March 8, 2017

Library tackles fake news with workshops, resources, advice

“Fake news” isn’t news you disagree with – it’s published information that is deliberately misleading or false.

As fake news continues to be a part of the national conversation, Cornell University Library is stepping up efforts to help students distinguish credible news sources from the untrue. Librarians – who are experts in evaluating information and checking facts – are offering a series of workshops, as well as reminding Cornellians that they’re always available to help find and verify quality sources.

“The easy availability of information has made it more difficult to distinguish authenticated content from suspect information,” said Anne R. Kenney, the Carl A. Kroch University Librarian. “Libraries are perfectly suited to support students in determining the origins and bias of information, recognizing the signs of false information and identifying the methodologies behind online results, particularly when social media networks are becoming the primary news outlets.”

The library scheduled two workshops on “Fake News, Alternative Facts and Misinformation” this spring, and added two more after those filled. Two of the workshops took place at Mann last week, and the others will take place March 22 at Olin Library and March 27 at the Uris Library classroom.

In the workshops, librarians Kelee Pacion and Michael Engle review tips and guidelines to identify nontrustworthy news sources, such as researching the organization and author behind the news story to check for bias, and present students with stories from various sources to help them practice.

“We wanted to start with the basics, which is evaluating what we read and knowing how sources of information can contain bias,” Pacion said. “In addition, we want to recognize the bias we bring to the table as we engage with information sources. We hope these tools can help students develop lifelong learning skills that will help them at Cornell and beyond.”

Anna Haskins, assistant professor of sociology, offered students in her Introduction to Sociology class extra credit to attend and write a response about the workshop.

“I’ve challenged students to always be knowledgeable about where their information about the social world comes from, what sources are most reliable, and what to do when we come across information that goes against our previous views or understanding of the social world,” Haskins said. “When I saw the fake news workshop, I felt it dovetailed perfectly with this concept of being ‘sociologically mindful’ – and also think these are important skills to teach college students.”

Cornell librarians have also published online research guides, “Defining Fake News” and “Evaluating News Sources,” pointing readers to tips, fact-checking websites and other resources useful for learning how to assess the reliability of web-based and print information.

Another online guide, “News Research,” provides a chronological overview of the major resources for finding reliable news, including information about how Cornellians can access stories from subscription-based digital news sites such as the Financial Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, without having to pay a fee for access. The Student Assembly has purchased digital access to The New York Times for all Cornell undergraduates.

Instruction librarians can help faculty incorporate customized teaching into their classes to help students learn how to find reliable, high-quality sources – particularly those specific to a certain field, coursework or research question. And any time they’re in doubt, students are encouraged to ask librarians for help – in person, at library reference desks, on the phone, over email or via 24/7 chat.

Melanie Lefkowitz is a writer for Cornell University Library.