Libraries and Archives: the Cure for Misinformation and Disinformation

By Mark Smith

Last week the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murphy, issued a formal advisory to declare that misinformation represents “a serious threat to public health.” The report states that “the rapidly changing information environment has made it easier for misinformation to spread at an unprecedented speed and scale.” The advisory is focused on the impact of misinformation on public health, but the concerns are much broader.

And they have been widely stated. The Knight Foundation, which supports study and research around issues of media and society, has thoroughly documented both the extent and the impact of misinformation and the loss of confidence in traditional news outlets.

The Pew Research Center has explored the impact of 2016 and 2020 election cycles occasioned much concern about the impact of misinformation on the democratic process. They document that 48 percent of Americans are very concerned about the influence of made-up news on the 2020 election and 72 percent saw news about the 2020 election that “seemed completely made-up.”

And in the area of health information, the promulgation of such false or misleading information during a pandemic even has a name: “infodemic.”

Libraries and archives are uniquely positioned to provide a cure for the infodemic. A recent article in Library Journal describes the work of libraries in the U.S. and around the world in attempting to fight misinformation and disinformation. The article begins by pointing out that “providing accurate and reliable information is a cornerstone of public librarianship.” The article explores how through programming, partnerships, and redoubling our professional commitment to providing authoritative information, libraries will continue to be a trusted source of information of all kinds. To formally examine these ideas, the Digital Public Library of America will be convening a group of “library leaders, scholars, journalists, and civic leaders to talk about the role of libraries in combating misinformation.”

Archives are a critical part of this equation. Archives hold the primary source record and, when that record is a public record and accessible via public information request, citizens can be assured that they will always have recourse to “what really happened.” TSLAC ensures the transparency of the executive and judicial branches of state government in Texas. (As of the 85th session, the legislative records of the state were relocated from TSLAC to the Legislative Reference Library and some legislative communications exempted from the Texas Open Records Act.)

The work of librarians and archivists stand in opposition – institutionally, operationally, and philosophically – to insidious effects of misinformation and disinformation. TSLAC, along with the libraries, archival institutions, and public records officers in Texas and across the nation, are committed to providing Texans of all ages with the most accurate, authoritative, and thorough information possible.

Links

“Confronting Health Misinformation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Healthy Information Environment” – https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-misinformation-advisory.pdf

Knight Foundation – https://knightfoundation.org/

Pew Research Center – https://www.pewresearch.org/

Pew Research Report: “Misinformation and competing views of reality abounded throughout 2020” – https://www.journalism.org/2021/02/22/misinformation-and-competing-views-of-reality-abounded-throughout-2020/

World Health Organization article on Infodemic – https://www.who.int/health-topics/infodemic#tab=tab_1

Mahnaz Dar. “To Tell the Truth: Public Libraries in the Fight Against Misinformation, Disinformation,” Library Journal, March 15, 2021 – https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=To-Tell-the-Truth-Public-Libraries-in-the-Fight-Against-Misinformation-Disinformation

Digital Public Library of America joins national effort to combat misinformation – https://dp.la/news/digital-public-library-of-america-joins-national-effort-to-combat-misinformation