It is a depressing time to be both an American and a person who thinks that facts matter. We have a President who denies the reality of climate change; claims that performing a study into whether voter fraud occurred is in and of itself grounds for concluding that voter fraud occurred; and, of course, prefers “alternative facts” [sic] when the way the world actually is turns out not to be in his liking. Donald Trump’s world is a zero sum game where if you’re not a winner you’re a loser, and there’s no grey area between terrific and disaster. And this is, like, the first week.
But though Trump is as pernicious an enemy to critical thinking as we’ve seen in quite some time, this current state of affairs provides librarians with an opportunity to (re)establish ourselves as educators whose primary business is helping learners distinguish fact from fiction. Carl Rogers once said that when doing research “the facts are friendly.” I can think of no better credo for the information literacy enterprise, and no better message that we could hope to deliver to our students.
Librarians, I’ve always believed, are in the very business of evidence: we teach learners how to use reliable information so they can construct their beliefs based on the best evidence available to them. Whether helping a student find an article in a database; learn how to cite something in MLA; or write an annotated bibliography, all our efforts boil down to helping learners base their beliefs on the evidence.
The present situation affords us a unique opportunity to use our creative powers to make this expertise explicit, and help both students and other campus faculty see our value in the realm of critical thinking. There are any number of ways to do this that fall squarely within the realm of librarianship. And the best ways, in my opinion, will be lessons that maintain our neutrality in the face of politics and and our allegiance to the facts, whatever they may happen to be. Facts are not political, no matter what this, or any other government administration may prefer you to believe.