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Sidney-Richland County Public Library Fights Fake News Phenomenon with Online Databases

 

April 19, 2017 | View PDF



One of the largest and most affecting debates facing our American life today is the controversy of “fake news” reporting. It has been a polarizing topic that has given doubt to many Americans as to whom they can trust to receive honest journalism. It is a great boon to the intellectual state of America that in the age of television, movies, video games and social media that we are still vastly interested in current affairs.

Mass American usage of social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter have both noble and disappointing aspects: noble, in that while there are virtually thousands of fleeting activities and games that could consume all of one’s time on these websites, we choose to spread news and information. The disappointing aspect is that much of this “news” has no merit or basis in truth. The internet, being a free enterprise, allows anyone with an internet connection to create a website and create provocative “news articles” that have no sources or merit to their validity. These articles, under the guise of appearing to be valid headlines, are spread on a massive scale among our family, friends and neighbors, leading to mass conjecture and misinformation.

According to studies by the Pew Research Center, approximately 39% of U.S. adults are very confident that they can recognize a fabricated news story online, while another 45% are somewhat confident. However, 23% of U.S. adults reported that they have shared a fake news story on a social media website whether inadvertently or otherwise.

The proliferation of false reporting is no new phenomenon. It has been the incitement of many key historical tragedies, such as in 1898 when William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York newspapers falsely maintained that the U.S.S. Maine was sunk in Havana harbor by Spanish saboteurs, spurring America into the Spanish-American war.

The Sidney-Richland County Library is proposing an answer with their online network of databases. Patrons with internet access can use research tools such as biographies and academic texts and essays, legal forms, local histories, newspapers and even auto repair guides. 

“People need a reliable source of information,” says Kelly Reisig, Director of the Richland County Public Library. “This database can provide that for them.”

Funded primarily by local taxes and provided by informed academics, the online database is a valuable necessity to both student researchers and the average Montanan who wishes to stay informed. Although it seems that public libraries are transitioning from bound books into the age of technology, the online database would be greatly diminished without the aid of local librarians to assist in research. “The most important part of the library walks out the door every night,” says Reisig.

Even with a reliable source of news and information, such a massive wealth of knowledge may seem intimidating or difficult to navigate by anyone without an education in the art of researching, or anyone who is not well-versed in using a computer or the internet. Research librarians are trained to help teach patrons “information literacy”, a phrase coined in 1974 that means the ability to be able to “identify, organize and cite information.”

Despite the doubts we may have about the accuracy of our news, the wheels of progress are nevertheless turning, and great reforms in journalistic integrity are being formulated in boardrooms and lecture halls, not by the corporate-owned publications that since their invention have merely been interested in churning out attention-grabbing headlines intent on making a profit. These reforms are being made by librarians and academics who refuse to bow to the pursuit of wealth and who, unlike billionaire media moguls, read stories to us as children, or set out in a bookmobile to deliver information to rural and isolated families. 

Ever since the first Sidney librarian checked out books to the public from the basement of the Yellowstone Mercantile Building in 1914, Richland County has been provided with hardworking librarians who care deeply for providing the public with knowledge and plan to continue doing so for many years to come.

The list of databases can be found at http://www.richland.org/spl. Click on “online research and tools” along the left toolbar.

 

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