Early this year, the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library presented a series of programs aimed at empowering our patrons through media literacy. Funded by a grant from the American Library Association, we are one of only five library systems in the country selected to develop programming on this topic.
The resulting Media Literacy @ Your Library project aims to bolster the overall critical thinking ability of the public to judge the reliability and credibility of news reports from all sources and to make us more aware of the kinds of information we spread.
As we celebrate National Library Week (April 8-14), this program is a reminder of the multi-faceted services provided by Huntsville-Madison County Public Library at our 13 branches.
We live in an age where we are constantly bombarded by an endless churning of information. News stories, advertisements, entertainment, publicity, propaganda and raw, unfiltered data pour through our inboxes, through our televisions, and through our social media newsfeeds daily.
Knowledge of the strategies they employ to get our attention or mislead us can go a long way towards protecting ourselves from them.”
Often some types of information are disguised: paid advertisements masquerading as official news stories, spam emails designed to trick your credit card information from you, even the occasional April Fool’s joke posted by an uncle having a bit of fun.
Knowledge of these types of media and the strategies they employ to get our attention or mislead us can go a long way towards protecting ourselves from them. And being able to recognize intentionally manipulative stories like these can help us to stop spreading them through our own conversations and social media pages.
If stories about an endangered tree-dwelling octopus or a politician who secretly hails from the third moon of Jupiter seem outlandish, it is because they very often are. But just as those ridiculous stories exist in multitudes online, there are just as many insidious, plausible-sounding articles that are specifically designed to prey on our fears and our inherent biases, to convince us that they are real, and to get us to spread the stories as far as our social sphere will allow. We need to be aware of our own power as second-hand publishers of the news, and to be responsible about it where we can.
Media representatives on panel discussion
The programming we presented as part of the Media Literacy @ Your Library project, created in a joint partnership of the American Library Association and the Center for News Literacy of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism, is intended to address this needed boosting of public news literacy awareness.
On March 7, the library hosted a panel discussion with columnist John Archibald and investigative reporter Anna Claire Vollers of the Alabama Media Group, where they talked about their roles as journalists and what goes into the process of writing the news. We held additional conversations about the depiction of journalism in film, journalistic ethics and the verification of information and sources.
Because of the popularity of the series, we now offer a recurring computer class called “Media Literacy: Credible or Clickbait” that directly addresses misleading articles online.
Media literacy is a topic that will not be going away any time soon, and will continue to be addressed at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library as time goes on. Keep an eye out for additional events and classes as they come up at hmcpl.org/events and on our Facebook page.