Television, print media, smart phones, laptops, and other sources present a glut of information, facts, and research at your fingertips. With the click of a mouse or a swipe of your finger, you can get the Ohio State Buckeyes’ fall schedule and a picture of your best friend from second grade within seconds.
Search for Washington Court House on Google and you will see more than 10,000,000 results! Where do you begin? And which site do you use for that free credit report? In some ways, more is better. Knowledge is power, right? However, knowledge gained via credible information, reputable sources, and your own experience, versus the knowledge gained from general Google searches, sources that may have an agenda, may be out of date, or have little to no relevance are two very different things.
We are all familiar with terms like “fake news” and clickbait. These disapproving phrases describe sensationalist, low-quality “news” often shared via social media. Between the sheer volume of results and all of the fraudsters and misinformation online, how can we sift through it all? In this “Information/Digital Age” we also need to be “Information Literate.”
The American Library Association describes information literacy as the ability to determine the type of information you need, be able to access it effectively and efficiently, evaluate it and its sources critically, use the information, and understand its context. Information literacy is a core concept for students of all ages, and for anyone using a computer. When you play, socialize, research, shop, or surf online, always consider the source and ask: Is it reputable? Is it recent? Who is the author? Does it have the information you need? If in doubt, check it out! Verify the source or author.
Save yourself some time and begin at the website for a familiar or credible source. For instance, some of the most popular medical websites are privately-owned. They rely on advertising and private funding. While this does not make them incorrect necessarily, it can skew search results or the type of information you receive. On the other hand, sites from the U.S. government, non-profit health or medical organizations, and university medical centers are the most reliable resources. Next time, perhaps try Medline plus (www.medlineplus.gov) for up-to-date information on conditions, diseases, medication, and treatment. Not sure who runs your favorite site? Check the “About Us” section for more information, or keep in mind that websites ending in .gov are government sponsored and those ending in .org are non-profit. These sources are a good starting place, though nothing is as good as the information you receive from a well-trained doctor or nurse.
Being information literate ensures that you have accurate, current, and helpful information to live well in the 21st century. We may find untold quantities of facts and figures, but quality still matters. By the way, what is the best website for requesting your free annual credit report? Others claim to be free, but require a credit card for your “free” trial. Backed by the FTC, you can request your report online or print a paper request form and submit it via snail mail here: www.annualcreditreport.com
See you at the library!
Sarah Nichols is the director at the Carnegie Public Library.