Information in Peril

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Since the election, watching the news is my daily routine. I can’t seem to turn if off. I feel like if I do, I might just wake up one day and the world has turned upside down. Already it feels off-kilter. As a librarian, I rely on information to be true and reliable but that is not always the case of the alternate reality that Trump and his surrogates would want us to embrace.

Many of my colleagues have taken many measures to combat these “alternative facts” and “fake news.” As guardians of information in many places, librarians are obligated to do so. I am currently not working and I feel discouraged when I see people on the news spewing untruths that they have been fed by Fox News or Breitbart.

But what is more disturbing to me is the attempt to stem the flow of legitimate information from federal agencies. The purpose is obvious. When memos were sent to the EPA and USDA that they cannot release information to the public or use their social media accounts – the government is protecting private business interests. (It’s interesting to note that true patriots have found a work-around for this by using alternative accounts.) Librarians would have none of this. The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom condemned this government censorship.

Condemnation is not enough. Together with rogue scientists and coders called “baggers,” librarians saving data and creating a “secure chain of provenance” that will insure that the data is unaltered. Contrary to what most people believe, librarians are very techie. And here their taxonomy skills to match data to descriptors. Those rebels!

“The dissent has spread on social media with the Twitter account @LibrariesResist. Its resources include pages on privacy and surveillance, fake news and propaganda, a ‘Stop Trump’ reading list and a ‘Trump syllabus’ as well as an explanation of libraries as sanctuary places” (PBS.org). Started by Matthew Haugen, a librarian at Columbia University, the hashtags #librariesresist and #librariesrespond have hundreds of posts from librarians who share their acts of opposition.

Our profession advocates the free flow of information so in this age of disinformation, Rebecca McCorkindale, assistant library director in Gretna, Nebraska and creator of the “Libraries are for Everyone” image that has become viral says, “People think that libraries are obsolete. But we’ve stood up against censorship for decades…And with all that’s going on with these executive orders, we will do what we can to help.”

When Trump barred federal agencies from dispersing factual knowledge through their social media accounts, the action created a ripple effect that affected federal scientists. The disappearance of federally-funded has constricted the ability of scientists both here and abroad to continue important research.In order to be better equipped with this changing information landscape, the Association of Science and Technology (ASIS&T) is presenting a webinar “Silencing Science: Attempts to Curb Federal Employees’ Communication with the Public.” It’s free for ASIST members and $15 for non-members. The webinar presenters are Shannon M. Oltman, Asst. Professor at University of Kentucky and A.J. Million, PhD candidate at University of Missouri. They will discuss the larger historical and legal context, the role of social media, how to respond to these actions and what could be the further fallout from these actions.

Together with discrediting the press, this administration has put the state of information in peril. I agree with Sen. John McCain that this is the sign of the a burgeoning dictatorship. If this comes to pass, information integrity will die, along with our democracy.

Sources:

Flock, E. (Feb. 13, 2017). “Why These Librarians Are Protesting Trump’s Executive Orders,” PBS Newshour.

Schlanger, Z. (Jan. 19, 2017). “Rogue Scientists Race to Save Climate Data from Trump,” Wired.com.

 

 

 

 

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