“There Are No Facts, Only Interpretations”
Prior to 2016, I associated the belief that “there are no facts” with Friedrich Nietzsche, who, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, repeatedly included this statement in his notebooks. But, Nietzschean thinking has taken on powerful new meaning in a world where “post-truth” is the word of the year, and a leading surrogate for the incoming President of the United States is comfortable asserting that “there is no such thing as facts anymore.” If there has ever been a time when our claim that information literacy is a life skill has been more important, I’d be hard-pressed to find it.
“Fake News,” as Center for Research Libraries president Bernie Reilly has recently said, “undermined informed discourse” in 2016 and may have affected the outcome of the presidential election. It is the responsibility of libraries, he continues, to support an informed electorate, and this must be a primary goal for our libraries and our American Library Association in the coming years. Just this week, we saw the terrifying consequences of “fake news,” as Edgar M. Welch threatened the customers and staff of a pizzeria in Washington, DC, with an assault rifle as he attempted to “investigate” claims spread through social media and other platforms about a supposed conspiracy to exploit children. Just last week, I was in a meeting with concerned parents and teachers in the Chicago Public Schools asking how to address the issues of information literacy, media literacy, and informed citizenship among a community of school children (and future voters) who are trying, unsuccessfully, to “Google their way to truth,” and whose access to needed instructional programming has been gutted by devastating reductions to the number of school librarians employed in our schools.
In the immediate aftermath of the DC incident, ASCLA Councilor Chris Corrigan asked ALA leaders to adopt the battle against misinformation and “fake news” as a strategic priority for the Association, and to seek out new partners among the librarians, journalism educators, research groups, and others who have identified this as critically important for the future of American democracy. In an earlier statement, APA President-Elect Jim Neal argued that, as members and as an Association, “[we] must forge radical new partnerships with the first amendment, civil rights, and technology communities to advance our information policy interests and our commitment to freedom, diversity and social justice.” There are already librarians working on establishing these partnerships, looking across school, public, and academic libraries, and developing resources like this “Fake News” resource guide from Indiana University East.
This is work that speaks to the very heart of the library role in society, and to issues that are relevant to ALA members as librarians, teachers, parents, and community members, regardless of their place of work. This is work that #OurALA can, and must, make a priority.