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New Voices RGU Student Series – Jes Herbert

Category: New Voices, New Voices, RGU Student Series

In the Robert Gordon University Student Series blog, we share the views of RGU students from the MSc in Information and Library Studies course.

Today, we hear from Jes Herbert, a healthcare administrator and LGBTQ+ community volunteer who is currently studying for their MSc in Information and Library Studies at Robert Gordon University. Lapsed medievalist, word nerd and Paladin in their spare time, Jes’s professional interests include affective influences on Information Seeking Behaviour and the role of public and academic libraries in promoting information and digital literacy to oppose misinformation. In this blog, Jes shares their take on the unique opportunity that public librarians have to challenge misinformation in the modern world.

Jes believes that public librarians are integral to establishing welcoming and informed online community spaces, just as they so often do in their physical communities.

Public Libraries Developing Interactive Online Communities to Tackle Misinformation in the Age of COVID

“What happens when we think about platforms as spaces?” asks Eli Pariser (coiner of the phrase ‘filter bubble’ back in 2011), asking us to re-conceptualise our online experience (2019). Physical spaces encode structure, norms of behaviour and engagement, which we can learn to evoke in our online public spaces and our channels for both interpersonal and community engagement (Pariser 2019). We need to ask what our professional responsibilities are now, regarding the crises of misinformation, disinformation and ‘fake news’, as we work to encode the same meanings and norms of behaviour into our online public library interactive spaces that we do in our physical buildings.

Combating ‘fake news’ through providing access to quality information (ALA 2017; Batchelor 2017) has been the tactic of dispelling the current ‘infodemic’ (Naeem and Bhatti 2020; Viroj et al. 2020) The response from public libraries internationally to consult with expert international health organisations to disseminate only trusted and verified sources of information has been exemplary (Freudenberger 2020; Gann 2020; Halceid and Hamilton 2020). Through embracing the evolving meaning of what it is to be information literate in pandemic times, public librarians can do more. While the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) defines Information Literacy (IL) as “the ability to think critically and make balanced judgements about any information we find and use” (2018), I want to emphasise the vital digital competency of “producing and sharing information in participatory digital environments”, an expanded scope of IL unifying multiple facets of literacy relevant to an information society: a kind of ‘metaliteracy’ with a focus on that aspect of participation and interaction online (Mackey and Jacobson 2011 p. 62).

From slight misunderstanding or misrepresentation right up to malicious fabrication, merely highlighting the most correct information will not always be enough. Research suggests that misinformation is frequently retained alongside or even over corrections (Sullivan 2018). Issues like confirmation bias, people deliberately seeking out information that reaffirms their current beliefs or disregarding that which challenges it, demonstrate how our affective state plays a huge part in integrating misinformation. Without delving into the motivations of those who stoke conspiracy for gain, our ‘conspiracy brain’ that blocks us from reconsidering misinformation is heightened when we are at our most vulnerable, threatened, or alone (Badke 2018). Public librarians are ideally placed not only to facilitate conversations on misinformation, but to more generally gain the trust of the communities they are embedded in (De Paor 2020), creating that positive affective state. Their work during this pandemic to confront misinformation, and to reach out, connect with and bring joy to isolated service-users, are not two different tasks – they are and must be connected.

Throughout this year they have met the challenge of creating programming which both protects the social and emotional well-being of their communities and combats dangerous misinformation (NAPLE, 2020; Peachey, 2020). October’s Carnegie Trust report showcases UK public library interactive online programming, alongside the overwhelmingly positive impact on the well-being of those who engaged with it. Across all user groups surveyed, receiving useful information as a result of service contact was reported only marginally more often than feeling more positive, more connected to community, or less alone – this despite challenges felt by public library staff learning to create their usual safe spaces online (Peachey, 2020). Up-skilling and reference resources from fellow librarians are available regarding closing the digital divide (West 2020), along with inspiration for online community engagement – inviting users into the same ‘fake news’ conversations that we need to be having with colleagues (Library Association of Ireland 2020; DLR Library Service 2020; Gass and Samuelson 2020).

Sociologist Janja Lalich visualized the moment which precipitated her leaving a Marxist-conspiracist cult as the moment when the little shelf in the back of her mind, where she stored all of her doubts and questions, finally broke under the weight; “Your job is to get them to put more things on their shelf.” (Wollan 2018). Nudges towards these kinds of changes in individuals’ accepted knowledge are gradual, undramatic but unrelenting, and kind. They involve meeting people where they are, listening to what they know and what they need – offering, without judgement, more books for that shelf, and a space to participate and engage. Public librarians have an ongoing opportunity, through producing, sharing, and leading information services in a participatory way online, not only to ‘create content’, but to re-establish those welcoming, informed community spaces in the neighbourhoods of their digital cities.


AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION, 2017. Resolution on Access to Accurate Information. Chicago: ALA.

BATCHELOR, O., 2017. Getting out the truth: The role of libraries in the fight against fake news. Reference Services Review, 45(2) [online]. Available from: [Accessed 1 November 2020].

BADKE, W., 2020. Evidence and the search for truth. Online Searcher, 44(4), pp. 36-38.

CHARTERED INSTITUTE OF LIBRARY AND INFORMATION PROFESSIONALS, 2018. CILIP Definition of Information Literacy. [online]. Available from: [Accessed 1 November 2020].

DE PAOR, S. and HERAVI, B., 2020. Information literacy and fake news: How the field of librarianship can help combat the epidemic of fake news. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 46(5) [online]. Available from: [Accessed 1 November 2020].

DLR DÚN LAOGHAIRE-RATHDOWN COUNTY LIBRARY SERVICE, 2020. 6-Week Media Literacy Series: Disinformation, Fake News and Privacy. [Facebook]. 19 October 2020. Available from: [Accessed 4 November 2020].

FREUDENBERGER, E., 2020. No business as usual. Library Journal, 145(4), pp. 24-27.

GANN, B., 2020. Combating digital health inequality in the time of Coronavirus. Journal of Consumer Health on the Internet, 24(3), pp. 278-284.

GASS, N. And SAMUELSON H., 2020. Fake news fighters. Library Journal, 145(5), pp. 38.

HAICEID, M. and HAMILTON, S., 2020. Public Libraries and Covid-19L Tour of Europe. An Leabharlann: The Irish Library, 29(2), pp. 4 – 10 [online]. Available from: [Accessed 4 November 2020].

LIBRARY ASSOCIATION OF IRELAND, 2020. IFLA Fake News Lecture Series. [online]. Dublin, Ireland: LAI. Available from: [Accessed 4 November 2020].

MACKEY, T. P. and JACOBSON, T. E., 2011. Reframing information literacy as a metaliteracy. College & Research Libraries, 72(1), pp. 62-78.

NAEEM, S. B. And BHATTI, R., 2020. The Covid-19 ‘infodemic’: a new front for information professionals. Health Information and Libraries Journal, 37(3), pp. 233-239.

NATIONAL AUTHORITIES ON PUBLIC LIBRARIES IN EUROPE , 2020. Public Libraries in Europe and COVID-19: Findings from NAPLE members. [online]. Madrid, Spain: NAPLE. Available from: [Accessed 1 November 2020].

PARISER, E., 2019. What obligation do social media platforms have to the greater good? [online video]. TEDSummit July 2019. Available from: [Accessed 1 November 2020].

PEACHEY, J., 2020. Overarching report – Making a Difference: Libraries, Lockdown and Looking Ahead. [online]. Fife, UK: Carnegie UK Trust. Available from: [Accessed 1 November 2020].

SULLIVAN, M. C., 2018. Why librarians can’t fight fake news. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 51(4), pp. 1146-1156.

VIROJ, T. et al., 2020. Framework for managing the COVID-19 infodemic: Methods and results of an online crowdsourced WHO technical consultation. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(6) [online]. Available from: [Accessed 1 November 2020].

WEST, J. Digital literacy lessons from the time of COVID-19. Computers in Libraries, 40(5), pp. 12-13.

WOLLAN, M., 2018. How to get someone out of a cult. The New York Times Magazine. [online]. 26 September. Available from: [Accessed 1 November 2020].


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