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To combat 'alternative facts,' VCU Libraries launches campaign to encourage students to #VetYourSources

February 22, 2017

“One of the most important things libraries do is empowering people to find, evaluate and use the information they need,” said Laura W. Gariepy, head of teaching, learning and information at James Branch Cabell Library. “Increasing students’ information literacy is a core tenet of academic librarianship, and for most librarians, it has become a downright personal passion.

“Although this is important all the time, it’s an issue that’s been very much in the spotlight surrounding the recent presidential campaign and election,” she said. “We want to put useful advice out there while people are exceptionally interested in advancing their own skills in evaluating information.”

The campaign will launch Feb. 22 with an all-day stream of posts on VCU Libraries’ and VCU Cabell Library’s Twitter channels.

“The most visible element of the project will be a social media campaign full of tips and ideas for evaluating sources,” Gariepy said. “We’ll  start with a Twitter blitz of things students should consider when evaluating information in their academic and everyday lives, including evaluation of news sources, with social media posts through April. We hope others at VCU and beyond will share, retweet and add to the hashtag we’ll be using throughout the campaign: #vetyoursources.”

Emily J. Hurst, head of research and education at Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences, said the MCV campus library is concerned about research quality because of the direct impact on patient care.

“Everyone must learn skills to evaluate resources to ensure the safety and well-being of those they treat,” she said. “In the laboratory, thoroughly documenting the research process and findings as well as accurately using data is also important. Librarians are here to guide students and faculty. We provide access to high-quality resources and training on how to evaluate sources and content. With the right training and skills, anyone can more easily spot conflicts of interest, research bias or inaccurate data analysis.”

The campaign will focus on empowering people to think about the information they consume — to embrace a healthy skepticism, ask questions and seek answers.

“We know from working routinely with our students at VCU what a challenge it can be to feel confident in evaluating news, websites and academic texts,” Gariepy said. “The information landscape has become incredibly complex and voluminous. Trying to take it all in is like drinking from a fire hose. Particularly when it comes to highly charged issues, it’s easy for all of us to let key signs of the quality and accuracy of information we’re consuming slip by.”

Gariepy cited a study from last fall by researchers at Stanford University, which found that young and otherwise digitally savvy students often have difficulty judging the credibility of online content. The results, she said, are a call to action for librarians to help hone students’ information literacy skills.

“This semester, like every semester, librarians will work with students in the classroom and one-on-one to sharpen their skills in evaluating all types of information,” Gariepy said. “That ranges from being able to identify a peer-reviewed article to seeing signs of exaggeration, misinformation or biased language in our news.”

Librarians craft exercises for classes that help students understand the basics of evaluating content on the web and other formats. They also develop online resources designed to help students evaluate information. VCU Libraries’ online resources include a research guide for evaluating sources, including a section just for evaluating news, and a video on critically evaluating websites.

“This information campaign is really all about sharing materials and knowledge VCU Libraries already provides to support our students and faculty inside and outside the classroom,” said Sue Robinson, director of communications and public relations for VCU Libraries. “The information we’re sharing is neutral, not partisan, political or biased. Knowledge management, information vetting, evaluation of sources, finding truths and checking facts are core skills of librarians. They are experts at this and we can trust them.”

As the campaign continues, VCU Libraries may add elements, such as opportunities for faculty and librarians to share their expertise with one another about how to increase their students’ skills.

To ask questions or submit ideas for VCU Libraries’ #vetyoursources campaign, visit www.library.vcu.edu/research/askus/.

A version of this article by Brian McNeill was published on the VCU News site. 

 

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