[Insert Misleading Headline]

Websites need clicks to get advertisers in order to survive in the constantly fluctuating internet marketplace. You’ve seen them – “I’m Not Sure It’s Possible To See This Chart And *Not* Think It’s A Big Problem,” “Everyone I Talk To Says ‘Who Cares?’ Then I Show Them This And They Freak Out A Little,” “This Is The Personality Trait That Most Often Predicts Success,” and the list goes on and on. (I’m intentionally not linking to the related websites because, again, click bait.) More often than not the headline fails to give you any indication about what the article is actually about. “I’m Not Sure It’s Possible To See This Chart And *Not* Think It’s A Big Problem” could be about the rise of poverty in the United States (unlikely), the continued belief in creationism (maybe), or something to do with Kim Kardashian (most likely.) Either way, you probably need to click on the link to actually find out. And that’s what the websites want. I get it.

What I cannot accept is historically reliable news outlets following this trend. As an instruction librarian, I teach students how to critically evaluate information sources. What happens when a source such as The New York Times starts inserting misleading headlines?

The following is a tweet by a friend of mine, Daniel Victor, who is a social media editor at the NYT. Dan always posts interesting content from the NYT, especially when it’s sports related, so I naturally clicked on the article.

Having worked a couple of years with social science students and faculty, who rely heavily on data for their research, I’ve become increasingly critical of the representation of data in news pieces. A few things struck me with this article:

  • “In Terms of Fans, the Heat Have Already Beaten the Spurs” – “Fans” in the sense it’s used in the headline is all encompassing. How did the NYT collect data that accurately represents the demographic spread of NBA fans across the country?

  • Ow, that’s a pretty map!

  • “Based on estimates derived from which teams people “like” on Facebook…” Did you read enough of the article to get to this point? If you did, did you connect this sentence to their definition of “fans”?

So this is a map of fans who use Facebook. More specifically, those fans who use Facebook at a level where they “like” their favorite sports teams. I feel as though we’re getting into a niche group here. A group that doesn’t fully represent NBA fans across the country. (You could also disprove that assertion with a different data set.)

After some tweets back and forth, Dan provided me with links to methodology and I told him my issue was really with the headline and not the data itself:

So what’s the big deal? It’s just a headline and those who are truly interested will read the article and can extrapolate how they define “fans.”  I think it’s a big deal when I think about the students with whom I work. The majority will not read the entire article. They’ll stop at the map. They won’t bridge that final gap of interpreting what the map is actually representing. Maybe this is OK for daily, casual information digestion, but it’s a habit that seeps into the classroom as well. It breeds an information semi-illiterate society.

So what can librarians do? The same thing we’ve always done. Continue to push for information literacy instruction in college classrooms. Push for critical IL instruction and not database demonstrations. Use examples like this! It isn’t egregious, it’s from a reliable news source, it’s an interesting topic, and it demands higher level thinking. A critical evaluation of an article like this represents the lifelong information literacy skills the LIS field espouses. Embrace it!

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Librarian, Instructor, Advisor: Decision 1 of Many to Follow

On top of my summer library projects, which include a redesign of Reinert Library’s modular online tutorial, I will be preparing to teach my first credit-bearing course. In an effort to expand the reach of the information literacy program at Creighton University, I volunteered to be a faculty preceptor for the Ratio Studiorum Program (RSP) at Creighton. RSP 101 introduces freshmen to academic life in the College of Arts & Sciences at Creighton. In addition to teaching students about the value of a liberal arts education and the Jesuit mission, I will also be the students’ advisor until they declare their major.

It should come as no surprise that as a reference and instruction librarian I find teaching to be the most rewarding and gratifying aspect of my job. Unfortunately, with the exception of institutions that teach a credit-bearing information literacy course, librarians rarely have the opportunity to teach outside the one-shot format. While RSP 101 is not an information literacy course, there is a good bit of flexibility built into it. In addition to my teaching style and preferred teaching strategies, I can personalize my section through a book or series of articles.

Playing to the age-old stereotype of the bookish librarian, I spent a healthy amount of time attempting to pick the perfect book. Since RSP 101 is a one-credit course, the recommended length is 200 pages, which narrows the pool considerably. I was also advised to choose a book that both engages students and plays to my research interests. The information field offers plenty of interesting options, but I struggled imagining 18 year-old students feeling the same enthusiasm for The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains or The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption as I do. One could argue that given the academic nature of the course, students don’t have to love the book, but I also don’t want students to look at the class as just another boring requirement. So after staring at my bookshelves for what felt like an eternity, I landed on Peter Rock’s My Abandonment

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My Abandonment by Peter Rock

Perhaps an unconventional choice, but let me explain. The goal of critical thinking skills inherent in information fluency is transferability. We want students to use the search skills we teach them across multiple platforms, not just an EBSCO or ProQuest interface. We want to teach them how to critically evaluate all types of information, not just a website or scholarly article. My Abandonment is inspired by the true story of a girl and her father who lived in Forest Park in Portland. Rock has created a beautiful and gripping coming of age tale from the newspaper stories that emerged upon their discovery. I envision using this novel as a gateway for students to think about how we interact with information, both available and missing, in our daily lives to draw inferences and create knowledge in the world around us. Fiction is not a popular option for RSP 101 texts. I chose fiction because just as dystopian literature can help young adults understand difficult social issues, I believe that fiction can generate questions and conversations in more profound ways than nonfiction.

Choosing a text is just one of the many pedagogical decisions I’ll have to make this summer. I look forward to developing the class and the opportunities it will allow for experimentation with different teaching strategies and tools. I am particularly interested in utilizing the flipped classroom model. Developing a class, mastering the College of Arts & Sciences curriculum, and advising approximately 12 students will not only challenge me  as a teacher, but I also envision it as an exciting opportunity to demonstrate one of the many ways in which the library can help serve the students (and faculty) at Creighton.