David Singleton was the Director of Libraries for Charlotte Mecklenburg Library from 2008-2019. He is currently serving as the Executive Director of Live Oak Public Libraries in Savannah, GA.
Literacy is so much more than knowing how to read. Information literacy is knowing whether what you are reading is reliable. In this age of online news, it can be increasingly difficult to separate facts from opinions or misinformation, and “fake news” can be very convincing. Information literacy has never been more critical – and your Library can help.
David Singleton explains how:
How do librarians recognize reliable sources of information?
DS: Librarians are trained in information literacy, and they are experts at retrieving, analyzing and using data effectively. Ask a library staff member if you need help deciding whether a story is based on verifiable facts, or if you need help tracking down the facts to help you make up your mind about an issue.
Can you share any tips or best practices the general public can use to determine whether a news story is real or fake?
DS: Be vigilant! Read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints on an issue or story, and always confirm that the source of the information is clearly cited, so there is a clear link to facts from authoritative sources.
Be wary of websites with odd domain names, or those that end in .com.co, .edu.co, or .org.co. These are often fake or altered versions of real news sites. Read the “about us” section of an unfamiliar website to find out more information about the organization or individual behind the site.
There are several helpful fact-checking websites you can use. Online tools like FakeNewsWatch.commaintains a list of sites known to be unreliable. Snopes.com investigates online stories and confirms or debunks them. For political stories, Politifact.com and Factcheck.org can be very helpful.
Has information literacy changed over the last few years?
DS: Very much so. Search engines like Google empower us all to find information for ourselves, which is fantastic, but the sheer volume of information can be overwhelming. Determining what is based on fact and what is opinion or misinformation is increasingly difficult. And there are many more sites that present sensational or provocative stories in the guise of real news.
Stories with sensational language are designed to get attention, shares, and clicks but may not be based in fact, and they are easily and quickly spread through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. If the information seems outlandish, try to confirm that it is being reported from more than one source – reports limited to one source are often opinions rather than facts.
When in doubt, turn to your Library!
Many Library programs, including those presented in partnership with Google Fiber, are focused on digital literacy, which includes recognizing reliable information and avoiding online scams. Your Library provides free access to trusted sources, and trained staff who are always happy to help.