This morning’s CHE announces the launch of the newest collaboration between Syracuse’s Dave Lankes and Washington’s Mike Eisenberg – the Credibility Commons – a research project aimed at helping people to understand the many issues related to the credibility of information found on the Internet and to develop tools aimed at helping people to locate credible information on a range of topics.
I haven’t had time to read all the materials now available through the site, so I don’t know how Dave and Mike have linked this project to their long-time support for information literacy instruction (which strikes me as the most basic “practical approach” to helping people to find credible information on the Internet, i.e., the ability to articulate why something is credible according to standards other than appearance, consonance with one’s own views, etc.). I am sure the link is there and that it is strong. There aren’t too many LIS faculty members in whom I have more trust than these two.
Still, I would have liked to have seen a library listed among the project partners. As the CC partners write “There are few professions better suited to the world of credibility on the Internet than librarians.” I look forward to hearing how we’ll be able to contribute to this project and brings its results home to our daily practice.
One thought on “I-Schools Bring Us A “Credibility Commons””
Rather than promote information literacy by promoting authoritative vs. non-authoritative (in print or electronic media) or credible vs. less credible, I would hope that we might fall back on that simplest of mottoes: Question authority. Put everything to the test. Aside from rampant factual errors, even putatively authoritative print reference collections are inevitably affected by bias. We should be promoting information literacy by promoting the use of multiple sources and critical thinking, so that we sharpen the distinction between being just finding information and being informed.
My favorite illustration of this is St. Patrick’s Day. Credible source after credible source will tell you that March 17 is St. Patrick’s feast day because that is what the Catholic church says is the anniversary of his death. However, what they will not tell you is that the anniversary of his death is not known to history. The date was established by the Irish church long after the fact, without any historical substantiation, and it is not until you reach modern scholarly literature (books not kept in reference collections) that the complexity of this anniversary and its keeping is revealed.
It is also interesting to suggest the questioning of authority by asking people if they know what antioxidants are. The appeal to antioxidant benefits to health is widespread, but I have yet to encounter any highly educated non-MD who could answer the question (and those around me are academic librarians, for the most part). But because enough credible sources were endorsing antioxidants, people began to take them on faith. I am still keeping a hopeful eye on the medical literature for actual proof of the benefits one hears about.
If even professionals like ourselves succumb to trust in credible sources too easily then we may not be very effective in promoting information literacy. Questioning authority all the time wouldn’t be so great an idea in traffic, or during an emergency, or in many other situations, but I believe that it should be the rule in both looking for information and teaching people how to be information literate. Rather than give criteria for credible vs. credible, let’s provide the tools for giving every source of information a good critique.