Alternative Facts’ and the Political Obligation of Libraries

In the past year of my life as an entirely average consumer of news media, I have repeatedly encountered actual, non-satirical reports of Russia’s mysterious squad of combat dolphins. Headlines from credible national sources printed headlines involving the phrases “gigantic moon balloon” and “robot jockeys” (New York Post and CBS News, respectively).

So, in hindsight– perhaps the prominence of fake news ought not to induce so much surprise.

When Kellyanne Conway– noted political strategist and long-time supporter of Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign– labeled dubious statements from the White House as alternative facts, she did more than launch memes and send Anderson Cooper into fits of hysterical, incredulous giggles. By insinuating that the administration she represents possesses the authority to replace reality with a more favorable fiction, Conway leaves anyone with critical thinking skills unnerved. Political opinions or partisan allegiances notwithstanding, any citizen of any government ought to prioritize trust.

Often, when I mention my employment at an academic library and my related career ambitions, well-meaning strangers or acquaintances caution me to reconsider. These people have–somehow– become convinced that libraries will fade into obsolescence as the digital age progresses and roadblocks to information dissipate. I question this premise. Libraries will likely evolve with the cultural landscape, as will any other institution. I am the least qualified person to speculate on how such changes will manifest.

However, I feel comfortable in asserting one prediction: knowledge will remain among the highest of moral pursuits. Historically, political regimes which limit or otherwise obstruct this pursuit have done so with malicious intent. Libraries and the materials they contain take on metaphoric cadence in such times. The importance of objective analysis and of placing events in greater context increase.

This is not an indictment of Kellyanne Conway or anyone with whom she affiliates. These are the musings of a young person, a university student, and an aspiring librarian, in a time when tall tales masquerade as news and conscious citizenship requires more than accepting sensations as truth.

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