Poll finds libraries are leaders in ‘trust’
In this era of fast, endless and often unreliable news it can be difficult to know who to trust. For example, governments have great authority to offer information but sometimes selectively and not always very quickly, for example the very useful Canada Census, in its sheer size and scope, often takes years to publish.
Smaller government agencies don’t often have the statistical expertise to avoid bias in asking, collecting and reporting information. Not-for-profit agencies try to collect information of good quality but, again, doing so takes time and expertise and both are costly.
Various special interest groups, from right to left, allocate resources to produce data to support their causes. Ask yourself who funds them, mindful of the tobacco industry sponsored findings, just one example.
Academic journals usually publish research of higher quality but the research is often so carefully specific that a non-specialist can’t draw useful conclusions.
There’s some good news, though. In 1990, when the internet was becoming more widely used, a research project, the Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press, conducted regular polls on politics and major policy issues. This potential for public good came to the notice of the Pew trusts, built from 1948 by family members trying to do some good with Sun Oil Company wealth.
In 2004 the Pew Research Center was created to do work on public opinion polling, demographic research, and media content analysis. Setting out to be a neutral source of data and analysis, the Center does not take policy positions. Although this is research using the population of the United States, I think we have enough in common that much of the data is relevant in Canada, too.
One recent data set asked how people approach facts and information. My favourite finding was that libraries topped the list with 40 per cent of respondents saying they trusted information from local public libraries and librarians “a lot,” beating out health care providers at 39 per cent. Other sources including government, media, friends, and family, were less trusted.
With 52 per cent of American adults visiting a public library in person or online in the past year, 63 per cent of those who said they were “eager and willing” information seekers were library users and much more likely than others to say they trust librarians and libraries as information sources.
The least trusting information seekers, labeled “wary” and representing 25 per cent of the total group, were typically male (59 per cent) and one-third are ages 65 or older. Sadly, this group also had low intentions to take the kinds of training libraries offer to improve confidence in evaluating information sources. If you’re wary, please let us help!
Shelley Ross is chief librarian at the Medicine Hat Public Library.