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Academic libraries help combat COVID-19 related fake news Academic libraries help combat COVID-19 related fake news
Academic libraries in South Africa have provided high-quality information to offset the negative effects of COVID-19 related fake news. This is one of the... Academic libraries help combat COVID-19 related fake news

Academic libraries in South Africa have provided high-quality information to offset the negative effects of COVID-19 related fake news.

This is one of the key findings of a recent study at Stellenbosch University (SU).

“Academic libraries have played an important role as sources of trustworthy information against fake news and relied on several strategies to combat it,” says Mr Siviwe Bangani, Director: Research Services at SU’s Library & Information Service.

He did research on how academic libraries contributed to the fight against fake news in South Africa since the pandemic reached our shores. The findings of his study were published recently in the Journal of Academic Librarianship.

Bangani did a literature review and content analysis of websites and library guides (LibGuides) of South Africa’s public universities between July and August 2020 when the country was at its peak of the first wave of COVID-19 infections.

In addition to looking at the landing pages of university libraries’ websites for free COVID-19 resources and information, he searched online platforms such as EbscoHost, Science Direct, SA ePublications, Scopus, Web-of-Science and Google Scholar using keywords such “COVID-19”, “COVID-19 and (fake news or infodemic)”, and “fake news or the infodemic”.

According to Bangani, universities’ landing pages were rich sources of data for free COVID-19 resources while their LibGuides provided most of the data about fake news or infodemic.

“My study shows that academic libraries combatted COVID-19 related fake news through, among others, the provision of quality and credible information, Information and Media Literacy instruction, creating awareness about fake news, librarians attending or presenting in webinars and conferences, as well as the collection of resources that could be useful in the fight against fake news.

“Some have set up LibGuides dedicated to providing current information about COVID-19. These LibGuides link to free electronic material such as books, journals and websites such as the South African government website that provides credible information about COVID-19. The LibGuides also provided information about the virtual services provided by the libraries during this period.

“These libraries have used their websites and LibGuides to provide and promote access to quality and credible COVID-19 resources and information.”

Bangani says most LibGuides in South Africa contain links to evaluation tools such as the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ (IFLA)’s “How to Spot Fake News”, CRAAP (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose) and videos on this subject.

“The IFLA’s ‘how to spot fake news’ is very popular among librarians that incorporate information on how to fight fake news in South Africa in their LibGuides.”

Bangani adds that some university libraries also purchased anti-fake news books, warned clients about the harmful effects of fake news, provided links to tools to spot it, and helped them find information independently.

“Online training, often anchored on ways to find credible information sources, continued during the COVID-19 enforced lockdown period. For example, SU continued with its #SmartResearcher workshops and also offered training to students and researchers to learn new skills that would put them a step ahead in dealing with fake news.”

According to Bangani, these actions by academic libraries show that they have responded positively to the Library and Information Association of South Africa’s call to all information professionals to fight fake news. He says the results of his study can be used as a template of how libraries can deal with crises situations in future.

Phot credit: Stefan Els

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