Hurd on the Hill: Libraries: Fighting Misinformation and Educating American Families
The power of a library is immeasurable because it is not just a repository of books but an access point to new ideas and sources of inspiration. While National Library Week was in April and it is now May, the incredible importance of libraries is something that extends beyond one commemorative week. We should appreciate and advocate for libraries each and every day.
Even in this time of social-distancing when we cannot physically go to a library, the resources available to us are still open because a library is more than a means to borrow books—it’s a well-rounded educational tool.
When I was young, I worked in a library. Like many kids, I learned the Dewey Decimal System: How to use it, read it and ultimately track down the books I wanted to borrow. I viewed the library as a resource to find fun books to read. But I also remember the librarians who taught me how to effectively search for information.
The ability to search for information effectively and ensure it is credible is something I still use today. This power, to identify credible information, is something that we must ensure every kid has because misinformation is not only harmful, it’s dangerous.
According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans today get their news from social media. Consequently, increased reliance on online media makes us more susceptible to bad actors who spread disinformation. For many Americans, the 2016 election was their first real experience with the potential impacts of widespread disinformation campaigns, but it will not be their last.
Part of participating in a democracy is doing your best to stay informed. Yet, an important element of that practice is confirming we are being informed by accurate information. We need to be able to identify how the information we are absorbing may be biased or altogether incorrect. That is where libraries come in.
The American Library Association defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information.”
Today, libraries provide their patrons with a multitude of unique resources that spread awareness and train individuals to use online resources and identify disinformation, whether it be through a K-12 school, university or public library.
For example, the Public Library Association (PLA) provides digital literacy resources from self-directed tutorials through DigitalLearn. Additionally, the PLA is expanding technology access in rural communities through DigitalLead. Librarians are also focused on teaching students how to use search tools like Google most effectively and how to identify trustworthy sources versus biased information from an early age.
This is simply not enough. There needs to be a broader cultural movement on digital literacy that starts in elementary school. We all know not to get in a car with a stranger (unless it’s an Uber or Lyft driver), but why would we share information from someone we know nothing about? A digitally literate population is the best defense against future disinformation campaigns from our adversaries around the world.
If you are looking for proof that these ideas matter, look no further than the coronavirus pandemic that has affected the lives of every world citizen.
The governments of China, Russia and Iran have sought to create harmful, coordinated disinformation campaigns. The reason they did so is likely to distract their own people from their failures to address the crisis, and, sadly, their campaign could make American families and kids fall victim to false or dangerous information. This is why it is so critical we learn and teach our kids how to assess information, where it came from and if it’s true.
I have been a firm advocate for libraries throughout my time in Congress and was proud to be part of leading the bipartisan effort in the House to pass the Museum and Library Services Act of 2018. This bill, which was signed into law on December 31, 2018, reauthorized programs administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for six years. It included annual library grants, which provided Texas public libraries with nearly $11 million in federal assistance annually.
Although the coronavirus pandemic prevents us from physically going to our local libraries, nothing can stop us from learning from them. Visit your local library’s website and take advantage of their incredible resources. This can help us fight the misinformation campaigns that are part of our world today and will be in the future. Afterall, today, we are really fighting two pandemics: the coronavirus and the misinformation campaigns from bad actors. Both battles require collective responsibility and collaboration from all Americans. We can and will win both fights.