TILT-y Mail #22

Librarians do not accept a post-truth world

Oxford Dictionaries has declared post-truth the word of the year. While I would have much preferred hygge which was also in the running, this is at least a great jumping off point for a conversation. I fundamentally do not accept a post-truth world. It smacks of “Well what can you do, the truth is hard…” which is a variant of the “Computers are hard!” negative self-talk which keeps people digitally divided. Librarians have a role to play here and this interview with Professor Nicole Cooke of the University of Illinois’ School of Information Sciences has some concrete advice.

A hard look at post-truth also gets us looking more at the algorithms which affected the election. I spent some time this week talking to neighbors who don’t use Facebook but nonetheless wanted to know just how “fake news on Facebook” worked because they’d read about it in the newspaper. It’s good community librarian work, to have a response to this.

Facebook actually lifted the curtain a wee bit to talk about what they are actually going to do about the fake news scourge in a post made Friday night at midnight EDT. Those interested in meta-messages of announcement timing should also learn about Friday News Dumps and check this subreddit if that’s really your thing.

Last week saw a lot of back and forth by organizations trying to craft an “Our response to the election” message. This is, of course, challenging for public libraries who do serve everyone. The American Library Association had a particularly rough go of it.
 1. A Tuesday press release by ALA about what libraries do.
 2. A Thursday press release titled, in part “new briefs show how libraries support policy priorities of new administration” (original taken down, Google cache remains)
 3. A swift and scathing response from librarians including this Inside Higher Ed piece

4. A Monday morning apology to members from Julie Todaro ALA’s president and ALAs Executive Board.
 I said online and I’ll say here, these things do sometimes happen. Large organizations can be graceless in their ability to respond to complicated issues. I appreciate Todaro’s attempt to mitigate damage.
 However this is also a tech problem. Taking down a press release that has already been passed around is a poor response. My links to it now go to this page which is a mixed message at best. The Tuesday press release has clunky edits made to it with brackets and red text which just seems goofy.

The discussion happened all weekend but a response, other than backchannel “We’re working on it,” wasn’t available until Monday.
 Ironically the content of these messages was all about our expertise.

Compare and contrast this to the strong statement sent out by ARL.

Now more than ever, it is critical that libraries and archives ensure open and equitable access to credible sources of news, data, and knowledge, and provide the expertise, services, collections, tools, and spaces that will help all community members critically assess the information they encounter.

Or this short inclusivity statement made stronger by the fact that it’s signed by every college in the state of Vermont saying “We welcome you.”


As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this can be a hard sell in one of the least-diverse states in the country. I look at this photo of some of VTCs students and instinctively think “Huh, that is not how I see Vermont in my head…” but that is 100% on me to manage and adjust my thinking, not just for me but for the community I live in. This is Vermont. This is America. And we’re all better for it, every day.
 If you’re looking for inspiring statements of what libraries can be, allow me to point you towards What We Can Be: An Ethos of Hospitality by Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

We can engage what Bethany Nowviskie, Director of the Digital Library Federation, has termed an “ethic of care.”
This is our opportunity.
It is our opportunity to create a seat at the table, to ask people to dance.
In doing so, we can be our best in creating the library environment that we promise to our communities.

Please send along other people’s post-election statements about how people are managing and working on supporting their communities. I enjoy reading them.
 I was on Vermont Edition this week talking with other women about how we feel as women after this election. I did my librarian thing and put a bunch of links to things like the Implicit Bias Test and microaggressions and rape culture in the comments on the VPR post.
 This is how I feel I am most productive these days. Helping people learn. Responding to bad information with good information. Insisting that there is such a thing as truth.

TILT-Y MAIL is written irregularly by Jessamyn West who also maintains librarian.net. It’s also available in your inbox via TinyLetter. Thanks for reading.