Claire Wolber, a second year B.A./M.D. Student at UMKC, is the recipient of the 2017 Friends of the Library Scholarship. Wolber was selected for her essay response to the following prompt:
"With the rapid proliferation of so many alternative information sources, what role must the University Libraries play in higher, continuing, and community education?"
Wolber is currently considering family medicine as her specialty, and when she's not studying she enjoys traveling, reading, and writing.
Congratulations, Claire, and good luck in your studies and future career!
You can read Wolber's winning essay below.
From Overreaction to Objective: How the Library can Rewire the Public’s Approach to Learning in an Era of Online Information Overload
Suddenly, a shrill screech pierces the silence of an office environment as a frantic woman rushes up to the receptionist’s desk.
“I’ve been drinking that soda that’s been in the news recently, and the articles I’ve read said that it’s been linked to cancer! I did a lot of research on it. I have noticed that I’ve been in pain recently, so I think I’ve got cancer from the soda!” Cautiously, clinic staff sits by the woman, attempting to assuage her fears. It seems that the best plan of action to eradicate the woman’s snap judgement would be to have her consult her doctor to discuss her concerns. It’s understandable why this woman would become upset; after all, she listened to the news, and made a conclusion about information she learned from her “research.” This scenario raises the question of how incidents similar to this may be avoided in the future. The solution is not a quick and fast remedy. It involves rewiring the public’s potential knee-jerk, panic-driven reaction into one that is an objective and complete thought process. In the current era of online information overload, it seems that people get so caught up in the myriad of available sources that their technological dependence is an artificial amnesiac for other options. The internet’s “compelling, credible” sources are often taken as gospel, obscuring other sources that can be closer to home. It is a local source that often has the answers that the public seeks, a place where people come together at the cornerstone of knowledge in a community: the library.
This integral institution of the community is given the task of sifting through the perpetual onslaught of new information available online. This may seem like an impossible feat; what with the millions of available sources and new information being published daily, it’s difficult to know where to begin. However, if the library wants to play a bigger role in fact-checking to ensure that reliable information is given to the public, they simply can ask the patrons what they would like to learn more about. This can be done through online and in-person surveys, in order to better understand the interests of the community. For example, if there is a new study that is released about a food item having certain health benefits or changes in different laws, and members of the community are curious about understanding all available angles, the library can set-up a lecture with a professional in that field to educate the public about the topic. This can be available both in person and online via a posted recording of the lecture. Both sides of the story can be discussed, and then the professional can proceed to help the public come to a conclusion about the presented information. Additionally, there are other avenues that the library can pursue to accomplish this.
The library could also feature a “myth of the week” about a popular topic and debunk common misconceptions that the public may have about it. Librarians could do research on these topics, and share their findings online. This information could also be featured in a common area in the library for patrons to read when they visit. This can be another opportunity to aid in rewiring the public’s approach on processing any and all news that they hear. To accomplish this, the library could have tutorials, both in person and online, that help the public understand how the librarians found information on these topics to illustrate to the public how to determine the credibility of a source. The public should also be shown where to search for these types of reliable sources. This knowledge can be beneficial for a wide range of patrons, from collegiate students writing a research paper, to adults who simply want to learn and fully understand a new topic.
Currently, in the era of online information overload, there are innumerable sources that the public can consult in an attempt to comprehend new information. Often, the multitude of sources can overwhelm the public with false information, misleading them, resulting in unnecessary overreactions. In order to avoid future rash conclusions, the library can instill into the public the key practices of analyzing sources and determining whether the sources in question are reliable. As a result, the public will be able to objectively discern the credibility of the sources presented to them, which will aid them in determining the facts of a new topic they want to learn more about. By utilizing this habit over time, this will begin to rewire the public’s responses and continue to foster a transition from overreacting to new information to objectively processing it in order to make conclusions on their own.