Intellectual Freedom and Copyright

Fighting fake news: a frank conversation with Nicole A. Cooke

Nicole A. Cooke, a Library Journal Mover & Shaker, believes that the current flood of fake news and dubious information represents a golden opportunity for libraries. Her new ALA Editions Special Report Fake News and Alternative Facts: Information Literacy in a Post-Truth Era shows how librarians can make a difference. In this interview she talks about why information literacy is a key skill for all news consumers.

Information literacy seems to be one of those perpetually timeless topics, and there are dozens of books about it out there already. What motivated you to write this book, and how did you take a fresh approach to the topic?  

I was an academic instruction librarian before becoming faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so I have worked with information literacy strategies for a long time, and I have read many of the books! I am also an information behavior scholar (I.e., how  people seek, avoid, and use information). Information literacy is absolutely a form of information seeking and use which has a particular emphasis on pedagogy, in that we are trying to instruct people how to be better and more efficient information evaluators and consumers. Specifically, I have been long been interested in affective information behavior (how emotions impact people’s information behaviors and patterns).

As fake news reached its fever pitch I saw really intelligent people sharing fake news on social media, not because their intelligence failed them in any way, but because they were personally invested in the message and/or the person/source of the information. Another thing that I noticed is that people shared chart from IFLA showing how to spot fake newsinformation without reading the content, which is a result of trusting a source, but is also indicative of information overload, or being inundated with information and not always knowing how to deal with it our parse it out in such a way that automatically weeds out the bad stuff. The plethora of information also makes it easy to dismiss or avoid information that makes them angry, fearful, frustrated, uncomfortable in any way.

I wrote this book because I wanted to explore the emotional/affective investment people have in the information they consume and share, and see if that exploration can impact how information professionals teach and learn about fake news.

When it comes to strong research and evaluation skills, are there generational differences between kids and their parents?

I think so, but I think kids and their parents have more in common than not, particularly when it comes to the emotional investments in messages or groups, and their capacities to be better and savvier consumers of information. I think the main differences manifest in the mode of delivery and consumption of information – meaning kids likely spend more time online and have many more online sources and apps to consult. Their parents may still be reading newspapers and watching television news and may have a better sense of source credibility. Of course, there are exceptions to all these rules!  

The ease with which many of us are hoodwinked by phony information seems directly tied to the sheer glut of information that bombards us all day long. What advice can you offer to help people be more discerning about what information they consume?

  • Be skeptical and don’t take everything you see at face value. A lot of us are very entranced in filter bubbles and echo chambers (i.e., we so carefully curate our information and social media feeds, we miss a lot of information, including conflicting information). It’s easy to fall into a lull that convinces us that we’re receiving quality information all the time. We need to read more broadly.
  • Take the time to examine the information before absorbing it; question it. Manually inspect the information, as opposed to relying on browser plug-ins and other tools designed to automatically detect fake news.
  • Also, question your reaction to the information. Are you dismissing it because it’s not factual or comes from an unfamiliar source, or because it makes you uncomfortable?

What are a few telltale signs that a “news” story you’re reading online may not be news at all?

  • Extravagant headlines – headlines that use flowery, inflammatory, and/or absolutist words.
  • Ask yourself: have I seen the story anywhere else? Triangulation (finding the story in at least 3 places) can help us determine whether a story is fake.
  • Trust your gut. Does something seem off or unbelievable about the story? Check the date on the story. Ask yourself: do I recognize the website? Is the site overrun with ads?
  • Click the link! Take the time to read the story before sharing it and see what it’s all about. Clickbait headlines usually don’t match the content.
  • If you’re still not sure, check the hoax busting and fact checking sites.

People don’t necessary appreciate being told that the article they just read was actually made up. How book cover for Fake News and Alternative Facts: Information Literacy in a Post-Truth Eracan library staff share methods to help library users think critically about information without offending or irritating them?

I think being proactive is something that will work in our favor here. If we can share informal strategies and techniques for information evaluation (such as displaying the posters and infographics in the back of the report) we can work towards keeping ideas in the forefront of people’s minds. So, the next time they see something questionable, they might remember that dramatic and/or absolutist headlines are fishy, and that might lead them to check the date of the article or look to see if it appears someplace else. Just as we do passive programming, dealing with fake news lends itself to passive education; and we can of course continue to conduct instruction sessions and workshops.

Another way to address this is not to approach susceptibility to fake news as a deficit (e.g., you fell for the hoax because you didn’t know any better); rather, we might approach it from the angle that fake news, misinformation, and disinformation are increasingly sophisticated and are so pervasive, it’s hard to negotiate everything we come across. We’ve all been victims of fake news at one time or another. It’s another area that requires our vigilance and attention.

Learn more in the new ALA Editions Special Report.

Finding answers to legal questions: an interview with Virginia M. Tucker and Marc Lampson

More people than ever are using the library to obtain legal information and legal research advice, and library staff need to be able to serve these users efficiently and confidently. Veteran law librarians Virginia M. Tucker and Marc Lampson just published an update of Finding the Answers to Legal Questions, their benchmark text. We caught up with them to hear their perspective on what's new in the field and to get some handy reference tips.

About seven years elapsed between the first edition and this new second edition. When it comes to legal information, what do you think have been the biggest changes in the landscape?

It appears to us that all law libraries - academic, government, public - continue to cut back on subscriptions to hard copy resources, so people with limited resources for paid, online research are left more and more out of the information cycle, at least for value-added secondary sources. On the other hand, "free" online sources from the federal and state governments have continued to improve in terms of availability, timeliness, reliability, and to some extent, searchability.

In many ways, a legal reference interview can be one of the trickiest interactions library staff can face. Can you offer some tips that staff can use up front to smooth the way for a successful encounter?

Often people think they have a legal problem, in part resolvable by finding the law, when in fact they don't have a problem for which the law can provide a remedy. Conversely, people often do not recognize that at example of an internet search reult for legal resourcesthe root of a life problem is a legal problem. We think this is particularly true in health care sorts of problems. So the first and perhaps trickiest question is to try to verify that the problem the patron is presenting you with is in fact one that can be researched in the law. Once that question is answered, the sailing should be smoother.

In your book, you make it a point to differentiate legal advice from legal information. Why?

The book is directed, at least in part, to librarians or students soon to be librarians. Traditionally, librarians have been prohibited from providing legal advice. A librarian can lead a patron to the source, but not interpret or advise on how to use that source. Therefore, when helping someone with a legal question, a librarian has to keep in mind the distinction between advice and information. Often, the line is clear. Sometimes, it is not.

Marc Lampson: My position as the Public Services Attorney at a public law library was designed to overcome this conundrum because as both lawyer and librarian I could help people not only find the law but work with them, for instance, in finding appropriate documents or forms and filling them out and telling them how to proceed.

Sometimes library staff will realize during an interview that the patron is going to need assistance that’s beyond the purview of the library, such as finding a lawyer or free legal help. What advice can you offer about connecting a patron to these resources? And how can libraries familiarize themselves with the organizations that exist in their communities?

The safest, surest path is to find out if your county has a bar association. County bar associations, at least in more populated areas, will frequently provide free legal clinics for people and will also provide lawyer referrals. These referrals are fairly reliable because they are not motivated by the organization's profit motive, of which there usually isn't one, because these organizations are usually nonprofits. If the county does not have a robust bar association, the next possibility is the state bar association. There will be one in every state. These will not always have lawyer referral services, but will often have searchable lists of active attorneys, sometimes book cover for inding the Answers to Legal Questions, Second Editionsearchable by legal specialty or legal focus of the attorney or firm. A library can familiarize themselves with these organizations through good online searching, but also a number of the legal services organizations in the community may list various agencies in the area that can provide legal assistance. These organization often maintain a website with "Law Help" in the name, often preceded by the name of the state, e.g., Washington Law Help, or just to be contrary Law Help California. If you cannot locate one of these sites for your state quickly and easily, you can track one down by going to Pro Bono Net..

What are some ways librarians can keep up to date with changes in legal information and sources?

Other librarians, always. And any law library/librarian organizations, local and national. Join them. For example, in Marc's area there is the Law Librarians of Puget Sound (LLOPS). Nationally, the "big one" is the American Association of Law Libraries. A "standard" in the field is the Legal Information Buyer's Guide & Reference Manual by Kendall F. Svengalis, available at

Learn more at the ALA Store.

Books hot off the press, Meet the Authors at the ALA Store in Orlando

Located just inside the Shuttle Bus Entrance at the Orange County Convention Center, the ALA Store offers products that meet the widest range of your promotional and continuing education/professional development needs—as well as fun gift items. Make sure to carve out some time in your schedule during the conference to stop by and examine the many new and bestselling items available!

ALA Store hours:

  • Friday, June 24            12:00 pm – 5:30 pm
  • Saturday, June 25       8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Sunday, June 26          8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Monday, June 27        9:00 am – 2:00 pm

ALA Graphics will feature a selection of popular posters, bookmarks, and promotional materials, including new 2016 Teen Read Week and Banned Book Week items. And stop by early to get your pick of conference t-shirts—they sell out fast! We’ll also be introducing several brand new items and exclusive gifts:

  • Libraries Transform Expert Badges
  • CSK Book Award T-shirts
  • CSK Book Award Pashmina (limited quantity and only available at the Conference Store)

ALA Editions and ALA divisions are excited to offer several new titles hot off the press, such as “RDA Essentials,” by Thomas Brenndorfer; “Engaging Babies in the Library: Putting Theory into Practice,” by Debra J. Knoll; and “The Librarian's Nitty Gritty Guide to Content Marketing,” by Laura Solomon. Come by the ALA Store for these special Meet the Author events:

Saturday, June 25      

Sunday, June 26      

Remember that you can now find titles from ALA Neal-Schuman and Facet Publishing in the ALA Store. You can also get free shipping on all book orders placed in the ALA Store (posters, bookmarks, and other gift-type items are not eligible for this offer).

Stop by the ALA Store to learn more about our eLearning opportunities. You can also arrange for a live demo of RDA Toolkit—just contact us by June 20 to request an appointment.

Prices at the ALA Store automatically reflect the ALA Member discount, so there’s no need to dig out your Member number. And remember that every dollar you spend at the ALA Store helps support library advocacy, awareness, and other key programs and initiatives!

Continuing the Conversation: Libraries, Copyright and the World

We just wrapped up the most recent workshop in our Crews on Copyright series with Kenny Crews. Today’s workshop was Open Access and Your Publications: What's Copyright Got to Do with It?. The slides from the event, which contain some fantastic resources, are posted below.

Continuing the Conversation: Open Access and Your Publications: What's Copyright Got to Do with It?

We just wrapped up the most recent workshop in our Crews on Copyright series with Kenny Crews. Today’s workshop was Open Access and Your Publications: What's Copyright Got to Do with It?. The slides from the event, which contain some fantastic resources, are posted below.

Continuing the Conversation: E-Reserves and Fair Use

Untitled Document

We just wrapped up the first workshop in our new series Crews on Copyright with Kenny Crews. Today’s workshop was on E-Reserves and Fair Use. The slides from the event, which contain some fantastic resources, are posted below.

If you’d like to attend the next session, Open Access and Your Publications: What's Copyright Got to Do with It?, please visit the ALA Store to register.

New from ALA Editions: Complete Copyright for K–12 Librarians and Educators by Carrie Russell

ALA Editions is proud to publish Complete Copyright for K–12 Librarians and Educators by Carrie Russell of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy, with illustrations by Jessica Abel.  Here Abel offers some comments on her working process and what goes in to illustrating the ins and outs of copyright issues! 


I’m a cartoonist and a comics educator. But sometimes, I’m also an illustrator. It was in that capacity that, back in—what was it, 2005? I got a call from a design agency called Design Farm to work on a book about copyright law aimed at librarians (Complete Copyright: An Everyday Guide For Librarians). They wanted to use my skills as a cartoonist to develop a set of characters who would be able to act out various challenging scenarios familiar to librarians in a way that was both fun and clear.


I’d long had dealings with great comics-friendly librarians (especially via my comics intro to the idea of graphic novels “What is a Graphic Novel?”), so I knew it was the right approach to take.

It was a great project!  The design director, Jodi Bloom, and especially the writer, Carrie Russell, were fantastic creative partners: always interested in what I had to offer, flexible, and fun. And it was a great bonus for me as a cartoonist, and thus a creator of lots of copyrighted content, to get the chance to understand copyright a bit better myself.



Fast forward to 2008, and I got another call from Carrie, now working on a second volume of this series, aimed at school librarians.

I signed up immediately, and since in this case there is no design firm involved, I was able to have a bit more say in how the illustrations would work. Consistent with my background as a narrative cartoonist, I suggested that the characters not simply appear randomly to illustrate one concept or another, but that the book as a whole have a kind of storyline to it. 



Well, it’s loose, but there is a story, and that made the project very satisfying. It’s a silly little tale of Goofus and Gallant-like librarians struggling with copyright issues in their daily routine, but even so, I got to really have a soft spot for that uptight Lindsey Eagan...


And Carrie, if you're reading this, I'm all geared up for volume 3!

Here’s the fronticepiece of the book in development: it’s a bit more complex than most of the drawings, so there is more prep that goes into it, but the basic idea is the same throughout. 






True Stories of Censorship Battles in America's Libraries: Interview with Valerie Nye and Kathy Barco

ALA Editions recently announced the publication of True Stories of Censorship Battles in America's Libraries, a collection edited by Valerie Nye and Kathy Barco. Intellectual freedom is a core value of librarianship, but fighting to keep controversial materials on the shelves can sometimes feel like a lonely battle. And not all censorship controversies involve the public objecting to a book in the collection—libraries are venues for displays and meetings, and sometimes library staff themselves are tempted to preemptively censor a work.

We were thrilled to see that The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression named this important work their Book of the Month. Their site features this fantastic interview with Barco and Nye. We encourage all of our readers to check it out!

Demystifying Copyright: How to Educate Your Staff and Community

Lesley Ellen Harris will be teaching the ALA Editions eCourse Demystifying Copyright: How to Educate Your Staff and Community beginning on September 12th. You can learn more about the course and register for it at the ALA Store.

In July 2011, in one of her first interviews upon becoming the U.S. Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante was asked by Nate Anderson from ARS Technica if the extra attention caused by increased public interest in copyright had complicated life in the U.S. Copyright Office. Pallante’s response:

“I'm thrilled that more people care about copyright. I graduated from law school in 1990 and copyright was kind of a growing field then—environmental law was also newly hot—and it's only gotten bigger and better since. I do look at it sometimes with amusement; the field I obviously fell in love with right off the bat has gained so much attention.

            But I think it's great that the public is interested. It presents a lot of challenges but a lot of opportunities. I would like to see people respect copyright, I would like to see them know how copyright works, what it means for them in their daily lives.

            It's one of those life skills now, right? When you graduate from high school or college, you should know how to read a map, you should know how to use GPS, you should know a little bit about copyright. If you are somebody who is going to be in a field where you will encounter copyrighted materials all the time, you should know more. If you're going to be an artist or musician and you're getting a red-hot degree in the performing arts, you should know a lot. And I don't think that's quite the case—I don't think it's been built into curricula.”

What is Copyright Education and Why is it Important to you?

Libraries in organizations of all sizes are increasingly responsible for obtaining copyright permissions and providing information about copyright law. An increasing role of libraries as “copyright administrators” is to educate various internal people and departments and sometimes the public too about the basics of copyright laws, compliance with copyright guidelines, and respecting terms and conditions in license agreements.

Librarians who want to be perceived as the YES person for obtaining access to use content must be able to educate their community on copyright and licensing. Yet there is no exact definition of the concept of copyright education.  First, it is important that the copyright education be framed according to the needs of and in the context of your own enterprise. You will then need to be creative in developing and instituting an enterprise-wide education program. Your goals will be to increase the comfort level of staff in applying copyright in day-to-day situations, to lower the risk of employees infringing copyright law, and to lower potential or actual costs relating to copyright infringement.

Information about copyright law should come from a variety of sources from print and online information to discussion groups and seminars, courses and workshops. An online course beginning September 12, 2011 covers the following topics:

  • Understanding the risks of copyright infringement and how to protect your library from lawsuits
  • Understanding the need for copyright compliance nationally and globally
  • Evaluating copyright issues in your library
  • Developing a copyright education plan
  • Assessing materials, content and technology in order to equip an instruction team for your institution
  • Keeping your educational program up to date

Taking an active role in copyright education in your library is a giant step towards copyright compliance and management.

“Demystifying Copyright: How to Educate Your Staff and Your Community” offered by ALA Editions and taught by Lesley Ellen Harris (, a copyright, licensing and digital property lawyer. Online content will be presented over a four-week period with opportunities to post to online discussion boards, complete weekly assignments and activities and discuss your individual questions.

For more information regarding online learning, see

Your advice for on-line learners? By Joshua Kim     

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