Dealing with the ‘infodemic’ -Ellie Valentine, Karin Finer

This blog post is part of a series of posts from the ninth Knowledge Café, held during the 87th IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Dublin, Ireland, July 26-29, 2022. 

The session was co-sponsored by the Knowledge Management Section and the Continuous Professional Development and Workplace Learning Section and was co-chaired by Monica Ertel and Maggie Farrell.

Several Standing Committee Members of Management & Marketing were involved as facilitators or rapporteurs.

Many of the discussions are connected to management and management skills, why we have decided to publish the content also in this blog.

You find all of the content at: https://www.ifla.org/news/2022-ifla-knowledge-cafe-facing-the-future-together-connecting-learning-sharing/

Dealing with the ‘infodemic’

Facilitator: Ellie Valentine  Freelance Librarian  UNITED STATES 

Rapporteur:  Karin Finer    Information Specialist, European Parliamentary Research Service

The discussions began with the question: ‘What is ‘infodemic’ and how do/should libraries react?’ Most participants agreed that ‘infodemic’ entails an excessive amount of information – often spreading rapidly in the digital environment, including false or misleading information. The word is often used in relation to a health crisis but is not exclusive to the health sector. The discussion group was a diverse group of people and several themes emerged in the discussions:

Challenges:

  • There are many channels through which misinformation is spread, e.g., printed publications, social media, podcasts on popular platforms such as Spotify etc. which makes an overview almost impossible.
  • Curating reliable information is very difficult.  There is simply too much information from a wide range of sources and in different formats.
  • In relation to the Covid-19 pandemic: many research papers are published in pre-print, i.e., not peer-reviewed, which results in misinformation also in sources traditionally regarded as reliable. The UK Health Security Agencyhas identified that a staggering 150 new papers are published daily.

Role of libraries:

  • Should libraries be ‘re-active’ or ‘pro-active’ – ‘neutral’ or ‘radical’? To what extent should libraries clearly take a stand on issues that can be regarded as sensitive? How does this affect possible neutrality and/or support of traditional democratic values? In these interesting discussions, opinions differed depending on national guidelines, type of library and resources available. Many participants thought balance is important, ensuring that different stakeholders are heard. Library Information campaigns in favour of Covid-19 vaccinations was mentioned as a sensitive issue that had caused critique.
  • Any kind of selection by libraries is a choice/decision, including acquisitions, reading suggestions, choice of metadata etc. and it is based on professional education and experience, which is why librarians are usually ready to defend those decisions.

Library activities:

  • Training the general public, teachers, students, and legislators on how to evaluate information sources.
  • Identifying trustworthy sources and making them available digitally.
  • Providing information packages online.
  • Keeping libraries open.  The importance of library spaces as hubs for discussion – especially diverse discussions (not to shut down an opposing voice, but to welcome and encourage open debate).

Recommendations:

  • Increasing cooperation and sharing of resources between libraries on all levels (regional, national, international), as well as with civil society organisations. In relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, a call was made to increase cooperation between health authorities and public libraries. The role of national library associations and global organisations like IFLA is very important.
  • Libraries are trusted! Outreach activities to inform and educate on ‘infodemic’ issues can be achieved effectively only with the trust of the general public. Therefore, it is important to maintain that trust through openness, transparency, and inclusivity.

You may want to check out this blog (Carl Bergstrom: Why Birds Don’t Lie and We Do) that touches on many of the issues discussed at this table.

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