Libraries Primed to Play Integral Role in Preventing the Spread of Health Misinformation
Six local libraries work collaboratively to create a toolkit that addresses the public health crises caused during the pandemic – and in general – by health misinformation
A new effort to counteract the spread of health misinformation has taken flight. The San Diego Circuit libraries (Circuit), a consortium of six prominent academic and public libraries, has announced the availability of a campaign website designed to help community members identify and protect themselves from health misinformation.
As a part of the effort, a digital communications toolkit was developed to help library workers across the San Diego region and beyond share the skills necessary for health misinformation resilience by launching their own online public education campaigns.
“Since health misinformation can spread quickly on the internet, the focus of this campaign is centered around online outreach,” said Erik Mitchell, Audrey Geisel University Librarian and project lead at University of California San Diego. “Working towards positive health information literacy in our communities directly supports our strategic goals and by creating and sharing this toolkit, we are hoping to engage and support libraries who are also working to promote credible health information online.”
The primary goals of the project are threefold: 1) to raise awareness of health misinformation, 2) to share techniques for evaluating health claims and finding reliable sources, and 3) to provide guidance on how to respond to misinformation ethically and responsibly. An essential component of the effort is promoting National Library of Medicine resources such as MedlinePlus, PubMed and ClinicalTrials.gov, to help community members find reliable consumer health and scientific sources.
“Libraries engage with communities around the use of credible information sources. This puts them in a uniquely-appropriate position to step up and advocate for proactively sharing trustworthy health information,” said Migell Acosta, director at San Diego County Library. “The toolkit will also be helpful to organizations working on health literacy or health communications.”
The toolkit, which was created by the Circuit health information team, includes multilingual fact sheets in 10 languages, sample messaging for social media posts, graphics and video content intended to be shared on local and national libraries’ owned media channels. In addition to the assets included in the toolkit, Circuit provides best practices for launching an online public education campaign on their website.
The creation of the toolkit was made possible by a $25,000 grant awarded to Circuit by the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) in August 2022. Production of the toolkit began soon thereafter and distribution is set to begin immediately on a local level, focusing on San Diego and Imperial counties, with national distribution to follow this spring.
“Our hope is that the creation of this content will remove a barrier for libraries to engage with their local communities around health information literacy,” said Jeffery Loo, project manager and clinical librarian at UC San Diego Library. “Another important and useful aspect of the toolkit is that it’s customizable. We used a design platform that allows each library to adapt the graphics and fact sheets to match their community’s needs and include their branding, if they so choose.”
This work contributes to San Diego County’s initiatives to counter health misinformation, which are compiled on Supervisor Nathan Fletcher’s website, and also contributes to UC San Diego’s collective impact model, which seeks to foster positive outcomes through widespread collaboration.
Circuit consists of two public libraries (San Diego County Library and San Diego Public Library) and four academic libraries (California State University San Marcos University Library, San Diego State University Library, UC San Diego Library and University of San Diego libraries, including the Helen K. and James S. Copley Library and the Katherine M. and George M. Pardee Jr. Legal Research Center).
Members of the San Diego Health Information Partnership, a collaborative team of library workers led by Circuit, actively contributed to the project. The effort is supported by UC San Diego Health, UC San Diego School of Medicine, UC San Diego Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science and UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. For additional information about this project, visit libguides.sdsu.edu/health/about.
This project is funded by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Cooperative Agreement Number UG4LM013725 with the University of Washington.
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