey: Do you have a preference for URL shortener? Does one create shorter URLs than another?

Francisca: I go back and forth between bit.ly and tinyURL…for no inarguable reason. Many sites will present you with pre-shrunk URLs ready-made for tweeting. A word of caution on shrinking what you want people to open: if the original URL isn’t 50 yards long, by tweeting it in full you give your audience the welcome opportunity to see the provenance of the link before clicking on it. Good hygiene reduces viruses, we all know.

Angela: Is there any library that uses Twitter to communicate among its staff to keep them current on library info?

Francisca: Here’s another question to take to Twitter and ask broadly. I’d like to hear, too, Angela, what kind of info you have in mind that would best be transmitted by the library to its own staff via this method?

And here’s that URL shrinker post I promised: 5 URL Shorteners, which also discusses why shortening may not be exactly what you want to do all the time.

What’s going ’round

The past month (and in almost any “past month”), tech media stories have been awash with a few high profile stories that cry out for library-level responses. The pair selected for highlighting here involve a collection-oriented concern and one related to community information needs.

The We Need Diverse Books Campaign became solidified and systematized across the past couple weeks, although the concerns it addresses have been real and compelling for a century. Major publishing houses, the work horses that supply our libraries with books for youth, have a lot of responsibilities: finding, editing, publishing promoting works of fiction and nonfiction comprise a gargantuan job, undertaken by those who work as editors, editorial assistants, agents and other proposal and manuscript readers, cover designers, packagers, sales jobbers, reviewers…and only then do new works reach the point of audience discovery, and individual reader enhancement or rejection.

When a panel planned for 2014’s Book Expo America was first revealed to be exclusively white and male, years of discontent with this long outmoded staging of how-we-show-kids-their-world erupted into a groundswell of activist author, editor, librarian, bookshop staff, and reader response. Social media, including most particularly Tumblr and Twitter, became the stage for days of concentrated demonstration, and helped to establish a presence of alternatives. To catch up with how swiftly such a demonstration of needs can foment, articulately and cogently, serves as an ancillary lesson for library staff who have been slow to credit social media with relevant and awesome power.

This story, then, offers two bottom lines: no matter what you think your community looks like/identifies with, they (and you, in service to that community) need diverse books; and you, in the position of learning quickly and authoritatively, need to engage in linking to what is happening in the publishing world, now that it can be altered in direction by skilled social mediators.

The second story is one that originates with the discovery of the devastating breadth of the Heartbleed bug, news of which began to reach the general public at the end of the first week of April. What has developed across the six weeks since this news broke is a secondary story that implicitly addresses us as library staffers: a month after Heartbleed’s reported presence and publicity about how to mitigate its damages at the personal online security level, a majority of American computer users were not taking the steps required to rid their online presence of this security flaw. That is where we need to step up our game, taking a proactive stance toward educating, coaching, and actively supporting good online hygiene in our communities, instead of waiting to be asked for guidance.

We can be information sources for our communities. However, doing the informing, doing information, is a far more powerful and valuable approach. And to take that on, we need to address our own never-ending need to know and understand how big news doesn’t happen in a silo: we have a role in connecting news and our community in ways that enhance and promote the community’s interests.