America Trusts the Library
By: Sarah Hicks
The late Douglas Adams wrote in The Salmon of Doubt, “All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.” While current events may make it seem that this idea isn’t en vogue, a recent Pew poll indicates that a majority of Americans not only realize that they are often surrounded by misinformation, but also that the library can help them wade through it all.
According to the report, 78% of adults “feel that public libraries help them find information that is trustworthy and reliable and 76% say libraries help them learn new things. Also, 56% believe libraries help them get information that aids with decisions they have to make.” This number is higher with younger adults, as 87% of millennials believe that they can use the library to find “trustworthy and reliable” information.
This is incredibly heartening, both for libraries now and for their future. It’s wonderful that so much of the population trusts us. But that also means that we need to ensure that we’re fulfilling our obligation to meet that expectation, and to the truth, as it stands.
Despite the increasing sense that every issue has at least two, equally valid sides, some things really, really don’t. Not everything really can be up for debate, and not all points of view are equally reasonable. Obviously, we shouldn’t be putting forth any particular political points of view, and it’s important to strive to ensure that the library is free from as much bias as possible (with the acknowledgement that all human beings are biased in some way). But there are certainly things that are empirically provable, and are widely accepted by academic or scientific experts.
We’re clearly already putting forth high quality, trustworthy information, but if libraries are to continue to be seen as trustworthy, we need to make sure that standard holds. This is probably a good time to review collection development policies, and maybe tackle some overdue weeding. It’s also probably a good idea to continue (or start) whatever information literacy programs your library has.
Many Americans (a full 64%!) are concerned about “fake news” and its effect on public discourse. Even more Americans believe that the right antidote to this problem is the library. Recent events in the country have certainly been disheartening, but at least it’s encouraging to know that libraries are having such a positive impact.
Sarah Hicks is a current MLIS student at the University of Pittsburgh, and works in a local public library. She has long been passionate about issues regarding intellectual freedom, and believes that these issues are becoming increasingly important worldwide, especially those related to privacy, surveillance, and censorship. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as certain stereotypes about librarians are not wholly untrue, she is both an avid reader (of many genres) and a total cat lady. Sarah can sometimes be found @exactlibrarian.