International Women’s Day, internet arguments and a surprise information literacy lesson

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, so naturally there were plenty of people who feel the need to lash out online when asked to consider the situation of women for one day a year.

One video I saw doing the rounds was this one from “Prager University”, released just in time for this special day. Watch it if you’re curious.

The video claims to debunk the “myth” of the gender wage gap. It has nice production values, charts and numbers, and has the word University in it. Unfortunately, those factors are enough for it to pass the “trustworthy” test for a lot of folks.

I think this video makes a good example of why it’s important to critical evaluate sources. I can imagine students using this or similar videos to inform their arguments at a university level. It looks and sounds similar to other educational videos that you might be able to use in a class presentation or project, but it’s very different.

Let’s ask a few classic questions to help us evaluate this source.

Who is the author/responsible organisation? Spoiler alert: Prager University is not a real university. It doesn’t even have students! It’s basically a YouTube channel that styles itself with the word “university” in its name. But don’t believe me – believe the note at the bottom of the organisation’s website in a blue font on a blue background: “PRAGER UNIVERSITY IS NOT AN ACCREDITED ACADEMIC INSTITUTION AND DOES NOT OFFER CERTIFICATIONS OR DIPLOMAS. BUT IT IS A PLACE WHERE YOU ARE FREE TO LEARN.” Cool. Unfortunately I saw a few people yesterday link to this video as “proof” that their beliefs were legitimately backed up by research from this university. They retreated when someone pointed out the “not a real university” thing (and hey, it wasn’t me – someone got there before me, so there is hope for humanity’s critical evaluation skills.)

What is the agenda/purpose of the video? PragerU explain on their “About Us” page that their mission and vision is to “explain and spread what we call “Americanism” through the power of the Internet. Our five-minute videos are conservative sound bites that clarify profoundly significant and uniquely American concepts for more than 100 million people each year” and to provide “intellectual ammunition they need to defend and spread those values.” Provide intellectual ammunition. Spread “Americanism”. Ponder those phrases. Then compare them to “inform and educate”. Obviously the video is putting forward a certain point of view, informed by a worldview that PragerU wants to defend.

Does the information have any biases? Hahahahaha. HAHAHAHAHA.

Does it cite its sources? Where do they come from? This is the tricky one. The video references real studies and statistics. That makes it legit, right? But ask yourself: are the conclusions the video makes backed up by the facts, or do they put forward their own assertions to argue their agenda? Anyone who’s fluffed their way through an essay knows that you can cherry-pick references to back up any argument you wish you make, it doesn’t make it a good argument.

In this age of “alternative facts”, we’re more divided than ever and just seek and share information that backs up our existing beliefs, or worse, gears us up to attack others and their points of view. PragerU seems set up explicitly to foster this, providing “intellectual ammunition” for Facebook soldiers. With so much biased information out there, masquerading as authoritative, it’s so hard to seek and find the truth! I’m not sure people even want the truth sometimes.

Please, think about the information you hear/read/watch. It’s more important now than ever.



#23mobilethings – 4. Maps


For this topic I’m gonna talk about how Google maps applies to libraries.

Google crawls the web and various directories to populate Google Maps with places and landmarks. Most libraries will be a searchable “destination” in Google maps with name and address information. You don’t need to take any action to create this listing- it’s made from information extracted from web pages plus user contributions. You can “claim this business” so you control what information gets displayed. Or anyone can suggest edits to the information. I once made a suggestion to change the name of our library when the name Google’s listing gave us was far too similar to a local public library – we would get many phone calls from people who wanted the other library. Sometimes people would pull up driving directions from Google Maps and drive to our library – not even realizing that they were going to the wrong place! This problem has very much subsided since I fixed the name. It goes to show that people don’t usually go past Google for directional information like phone numbers and addresses. Not even to the relevant website, just the Google search results page, with information pulled from Google Maps. So it’s important to check your presence there. Adding photos, opening hours and other details will be notoced, too.

Another interesting thing is that if you have “location services” enabled it will track your every move on your smartphone. A new feature I noticed a few months ago is that it will use this information from users to create something like this:

 This can be pretty handy for clients if they want to come when it’s quiet. I’ve heard Google are working on a “live” version of this too so people can see how busy a location is right now.

#23mobilethings – 3. Email


Emails are an important way of communicating with library clients. Our system emails loans receipts, changes to due dates, and due date reminders by default. We use email to communicate with students when holds become available.

The fact that smartphones are pretty ubiquitous means email is an instant form of communication. I’ve had situations where a student has come to the desk to pick up a hold, but when I go to retrieve it for them it’s not available on the hold shelf. I ask them when they got the email and they’ll say – “just now, a couple of seconds ago!” The item had been scanned in but not yet processed and placed on the shelf! I love it. So instant. We also send emails to students about things like lost property, if we can identify them as the owner. Sometimes they’re still on campus and they’ll come back right away.

One challenge at our library is that we communicate with students via student email, never a personal email address, and many don’t check their student email regularly. That’s why it’s important to encourage them to set up their student email to forward to an address that they do check regularly and that sends push notifications to their phone or tablet.



#23mobilethings – 2. Photos


Social media is very visual. Platforms like Snapchat and Instagram have a lot of potential, I don’t think the majority of libraries have taken them up yet. Even on “traditional” sites like twitter and facebook, photo posts get much more engagement (in terms of metrics – clicks, likes, shares). They can be a great way of communicating what’s going on in the library. Photos of events, displays, new arrivals, new services, can communicate a lot. There’s always the issue of getting permission from people to use their photo, but it’s as simple as getting them to sign a clearance form.

One thing I’ve seen libraries do is set up an interesting “selfie” opportunity as part of a display or exhibition and asking patrons to take tag their photo with a particular hashtag can build community too. And maybe running competitions where users can send in a photo?

#23mobilethings – 1. Twitter


Hey, so I’m doing 23 mobile things. In the mobile spirit I’m doing it all on my android, so apologies in advance for the typos.

First off the ranks is twitter. I opened a twitter account in 2009 but it’s only in the past year or so that I’ve tried to be active with it. I followed a bunch of other librarians and try to post interesting content (I know that sharing links and retweeting isn’t enough, but it’s so easy!) It’s a great way to keep up with interesting developments in libraryland, and take part in activities like #BlogJune and 23 (research data) Things #23RDThings which I did this year, and were largely spurred on by twitter.

Twitter also enhances the experience of attending conferences. I find it amazing to sit in an auditorium where the only voice you can hear is the speaker, but everyone has their devices out and twitter is positively abuzz with conversations. It’s like a parallel dimension. It really enriches the experience of attending a conference.