The search for accurate information

When I learned the Summerland Library was about to get a new, larger facility, I was elated. Books are good. More books are better.

I’ve been an avid reader my whole life, so last year, when I learned the Summerland Library was about to get a new, larger facility, I was elated.

Books are good. More books are better.

Next week, staff at the Summerland library branch will be busy moving into a new, much larger facility. The new branch will open on Oct. 3.

I didn’t know anyone would question the new facility until I heard a comment from a friend, some time before the groundbreaking ceremony. “We don’t need a bigger library,” he said.

His statement caught me off guard. This is someone quite knowledgeable and extremely well-read. I’ve often respected his insights.

He must have noticed my puzzled expression because he added, “People are going to the Internet to find what they need.”

That’s true. A lot of information is already online, with more added all the time.

When I need to research a fact, I turn to the Internet first. I use online news sites to keep up with what’s happening provincially, nationally and internationally.

The online world contains more information than any brick and mortar library or chain of libraries. In a fraction of a second, a keyword search will often return millions of results.

Any topic imaginable is out there somewhere.

Anyone can create content and post it online. It’s no longer the sole domain of publishing houses, music labels and film producers.

The speed of the online world means information can be posted immediately.

When it comes to online information, we can have it all and we can have it now.

Maybe my friend is right and the future of the library will be a laptop, tablet or smartphone with Internet access.

The more I considered this scenario, the less I liked it.

Information is worthless if it isn’t accurate, and not all the information online is true.

Consider the recent debate over vaccinations, which developed in part because information could be circulated quickly and easily online. This was not a case of various interpretations of the same information; there was a question over whether some of the studies were credible.

There are also too many instances where information has been posted without any checks as to its accuracy. In some cases, this can cause lasting damage to one’s reputation.

Or, if one follows inaccurate information about health and safety, the consequences can be serious.

Sometimes a legitimate site is hacked and the content is changed. Sometimes a counterfeit site, parody or spoof is taken as truth.

If inaccurate information is used, it becomes impossible to make a wise decision or reach an intelligent conclusion.

The challenge becomes separating the accurate information from the inaccurate or questionable.

There are some excellent resources to point the way to accurate information.

Megasources, at pages.pathcom.com/~dtudor/megasources.htm, is one of the best places to start any search.

And if an email, meme or article seems questionable, there are sites such as www.snopes.com and www.hoax-slayer.com to verify the information.

The growth of online information means the librarian’s role is becoming that of an information guide.

In response to my friend’s comment, this is why we need the libraries and librarians.

There’s plenty of information online, but now, more than ever, we need help determining if it is credible and accurate.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.