Parliamentary libraries are stewards of objectivity and truth for their clients; they were combatting fake news long before that term hit the headlines. In this article, the author explores the concept of fake news, outlines how parliamentary libraries across the country have undertaken initiatives designed to educate their clients and the public about disinformation, and lists some of the procedures researchers in these libraries have adopted to ensure they provide objective and non-partisan information for their communities.
Fake news has been gaining prominence in the media for some years. (1) While fake news is by no means a recent phenomenon, (2) the mutations in traditional media and the popularity of social networks mean that it can proliferate at an alarming rate. Action is so urgent that some countries, like Finland, have launched national campaigns to combat the plague of media illiteracy. (3) Around the world, institutions such as public, academic and school libraries, have undertaken initiatives designed to educate the public about disinformation. In the world of politics, parliamentary libraries play a very important role in the fight against fake news. By providing high-quality documentation and by responding to information and research requests from parliamentarians across the country, legislative libraries in Canada have, for many decades, been helping to protect political decisionmakers from the damage disinformation can cause. The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the services and initiatives that parliamentary libraries in Canada have put in place in order to raise their users' awareness of disinformation and to combat the spread of fake news.
Fake news: some definitions
Before we describe those initiatives, it is important to decide how to define fake news; it is a term that, at first sight, may appear vague and imprecise. According to Bouchra Ouatik, a reporter with the Radio-Canada program Les Decrypteurs, six different types of fake news must be identified:
* Disinformation: information that is intentionally false;
* Malinformation: information that is true only in part, and used incompletely and out of context;
* Misinformation: information that was true but is no longer, or that is true, but in a different context;
* Urban legends: stories that are false, but that have been around for a long time;
* Propaganda: deceptive information provided by a government or interest group;
* Satire: information that is false but used humorously. (4)
Fake news, therefore, comes in different, often complex and insidious forms. Parliamentary libraries in Canada have established various ways of combating the impact. These include organizing information and training sessions, producing quality publications and research tools, prioritizing objectivity and neutrality, verifying facts through the use of reliable sources, and monitoring the quality of the responses to parliamentarians.
Information and training sessions
Parliamentary libraries across Canada provide information and training sessions of all kinds in order to raise their clients' awareness of fake news and to increase their media literacy. For example, the libraries in the legislatures of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Ontario provide training on researching the news and media articles in their databases and the electronic resources in their collections. The federal Library of Parliament offers its users four types of information sessions: one on accessing the reference services, one on assistance to the public, one on searching for information, and one on how to monitor media and the news. The Library of the Assemblee nationale du Quebec provides similar training on the use of its documentary tools, including its databases that allow research on all the debates and journals since 1867. (5)
Information sessions on library services are also held so that parliamentary clients are aware of the extent of the services the institutions provide. In Ottawa, for example, the Library of Parliament has established a Library Ambassador program, which introduces senators, MPs and their staff to the Library's products and services. The Library Ambassadors take information sessions to the...