Poll finds li­braries are lead­ers in ‘trust’

Medicine Hat News - - ENTERTAINMENT - Shel­ley Ross

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.

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