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Libraries and Librarians helping us all #LookItUP

Posted: Thursday, November 09, 2017
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Note: This is part three in a three-part series of posts celebrating University Press Week 2017. For more posts from our university press friends, visit the AAUP's blog tour page.

Written by Sarah Dupont, Aboriginal Engagement Librarian, UBC Library

#Alternativefacts. #FakeNews. Phrases of political rhetoric that rapidly became a lightning rod for information professionals, journalists, and academics to galvanize against and respond in kind with #EvaluateSources. #FactCheck.

The role of the academic librarian today is important in promoting facts and scholarship. In the absence of a technical solution that automatically sifts through the noise of internet nonsense to deliver up only the credible and reliable on a silver platter, one of the most important skills that librarians help to develop and foster is how to evaluate information sources.

Librarians help readers understand resource credibility in two ways: 1) by teaching people to question materials they read, and 2) by evaluating materials as part of the process of acquiring materials for a library collection.  

Selection is part of collection management work that many subject liaison librarians do. The act of critically selecting and accurately describing an item is work that is not as visible as, for example, the work that librarians do to help patrons find that item. Intellectual work to build, describe, and maintain curated collections is important for helping people find a diversity of perspectives on issues. Description work requires a considerable degree of warrant, and in recognizing that, there are major efforts underway by librarians to identify, challenge, and replace dated, colonial, or otherwise inaccurate descriptions. But major shifts such as this will not happen overnight.

In the meantime, with this responsibility to both select credible sources and ensure broad representation of perspectives and worldviews, librarians’ work requires time and guidelines to help in the decision making process. Each library has a collections policy based on key indicators for its scholarly field(s), but two common factors weighed by all librarians are space and money. There is only so much money to support the growth of the collections each year and only so much space to house them.

With that in mind, how do librarians make the most of the money and space available to select the titles that are going to have the most value for our audiences of students, faculty, and community borrowers? Selection tools, such as university press publisher catalogues, help us get to know a title better. University presses are important supporters of the selection process for academic librarians, as their products:

- present a scholarly stream of publications,

- have gone through significant review to check author credentials, and

- go through a peer review process.

University presses are key to the dissemination of scholarship in all disciplines, and, like librarians, have a certain amount of invisible power in their role of selecting what types of scholarship form the marketable products for academic consumption. 

When university presses choose to support the production of more scholarly content that includes historically underrepresented perspectives and approaches, it aids the work of librarians who support new courses and research agendas with this content. For example, many universities in Canada are moving towards mandatory courses with Indigenous content in certain faculties, such as Education and Law. For the instructors of these courses to meet their teaching objectives, it is critical that they have access to scholarly materials that profile Indigenous academic and community perspectives.

Publications put out by university presses have a role to play in considering how these perspectives will or will not make their way into the body of scholarly publishing. Focused attention on this issue of what does and does not have privilege as scholarly content must continue to be supported. For example, UBC Okanagan Professor, Dr. Greg Younging, notes in this article about his forthcoming publication, Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing by and About Indigenous Peoples, that there are still ongoing challenges faced by those whose writings represent Indigenous voices, research methods, and/or worldviews within the processes/expectations/restrictions of academic “norms.”

A published manuscript on a shelf, whether for borrowing or to buy, comes with an invisible fingerprint of the additional intellectual assessments given to it to get it to publication. Academic libraries and university presses share a goal to disseminate research outputs of academic pursuits and do significant work to get the facts, figures, and voices accessible to readers. So, the next time you need to find the story behind the numbers, fact check municipal planning data for the latest transit project, or find the latest literary criticisms, keep calm, make a reference appointment with your liaison librarian or bookseller, and learn how to #LookItUp.

Posted by Megan M.
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