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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Librarians As Truth Detectors

It's interesting to notice the changes that have come about because of the Internet. In it's infancy, finding information was difficult and pinning down authority was a task in itself. Librarians working with students, patrons and peers, would instruct over and over again to discern if the information was accurate, authoritative, and accountable. These days the internet more pages, more pictures, more of everything that it has lead to information overload. This is how librarians can fill the role as truth detectors. To take it a step further, libraries can be the voice in the internet wilderness using social media as its megaphone.

Statistics about Facebook and its users can be a real eye opener. For example, comScore reported that in 2010 1 out of every 8 minutes online was spent on Facebook. With this in mind, it would be logical to conclude that patrons are spending more time online. Articles have begun to surface asking the question, "Do you know your Facebook friends?" Some statistics indicate that for most users they do not personally know 20% of their Facebook friends. Perhaps its not who has the most toys that wins but the one with the most friends. One thing for certain, Facebook and other social networks like it, is the platform to reach out and connect with people. The opportunity awaits for libraries to bring information and people together. Many libraries have already made their own path through social networks. Their examples should be the blueprints for everyone to follow.

In this fast paced world, it is often assumed that everyone knows how to use the Internet. That assumption is based on the fact that computers have become imbedded in our society as a tool we can not live without. Libraries can not afford to make that assumption about their patrons. Which is precisely why social media is very important to use as a communication tool to reach out to the community. New technologies are always a hard sell to users in the beginning. The thought of learning something new can be intimidating, especially when there does not appear to be a "need" for it in everyday routine. When Twitter first began, there were skeptics who did not think this social network would fly. Gradually, users began to see the value of putting out an instant message as a way of marketing skills, products or opinions. Libraries found this network as a exciting way to blast out the word about library programs. Patrons who were not familiar with Twitter, would begin to ask questions about the network. What is Twitter? Why would I want to sign up for it? What types of information can be found there? With the librarians guiding them, patrons are becoming familiar and comfortable with tweeting, posting, and poking.

Bringing together people and information is what libraries do best. The library of the early 1900's did not have to deal with complex ways of finding information. The amount of information available to the community was limited to what the library's collection held. Added to that, verifying the sources of information was much less complicated. Now with new technologies it is the libraries responsibility to make sure that no citizens are left behind in the digital divide. Social media can be effective in finding out what patrons need and want of their libraries. It can also be the avenue to finding out how savvy patrons are on the computer. For example, are patrons finding the information they need quickly or are they spending too much time "googling" information that should have only taken a few minutes to find. If it's the later, librarians can take the step to get tips on internet searching instantly on Twitter or Facebook. When patrons see the tips posted, one of two things will happen. First they will be satisfied with the tips and begin using them immediately. Secondly, it may spur the conversation to go further when patrons post message asking for additional help. Its a win win for everyone involved.

At the same time as making information easily available to everyone, the Internet has made it more confusing to pick out the "correct" information. Being a truth detector is an important task in helping patrons become effective on the Internet. It also paves the way for an informed and educated society. It can only be hoped that with critical thinking skills, patrons will not only click on the "right" information. It will also eliminate all the misinformation out in cyber land because people would avoid visiting such sites.
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