Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee

Information Literacy – Please Pass the Grain of Salt

Does anyone remember the Spaghetti Harvest? Or the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus? These were early (and wacky) examples of media hoaxes. They became staples of information literacy instruction for many educators, because they illustrated how convincing even the most bizarre information can seem when it’s presented as fact. Today these scams seem benign and quaint.

An image of three people supposedly harvesting spaghetti from trees; an early media hoax which demonstrates the need for information literacy
The Spaghetti Harvest

In our plugged-in world, finding reliable information is more nuanced and challenging than ever – “Bots” planting false stories on social media. “Filter bubbles” and “information silos.” The factors that conspire to interfere with our access to credible information are formidable.

The Center for News Literacy at Stonybrook University lists several information literacy challenges faced by society:

  • The sheer volume of material can be overwhelming, and social media encourage our tendency to choose materials that support our pre-existing beliefs.
  • Newer technology, makes it easy for anyone to create and share information that appears authoritative.
  • There’s a conflict between speed and accuracy. We all expect news to be shared as it happens, but rushing to post or publish can make errors more likely.

At a recent event sponsored by our School of Library and Information Science, Lee Rainie of the Pew Trust spoke on “Truth, Trust, and Democracy.” Their research shows that recent years have seen trust declining in media of all types. Not surprisingly, they’ve found that people increasingly get their news online, where the information free-for-all rages 24/7.

Informed skepticism

Fortunately, more of us are becoming aware of the need to verify. Sites like Snopes and FactCheck can be tremendous resources to double-check information that seems “fishy.” How do we identify this fishy information? There is no shortage of guidelines to help, like these:

People need news and information in order to take advantage of opportunities. It’s essential for a full and productive life. Having access to credible information helps us make wise decisions, which then have a ripple effect throughout society.

What do the children need?

Most of the children we see in our libraries are swimming in the same information ocean as the rest of us. How can we help them to navigate? What are the most urgent media literacy issues where they’re concerned?

Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy shares 10 Good Reasons for teaching media literacy. It has all kinds of educational benefits beyond improving evaluation skills.

A wealth of resources are available to help us consider which aspects of this topic are most relevant for the children we serve, as well as engaging ways to present information:

  • Kid-friendly sites like National Geographic Kids offer fun, interactive practice for spotting misleading information.
  • AASL recently released its revised standards, which cover the information literacy spectrum.
  • The Newseum in Washington DC has assembled a terrific assortment of educational resources that address topics like: Fact vs. Opinion, The First Amendment, What makes Information “Share-worthy”, Steps for Evaluating Information, and Outsmarting Trolls.

ALSC’s Intellectual Freedom Committee is taking up this topic, with the aim of developing easy-to-adapt information literacy programs for children in the library. We’d love to have your input regarding the media literacy needs you see in your library, successful programming you’ve developed, and go-to resources on the topic.

Please send your comments to our ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee chairs:

Betsy Brainerd

Justin Azevedo

Liz Hartnett is Program Coordinator for the SC Center for Children’s Books and Literacy at the University of South Carolina. You can reach her at

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: II. Reference and User Services and III. Programming Skills.

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