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How to prepare today for critical media literacy issues of the future

2021-10-25

The need for media literacy isn’t new — but our current cultural climate and digital ecosystem certainly give today’s issues a unique spin. Even as teachers, librarians and institutions are working so diligently to fight for critical media literacy in our communities, we need to start thinking about tomorrow’s media literacy issues, too. What will the future hold? And how can we prepare our community members to be engaged, thoughtful, analytical media consumers today, in the years to come and beyond? 

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Media literacy concerns have always existed, but these days they are intensified by the volume of misinformation shared by social media (and resulting increase of conspiracy theories). There’s also the issue of inconsistency in media literacy rhetoric, and education that hasn’t kept up with evolving technology — overly simplified media literacy training too often fails to extend to complex real-world scenarios. 

The bottom line? To prepare students and citizens for a future of media literacy and constant critical thinking, training needs to expand for us all to understand the systems in place behind media literacy. As individuals are increasingly encouraged to “do their own research” — often with little instruction as to how to do accurate and trustworthy source analysis — the library’s role should evolve. In the fight for media literacy, the bulk of focus on teaching critical reading and analysis falls to teachers, but library professionals and facilities can (and will) play a big role in this effort.  

Here’s what the future of library-led media literacy support might look like. 

Teaching and encouraging effective research methods  

While schools are ground zero for media literacy education, libraries play an important supporting role in reinforcing effective research methods. Librarians themselves, as experts in the research field, can share tricks of the trade one-on-one with patrons during everyday interactions, but there are also opportunities for more passive educational moments — for instance, signage prompting good critical reading habits in the stacks and near computer stations, or take-home literature and checklists at the checkout. 

Explicit workshops and seminars are of course an option, too. Whether a one-evening course on identifying bias in news media or a multi-day research skills intensive, libraries have the opportunity to reach students of all ages with free or low-cost informational sessions.  

Working alongside teachers  

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Librarians needn’t solve the media literacy crisis on their own, of course. In fact, the strongest approach to building informed, engaged communities of media consumers is to collaborate with the teachers who are already incorporating media literacy lessons into their classrooms. With information about blind spots in the curriculum, missed opportunities or specific resource needs, librarians can supplement the important work teachers are already doing, whether in the school library or after-hours in community-focused library spaces.  

Whether public librarians reach out to local schools and K-12 librarians directly, attend teaching conferences or find educator communities online, there are a variety of opportunities to connect and collaborate with the teaching community. 

Visit our Knowledge is Power page to learn how teachers can promote media literacy in the classroom.

Identifying new ways to connect with patrons 

Chances are, the future of library access will continue to be a blend of in-person and online experiences. Librarians should be prepared to ensure the foundations of library science are always present, even when people aren’t physically on site.  

That means providing easy access to reliable, authentic sources of information digitally as well as in the stacks. PressReader is one great way to connect patrons with trusted news sources from around the world, even if they’re reading or researching outside the library walls.   

Providing easy access to factual information 

Librarians work hard to source books and content that serve their communities’ needs. But with a rise in self-publishing and increasingly sophisticated digital production tools, there’s more questionable media floating around out there than ever before. There’s never been a better time to be extra-diligent about ensuring the content available to library patrons is the most factual and trustworthy possible. 

Whether digital resources like PressReader or hard copies, librarians will continue to have a responsibility to provide the most factual documents possible, and ensure the information patrons are accessing is founded in democracy. This may mean additional training for library staff or intensified scrutiny when sourcing new materials for the collection. The goal? To make sure the easiest information to access is also the most accurate. 

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Tapping into expertise 

Quality journalism comes from quality journalists. The more we recognize the sources and writers of stories, and celebrate those who are doing an ethical and thorough job with their reporting and research, the more we build trust with the news media. 

In the years to come, underlining the distinction between trusted voices and bad actors will continue to be vital. Librarians can use their programming to help in this effort. Inviting authors and notable journalists to speak about their work and process — whether in-person or virtually — can offer an eye-opening experience to patrons and add a celebrity flair to topics like research approaches, fake news and bias.  

Avoid judgement that will push that patron away  

It can be tempting to scoff at unverified sources or conspiracy theories, but aggressive skepticism may do more harm than good when interacting with a believer. To welcome everyone into the world of media literacy can take a gentle touch: compassion and empathy are key. 

When someone has fallen into a propaganda trap, taken a sensationalistic fake news article at its word or failed to see the agenda of an author, it certainly doesn’t mean they’re unintelligent. These pieces are often designed to trick or persuade. As distrust of ‘mainstream media’ grows and the line between opinion and fact continues to blur, the concept of ‘truth’ has somehow become a partisan issue. Coaxing someone into embracing critical media literacy habits requires avoiding judgement that will push the patron away. Instead, use reference desk interactions as an opportunity to ask direct, objective questions such as “Where do you get your news?” and “Why do you feel like this is a more reliable source than others?”  

Building a foundation of critical media literacy that will see us through the ever-changing world of media and digital content is essential to creating stable, engaged democracies and fostering better communities for us all.  

 

Ready to join the fight for good media-consumer habits? Explore the world perspectives and sources that PressReader for libraries has to offer. 

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