Libraries Comabating Disinformation: From the Front Line to the Long Game

Francesca Tripodi, Jade Angelique Stevenson, Rachel Slama, Justin Reich

The Library Quarterly


Google, Knowledge-Production, Legitimacy

The strategies you teach about search engine literacy might be out of date

In a recent paper for the Library Journal, Francesca Tripodi, joined by Jade Angelique Stevenson, Rachel Slama, and Justin Reich, built and tested search literacy interventions for librarians. Using ethnographic methods on libraries on Montana, Tripodi and her coathors explore the difficulties librarians face on the frontlines of the fight against disinformation. The librarians they spoke with argue that improving search engine literacy requires building trusting relationships with patrons. Additionally, Tripodi and her colleagues offer the following search literacy tips for librarians, teachers, and anyone else educating others to combat misinformation:

  • Use Wikipedia as a starting point. People who use Wikipedia find better answers with greater accuracy in less time than people who don’t.
  • Don’t judge a site based on its URL. Some .com sites are reliable and some .org sites are misleading! In addition, plenty of nonprofits produce untrustworthy information.
  • Don’t trust website appearance. Attractive websites don’t always mean high quality information; plain websites are sometimes accurate and helpful
  • Use lateral reading strategies. The best way to check the quality of a website is by leaving that website. Many people verify sources vertically, by reading About pages and checking the links provided by that website. In contrast, best practice is to distrust your own ability to verify quality of the source and see what others are saying about it across websites (i.e., “lateral reading”).

In addition, this paper provides the following insights for policy makers and technology professionals:

  • Trust ethnographic research methods. People routinely misreport their search practices, so ethnographic methods provide insight to instructional designers and UX professionals on how the technological affordances and platform design shape information-gathering practices.
  • Consider mobile first. In rural areas where broadband is limited, people increasingly rely on their phones for information. Mobile designs can shape search practices.
  • Create a budget for training resources. Instructional resources for librarians will pay dividends in the fight against mis/disinformation