by Kathy Dempsey (Information Today)
|Vol. 30 No. 2 — Mar/Apr 2016
It’s no secret that the American political landscape has grown more divided in recent years. The conservative right has been fracturing since the emergence of the Tea Party. The liberal left hasn’t been as internally divided, but that’s changing now since the Democratic field has officially been narrowed to just two presidential candidates.
As I write this article on Presidents Day in February, it’s impossible to escape the presidential primaries, since debates seem to be on TV every week and since they’re covered in the media daily. Misinformation is everywhere. It’s hard to know what to believe. This is where librarians come in.
I realize that many of you happily avoid bringing politics into your work. After all, you’re supposed to be unbiased, right? And you can’t afford to alienate anyone. You probably have your hands full doing your regular duties of promoting good searching and wise information usage. You’re also tasked with doing outreach, increasing library awareness and use, and even “building community.” So why would you want to get involved in politics? Because those tasks can relate directly to elections.
I see a huge place for librarians in the American political process. Think about it: You’re the people most qualified to fight misinformation and guide the electorate to vetted research sources. One way to reach out to people who don’t normally use libraries and to build awareness of why they still matter is to become the center for the most trustworthy data. And when trying to build community, you need a topic that affects and interests everyone, something to bring them together in discussion.
In this especially contentious election year, U.S. voters desperately need to be able to separate fact from fiction in order to make well-informed choices in the primaries and in the November election. Why not prove your value by becoming the top place in your community for fact-finding and discourse? You can save people time by pointing them to good resources, by helping them understand differing viewpoints, and by offering an unbiased, safe place to learn. Here are 10 specific ways that you can do that, in any type of library, without taking sides.
1. Create a portal of voting information. You can find much of what you need by linking to local, state, and federal sites. Include information on voter registration (try www.usa.gov/register-to-vote): links that are specific to your state, application deadlines, locations and hours of polling places, etc. Be sure to offer info on absentee ballots, especially if you’re in a university library, where many young people may be living on campus, outside of their home voting districts. This is the least you can do to inform the electorate. Read more….