Democracy, information, and libraries in a time of post-truth discourse

Date11 June 2018
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/LM-06-2017-0061
Published date11 June 2018
Pages307-321
AuthorPeter Johan Lor
Democracy, information,
and libraries in a time of
post-truth discourse
Peter Johan Lor
University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Abstract
Purpose To serve their clients in a time of post-truth discourse and fake news, librarians need to
understand the post-truth phenomenon. The purpose of this paper is to examine it, what is being done in
response to it, and specifically what libraries can do.
Design/methodology/approach Recent literature on the post-truth phenomenon was examined.
Traditional assumptions about the role of libraries in promoting democracy were questioned and an
alternative view was put forward. Librariesresponses to the post-truth phenomenon were examined and
critically discussed.
Findings Traditional assumptions about the role of libraries and information and democracy are outdated.
The susceptibility of people to false beliefs and the persistence of these beliefs in spite of corrective
information, is the product of many factors, including the evolving media ecosystem and psychosocial
processes which are the subject of ongoing empirical research. It not primarily an information or knowledge
deficit, hence there are no simple antidotes to fake news. Libraries need to rethink their responses.
Research limitations/implications The paper deals with very recent developments and relies heavily
on informal online resources.
Practical implications Relevant library activities are examined and suggestions are made for developing
appropriate library responses.
Originality/value At the time of writing this was the first attempt in the library management literature to
engage in a systematic and thoughtful manner with the literature on the post-truth phenomenon.
Keywords Information, Social Media, Social psychology, Propaganda, Libraries, Fake news, Post-truth,
Media ecosystem, False beliefs, Fast checking, Corrective information, Information literacy
Paper type Research paper
Introduction
It has long been assumed that libraries are good for democracy. In Anglo-American
librarianship especially, it is thought that libraries support democracy through the
provision of information for civil discourse. In the preface to her book, Libraries &
democracy: the cornerstones of liberty, Nancy Kranich (2001a, p. v) wrote:
Democracies need libraries. An informed public constitutes the very foundation of democracy; after
all, democracies are about discourse discourse among the people. If a free society is to survive, it
must ensure the preservation of its records and provide free and open access to this information to
all its citizens.
Kranichs statement is one in a long line of ringing pronouncements, some of which are cited
in chapters of her book. Many others are cited on a web page of the American Library
Association (Kranich, 2001b). All of these embody a chain of assumptions, which are
depicted schematically in Figure 1.
Figure 1 suggests that libraries contribute to democracy by providing selected resources
from which discerning users can glean information that enables them to contribute as
well-informed citizens to civil discourse leading to responsible political choices.
Library Management
Vol. 39 No. 5, 2018
pp. 307-321
© Emerald PublishingLimited
0143-5124
DOI 10.1108/LM-06-2017-0061
Received 22 June 2017
Revised 22 June 2017
Accepted 20 August 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
www.emeraldinsight.com/0143-5124.htm
Declaration of conflicting interests: the author declares no potential conflict of interest with respect to
the research, authorship and/or publication of this paper. Funding: the author received no financial
support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this paper.
307
Democracy,
information,
and libraries

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