Learn to Talk Like a Pirate by Sept 19 With the Help of Mango Languages

September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  According to Chase’s Calendar of Events, it is “a day when people everywhere can swash their buckles and add a touch of larceny to their dialogue by talking like pirates: for example, ‘Arr, matey, it be a fine day.’  While it’s inherently a guy thing, women have been known to enjoy the day because they have to be addressed as ‘me beauty.’ Celebrated by millions on all seven continents.”

You can learn more about how two average guys started this holiday on June 6, 1995 on a racquetball court in a YMCA in Albany, Oregon here. It didn’t gain a lot of attention until humor columnist Dave Barry wrote about it in a 2002 article. The rest, as they say, is hist -arrrr-y.

Mango Languages, one of the language learning databases to which the Davenport Public Library subscribes, will be offering lessons on how to talk pirate through Sept 19. To access Mango languages, click here. Or, you can go to www.davenportlibrary.com, click on Research Tools, then Online Resources and scroll down until you get to Mango Languages. You’ll need to create a profile using your library card number. Once you’re in, find the search box (it has a magnifying glass icon next to it) and type “Pirate.” You’ll be taken to a page with options such as:

  • Call Someone Names
  • Express Surprise
  • Give Sailing Commands
  • Greet a Friend or Superior
  • Pay a Compliment
  • Invert the Simple Sentence Structure
  • Understand the Usage of Be
  • Use the 2nd Person Pronoun Ye
  • Use Me as a Possessive

Alas, have a fine day, mateys!

 

 

Meet Maria Nhambu

Last fall I wrote about Maria Nhambu’s memoir, Africa’s Child. You can read my blog about it here. It tells the story of how she grew up as an orphaned, mixed-race child in Tanzania. The first book in the Dancing Soul Trilogy, Africa’s Child is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. It leaves you wondering where she went from there.

I am thrilled to share that the second book, called America’s Daughter, has been published. In it, Nhambu chronicles what it was like for her leaving Africa. She was eighteen years old with a newly-adoptive mother who was barely four years older than her. She found a vastly different culture in America and began building a new life in it.

Laugh and cry with her as she recalls the many differences between Tanzania and Minnesota. She reveres education as her key to escaping a life of poverty and oppression. It is no surprise that she chose a career as an educator (at one point, she taught a soon-to-be famous musician named Prince Rogers Nelson.) Nhambu has a love for music, especially African music. She went on to create a program called Aerobics With Soul. It incorporates African dance into a fitness workout.

Nhambu still spends summers in Minnesota, but lives in Delray Beach, Florida during the winter. Thanks to family ties she has to the Quad Cities, she will be visiting us at Eastern on Saturday, Sept 9 at 10:30am to share her story with us in person. Joining her will be her adoptive mother and sister. Refreshments and copies of her books will be available. If we are lucky, there will be dancing. 😉

Nhambu is a gifted storyteller whose candor has made me cry, then cheer for her. Come meet a fascinating woman whose indomitable spirit has proven that love truly does conquer all.

100 Things Every Homeowner Must Know

The day I first became a homeowner, I felt like a queen.  Little did I know then I would also soon become its plumber. In addition: painter, arborist and electrician  (I installed a programmable thermostat and you can, too!)

I have much respect for professionals in these vocations, and value their expertise. That being said, there are times -often late at night or on the weekends- when a homeowner must take care of things as best they can in a pinch. These are the times you learn things on-the-go that you never knew you needed to know.

To help toward that end, the Library is offering a program called Adulting: Finding and Keeping a Home or Apartment. It will be at Fairmount at 6pm on Tuesday, Sept 12. Our aim is to help you learn some useful information about finding the right place to live for you, and what you’ll likely need to do to keep and maintain it.

We’ll be bringing in experts Melissa Wegener from RE/MAX, Chad Mansfield from IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union, and Cody Eliff from the Davenport Civil Rights Commission to share some things you’ll need to know about the process of becoming queen or king of your own castle. We’ll also have lots of library materials on hand, like 100 Things Every Homeowner Must Know: How to Save Money, Solve Problems, and Improve Your Home.

This is a helpful book, which includes tips on how to:

  • Save on home insurance
  • understand your plumbing system and prevent burst pipes
  • be ready for blackouts
  • understand your heating system
  • prevent home fires
  • eliminate ants, mice, and other pests
  • and much more!

I now share the top 3 things that I learned the hard way after moving in to my castle.

Check it before you wreck it. Find out if you have a sump pit in the basement. A sump pit is a basin (read: hole in the floor) where excess water can go. It is a good thing to have, as it helps prevent flooding in the basement. The sump pit should be equipped with a sump pump to periodically get the water back out. This is done via a hose that goes outside. When outdoor temperatures go below freezing, ice can block the portion of the hose that is still outside. Water will sometimes still find its way into the pit, activating the pump, which is a persistent little thing because if it can’t get the water out the first time it will keep trying and trying until it wears itself out. My household burned through a nearly-new sump pump one winter because we didn’t think to check the hose for ice and remove it. We removed the hose and a powerful surge of water came out of the side of the house, forming a not-so-nice little trench in the yard. To solve this problem, I installed some patio pavers there and that took care of that. Every year I check them and backfill with paver sand. Now, we keep a close eye on the temperatures, taking care to replace the hose once it warms up, because it isn’t ideal to have the pump just spray the water directly out the side of the house.

Lube it before you lose it. Did you know you should spray the moving parts on your garage door with WD-40 or similar lubricant on a monthly basis? Neither did I – until I found myself having to replace a garage door before its natural life span. It had been making a loud noise for a while, but I had no idea what it was. I assumed it was just part of the aging process. (We all make strange noises as we get older, right?) Had I known to regularly check and lubricate my garage door’s moving parts I could have prevented the chain reaction that led to its early demise and saved myself a thousand dollars. Set up a monthly reminder to lube your garage door’s rollers, hinges, track, and spring. Also, check the spring for cracks or signs anywhere of stress. If it doesn’t sound right, get it checked out.

Going skiing? Keep the pipes from freezing! The winter of 2013/2014 was a record-breaker for low temperatures. There were warnings about leaving your water at a steady drip if you were going away for any extended period of time. The frost had reached so far underground (a very rare occurrence) that it was causing the water in many buried pipes to freeze. We didn’t get that memo until it was too late. We returned from a weekend away to find that we had no water to the house. The blockage was located about 75 feet from the house, somewhere between our house and the water main. This went on for nine and a half weeks. You read that right. I was pretty stinky by the end of that time. Just kidding – after about a week of schlepping buckets of water from the neighbor’s house, we temporarily moved in with local relatives, to whom we are forever grateful. In comparison to others in the community that ended up with burst pipes, we feel fortunate because we were spared the huge expense of getting the pipes replaced. All we had to do was wait it out. Throughout the wait, the number one question I remember being asked during that time was, “What are they doing about it?” I think people often assume there is always someone to blame for every problem, someone who should claim responsibility and fix it. In this case, the only “they” was us. Not the water company. Not the city. Just us. But thankfully, we live in a community of people who brought us fresh water and let us borrow their bathroom whenever we needed.

Other things that homeowners I know have learned the hard way:

Change your furnace filter. This is a disposable pleated object made from paper and polyester that you insert at the place on your furnace where the air comes in. Depending on your model, the cost can vary but you can likely get one for about $5. You should replace it four times a year because it can get very full of dust and, if you have pets, dander. If you never replace it with a fresh one, you could be recirculating all that gunk throughout the house. Putting a reminder on your calendar when the seasons change is a good idea. I write the date I installed each filter on the cardboard edge, so I know exactly how long it has been in use.

Check your dryer vent periodically to be sure it isn’t blocked. You should clean the lint screen with each load, but it still doesn’t catch everything. Lint can build up in the ducts leading to the outdoor vent, making your dryer less efficient and raising the risk of a house fire. There are cleaning tools made especially for this task, or you could use your vacuum. For more, read this article from Consumer Reports.

Trim the tree branches so they don’t hang over your gutters and block the flow with fallen leaves & debris. Clean gutters seasonally. If you can’t safely do so on your own, hire a professional. It is worth it because you may prevent costlier repairs in the long run. Blocked water could freeze in the downspouts, causing a split or water overflowing from the gutter could damage your home’s foundation and landscaping.

I’ll now leave you with my personal favorite homeowner tip: When you leave the house in summertime set the AC so it doesn’t run so often when you are gone. At least eighty degrees is a good place to start. In the winter, set it to turn the heat down (no lower than 55 degrees) when you are not home.  If you don’t already have one, you can install a programmable thermostat to automatically do this for you. But it is pretty simple to walk over to the thermostat and do it yourself, too. You just have to remember to do it. If you are wondering, “Doesn’t that just force the furnace or AC to work harder when it comes time to heat or cool the house back to the optimal temperature?” This article explains more about why it is more energy efficient to turn it down while you are gone, rather than leaving it on all day.

Are there any valuable tips about finding and keeping your own home that you have learned? If so, please share them with us!

 

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

I just finished listening to John Darnielle read his book, Universal Harvester, on CD. I am left asking myself, “What just happened?” I liked it. I think I would like to re-read it, this time in print.

The book is about a young man named Jeremy Heldt who works at Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa in the mid-nineties. He is a down-to-earth guy, having lost his mother to a car accident six years prior. As a relatively responsible twentysomething adult, he isn’t sure what to do when he discovers that some videos have been returned with strange footage spliced into them. It is unclear to him whether the scenes are a goof, or if someone is getting hurt and sending out a cry for help. Also, his boss at the video store may or may not have become personally entangled in whatever it is.

I was first drawn to listen to this book because I read in a Booklist review that it is set in small-town Iowa. Not knowing anything about author John Darnielle, I thought, “I want to find out how he portrays an Iowan. I want to hear if he’s going to butcher the way we talk.”  I was admittedly skeptical that I wouldn’t find his portrayal of an Iowan to be silly, maybe a little bit insulting. Often it seems to me that nonnatives perceive us all to be rubes. Sometimes actors portray our manner of speaking in a way that more resembles a southern drawl than the intonation of an actual Iowan. I was pleased to find Darnielle’s main character sounding like some Iowans I know, albeit the ones who have also spent time living out west. This made more sense to me once I looked up a little more about Darnielle online and learned that he grew up in southern California and lived in Portland, Oregon briefly after high school. He did live in some of the Iowa towns where the events in Universal Harvester take place, though it is unclear when and how long.

My opinions of the writer/reader’s dialect aside, this book is a hard one to categorize. Some libraries in our system have classified it as fiction; others put it in the horror section. I am not usually a reader of horror books, and when I realized it was considered that, I thought “Uh oh. What am I getting myself into?” As I got further into the book, I kept bracing myself for something gory or horrifically disturbing. When I think horror, I think gore. However, there isn’t anything terribly gory in this book.

It turns out I was just as mistaken as the folks who think Iowans speak with a drawl. I came across this great article from The Horror Writers Association and learned that horror can take as many forms as the people who read it. After all, not everyone is horrified by the same things. I happen to find gore horrifying, some people are just as horrified by the unknown. Death is perhaps the biggest of the unknowns, but there are also a myriad of other unknowns throughout life.

There are many unknowns in Universal Harvester. If you like a plot that gets neatly tied up at the end, this book is not for you. However, if you appreciate great writing and a story well-told that makes you think and ask questions, then you should check this book out. It would be a great book club selection, because there is plenty here to explore and discuss. (In fact, if you know me, please read this book so we can talk about the details together! I’m still not sure what just happened.)

Next, I am going to check out some Mountain Goats CDs. The author of this book is in a band called the Mountain Goats, and he has been hailed as one of the best living lyricists. Judging by his novel writing ability, I’d say that’s likely a fair assessment. Happy reading and/or listening!

Pogue’s Basics by David Pogue

Journalist David Pogue has written a series of books sharing some tips and tricks to make life easier.  I started with the ironically titled Pogue’s Basics. Life : Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying Your Day.   Some critics say they already know this stuff. Good for those geniuses. As for the rest of us, there are some very useful things to pick up in Pogue’s books.

For instance: you can tell whether your upcoming exit from the interstate will be on the left or the right by the placement of the exit number on the sign. If exit is on the left, the little sign displaying the exit number will be on the top left. If exit is on the right – you guessed it- the little exit number sign will be on the right. There is a helpful picture in the book that best explains this. This knowledge helped me navigate with aplomb on a recent trip to Chicago.

Another useful tidbit I took from it was the tip on placing my vehicle’s key fob up against my neck fat when attempting to unlock it from across the parking lot. It will unlock from a greater distance, and can be useful during those times when you forgot exactly where you parked. Pogue says this technique works because the fluids in the head act as a great conductor. I say it’s nice to know my neck fat is good for something.

Pogue’s suggestion for getting a lost dog back: place a toy and/or blanket with the scent of home on it outdoors, near where the pet was last seen. Leave it there for 24 hours. The pet will most likely follow his or her nose back toward it. I hope you never need this particular piece of information.

There are lots more suggestions that you’ll just have to check the book out to learn. If you like this book, you might also like Pogue’s Basics. Tech: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying the Technology in Your Life. It will tell you, among other things, what to do when your cell phone falls into the toilet. You can thank me for this recommendation later. Preferably not with a handshake.

Astronomy Photographer of the Year: Prize-Winning Images by Top Astrophotographers

Take a deep breath – then, open this book. Astronomy Photographer of the Year : Prize-winning Images by Top Astrophotographers will transport you.

Every year since 2009, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, England hosts an Astronomy Photographer of the Year Competition. Entries are collected in the spring. Winning exhibitions are displayed at the Royal Observatory September to June. This book is a compilation of the best from the first six years of that contest.

It is hard to believe these images were not captured by the Hubble telescope, but rather by amateur astrophotographers on earth. Flip through the pages of this heavy book and find eyeball-shaped nebula staring back at you from a background of innumerable stars. Feel a shiver as you take in an image of a snowy night with Aurora Borealis coloring the sky in purple and green. Ponder how tiny you are compared to all the galaxies out there. It always fills me with wonder to see images of galaxies and nebulae that resemble eyes or other body parts. I think the one displayed on the cover of this book looks rather like a heart, don’t you?

Some photos, such as the ones tracing the sun’s position in the sky over nearly a year made me wonder aloud, “How did they capture that?!?” The collection is even more remarkable when you consider that some contest entries were submitted by people who have only been practicing astronomy photography less than a year. There are special categories for those who have not entered the competition before, as well as a youth category for ages 15 and younger. You can learn more about the contest at the Royal Museums website.

 

Life Unstyled: How to Embrace Imperfection and Create a Home You Love

If you enjoy perusing images of eclectic home furnishings used in creative ways, have I got a book to recommend to you!  Life Unstyled: How to Embrace Imperfection and Create a Home You Love by Emily Henson is filled with a wealth of full-color photos sharing the unique ideas of homeowners from varying parts of the world.

I like it because it left me with a feeling of validation of what I have always believed at the core: a home need not be a polished display of swanky décor to be great. It can be so much more gratifying to make your space uniquely your own, conforming to your way of being rather than try to live up to a magazine perfect ideal. After all, shouldn’t a home tell a story about the personality and life experiences of its residents?

Another thing I like about this book is that you don’t need an overabundance of time or money to borrow ideas from it and modify or incorporate them into your current living space. True, some of the homes pictured in the book are owned by buyers for textile or furnishings companies. I’m sure that definitely helps them gain access to the goods. But I think you will find that whatever your profession or station in life, there is a spark of an idea waiting inside this book somewhere for you.

If you are reading this blog, you are likely a fan of libraries and books. Let me share two ideas that will delight the book lovers. The first (pictured on the left) is featured in a warehouse-turned-residence in London. The owner has archive shelves (much like the kind used in our very own Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Department.) Here, they are used to divide the bedroom and the kitchen. They store everything from clothing to kitchen crockery and everything in between. You can see from the photo that the metal panels on the side are employed to display lots of pictures and artwork. Feel free to fall in love with this idea like I did,  just don’t ask me how to get rolling archive shelves into your home!

The second idea for book lovers is the vertical shelf featured in a bedroom (below). It looks like a floor-to-ceiling stack of books, but there are shelves in the middle of it all keeping it (hopefully) stable. This idea could be done relatively easily and cheaply in a variety of ways. Your imagination (and ceiling) would be the limit.

Happy home decorating! I’ll leave you with this quote: “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
― Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

Little People, Big Dreams

I happened upon a charming series of books for children called Little People, Big Dreams. (Not to be confused with the TV series Little People, Big World.) These are picture book biographies of notable figures from different parts of history. I loved reading them and learning more about the protagonists along with my children. The depictions of the heroines are captivating and, although they do not all have the same author and illustrator, they share an endearing similarity in style – large, round faces and colorful attire and settings.

I first read Frida Kahlo to my kindergartener. He came up with so many follow-up questions, I soon realized I didn’t know as much about this famous artist as I would like. I mentioned this to a friend and she insisted I should see the 2002 film Frida starring Salma Hayek as the title character and Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera. I did (alone), and enjoyed the sensual interpretation of the artist’s life.

Then an idea occurred to me. Wouldn’t it be nice to read a bedtime story for the kids and after they are fast asleep, read or watch something more adult on the topic? You know how a wine will sometimes be suggested that pairs well with your food? Couldn’t we do that with the books we read, as well? With that thought in mind, here are some recommendations you might want to try.

In Maya Angelou, author Lisbeth Kaiser and illustrator Leire Salaberria present to children the difficult topics of racism, domestic and sexual abuse, and mental health sensitively. Don’t let the fact that this book covers a difficult childhood deter you from reading aloud to your little ones what is a very inspiring story. Angelou’s story is, ultimately, one of hope. Most of us are aware of Angelou’s prolific career as a writer and civil rights activist, but how many knew her as a cook, streetcar conductor, dancer, singer, and world traveler? Share this inimitable woman’s story with the children in your life. Then on your own, read her classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings if you haven’t already done so (or even if you have, it may be time for a re-read). Also, listen to Angelou read her poetry in the book on CD entitled Black Pearls: The Poetry of Maya Angelou. I’d recommend the kids not be within listening range of this one, as there are vulgarities in it.

 

I will be the first to admit I am not a couture kind of gal (my style would more aptly be described as thrift store eclectic). Still, I enjoyed learning about Coco Chanel in the book written by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Ana Albero. Tired of seeing her contemporaries unable to breathe in their tight corsets, she designed clothing that was looser and easier to wear while dancing. She also designed hats and, of course, let’s not forget about the perfume. For more on the life of the woman once known as Gabrielle Chanel, you may wish to check out the 139-minute DVD Coco Chanel, a 2008 made-for-TV movie starring Barbora Bobulova as the young Chanel and Shirley MacLaine as old Chanel. You may also enjoy the coffee table style book Chanel: Collections and Creations by Daniele Bott. With 159 illustrations, it goes into delightful detail on Coco’s unique styles. My favorite was the chapter on the Camellia flower, which is pictured on the cover. Other chapters detail ‘The Suit’, ‘Jewelry’, ‘Fragrance & Beauty’, and ‘The Black Dress.’

All the suggested children’s books are from the Little People, Big Dreams series.There are more books in this series and you can find all the ones the library owns by doing a series search for Little People Big Dreams. If you have favorite books or movies that you think go together like Chardonnay and Gruyere, please let us know.

 

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (DVD)

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World is a documentary DVD that explores the influence of the internet on human life.

It begins by following internet pioneer Leonard Kleinrock into a room on the UCLA campus where the first internet communication took place at 10:30pm on Oct 29, 1969, between UCLA and Stanford Research Institute. Kleinrock describes the moment he began typing the very first internet message, “Login.” Before he could complete it, the computer system crashed, and the first message transmitted by the internet turned out to be “Lo” – thus the movie’s name.

Danny Hillis, an American inventor and computer scientist, describes the phone book he owned back in the early days of the internet. It contained the names of everyone on the internet. Can you imagine a directory of everyone on the internet today? It is estimated it would be 72 miles thick.

Director Werner Herzog takes us to Stanford Dept of Robotics, where we learn how the discovery of biomolecule patterns was enhanced by the creation of a crowdsourced video game called EteRNA. Crowdsourcing, as defined by Wikipedia (itself a famous example of crowdsourcing) is “to divide work between participants to achieve a cumulative result.” In this case, a videogame played by a multitude of interested laypeople -“lawyers, grandmas, students, bedridden people” contributed in useful ways to the collective knowledge base about RNA (Ribonucleic Acid), which is present in all living cells. Crowdsourcing has been used in a variety of other ways for the common good. In addition to Wikipedia, another well-known example of crowdsourcing is crowdfunding, the collection of funds from a crowd (for example, Kickstarter). If you would like to learn more about how you can be similarly involved in contributing to the universe of knowledge (sometimes even by playing video games!) see this list of crowdsourcing projects.

While at Stanford, Herzog takes us to Professor of Computer Science and director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab, Sebastian Thrun, who is designing self-driving cars. He addressed the concern for safety of self-driving cars by saying, “When a computer makes a mistake, it learns from it, along with all the other computers (in use and unborn.) When a human makes a mistake, just that one person learns from it.” He shares a fascinating anecdote about a certain class he taught to 200 students enrolled at Stanford. He was able to offer the same course online to interested members of the general public. Over 1000 people signed up for the online class. When he tested them, he found that the best Stanford student ranked 412th among all the students combined. From this he said he learned that for every one great Stanford student, there are 412 better out there in the world who couldn’t or didn’t go to Stanford.

Then, we are presented with some particularly dark sides of the internet. The family of Nikki Catsouras shares their story, explaining why they no longer use email or the internet. Nikki died in a car accident in 2006 when she was 18 years old. Gruesome photos of her decapitated body were posted online shortly after the accident. Then, the family began receiving anonymous emails containing the photos, one with the caption “Woohoo Daddy! Hey daddy, I’m still alive.” The Catsouras family deeply lamented the lack of accountability on the internet.

What would today’s landscape be like without the internet? We find out more about that by visiting Green Bank, West Virginia, home of a telescope 100 meters in diameter that picks up radio waves from outer space. To eliminate interference with the radioastronomy project, all wireless transmissions are disabled within a 10 mile radius. The area has become a haven for people who experience severe physical reactions to being in the presence of radio waves. Diane Schou and Jennifer Wood describe their lives before they moved to Green Bank. They spent all their time inside Faraday cages –  boxes named for the 19th century scientist Michael Faraday, designed to shield their contents from electromagnetic fields. Some regard their condition as a supersense. They regard it as a nightmare.

We visit an internet addiction treatment center near Seattle, Washington where we hear the personal stories of some clients. We learn about a South Korean couple who were imprisoned for allowing their newborn daughter to starve to death while they were consumed with playing a video game. Ironically, it was a game in which they were nurturing an electronic baby.

Adler Planetarium astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz tells us about large solar flares called Carrington Events, which have the power to disable communications and create widespread power outages, and how we could see the next powerful solar event soon. We are given a glimpse of what that might look like from footage of a recent, relatively small-scale blackout in New York City. Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss warns “if the internet shuts down, people will not remember how they lived before that.”

Famous hacker Kevin Mitnick is interviewed about the methods he employed to gain access to secured information. He goes into detail about how he manipulated weaknesses in cybersecurity systems, noting that he always found them in the people, not the systems.

In the final third of the documentary, the possible future of Artificial Intelligence is explored. Entrepreneur Elon Musk, who made a fortune through PayPal, talks about the rockets he is launching into space, and his goals of creating a colony on Mars in case Earth becomes unlivable.

Marcel Just and Tom Mitchell, brain scientists at Carnegie Mellon postulate on whether or not it is possible for computers to dream.

The Wikipedia Emergency Project is described. It is a plan that people should print out hard copies of the information found on its website and store them somewhere our heirs can find them should a catastrophic planetary event occur.

The documentary prompted much thought, and left me with so many questions the first time around, I eagerly watched it a second time a couple of weeks later, after I gave myself some time to let the ideas rattle around in my mind for a while. If you like to explore multiple sides of issues relating to the past, present, and future of technology I would recommend you watch Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World.

 

 

 

Fake News – What It Is and How to Evaluate It

There is a lot of talk in the U.S. and around the world right now about fake news. What, exactly, is fake news? Generally, fake news is information that is wholly or partially made up, but designed to look like an authentic news report and to attract lots of attention – often resulting in advertising revenue. It often appeals to the strong emotions of its targeted audience.

Oxford Dictionary acknowledged its influence by announcing the 2016 word of the year: post-truth, an adjective, defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

I think we should all exercise caution especially when dealing with those stories that do cause an emotional reaction. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is fake news (just because you don’t like the message doesn’t mean it is fake news) but it can be a red flag that the story merits double-checking with additional sources. Seek those not related to the first source where you encountered it.

Here are some websites that you can use to evaluate news sources:

The Media Bias/Fact Check news website has a search bar on its main page where you can type in the name of a news source and retrieve a scale that attempts to qualify how far to the left or right that news source typically leans. They maintain a list of questionable sources. The website also has a list of what is generally accepted to be the least biased news sources, which you can find here. MBFC explains their methodology and acknowledges that no evaluation is 100% without bias. Check out the list – you may learn about a new source that you will want to make a habit of checking on a regular basis. I’ll admit the ads are bothersome, but it is how they pay to keep the site running.

FactCheck.org is one source you can use to double-check information. Facebook recently announced that it is partnering with this source to help identify and flag fake news circulated on its platform. FactCheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. According to their website, their mission is “to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics…Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.” This site is primarily focused on U.S. politics. During election years, they will report on the accuracy of what is aired on political TV ads and in debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.

Another source to verify political information is Politifact.com, self-described as “an independent, nonpartisan news organization… not beholden to any government, political party or corporate interest.” They have a long history, which you can read about here. The system of evaluation they use is called the Truth-o-meter, which ranges from “Truth” on one end to “Pants on Fire” on the other. They have a newsletter to which you can subscribe if you wish to receive information updates on the latest fact-checks. They are also partnering with Facebook to help flag fake news when it is shared.

For information that covers a broader array than politics, Snopes.com can be helpful. I like the search option at the top of the page where you can easily type in any keywords and retrieve information on rumors and urban legends. It began in 1995 and has become a well-known online source for debunking falsehoods or verifying facts with evidence.

As an information professional, I encourage people to take some time to verify information sources before accepting them as completely true. When presented with information in any form, take care to ask yourself these questions:

 

  • Who wrote/originally said this? Is the author clearly identified? What else has the author written and has it been disputed in any way?
  • What is this? Is it a presentation of facts? An opinion piece? An advertisement?
  • When was it written? Is there new information available that could shed more light on or take the place of this information?
  • Where was the information gleaned? Was the person reporting it actually a witness to the events reported? Is there data/photos to back it up and are the sources cited? Are there quotes from others in the know and are they relevant to the topic being reported?
  • Why did the author write this? Is it designed to entertain, to influence my purchases or affect my decisions in a certain way?

 

We at the library want to help you build awareness about information and what it is designed to do. Not all information is presented to simply inform. Much of the information we are deluged with on a daily basis is designed to influence. That is not necessarily bad, but we all need to be aware of how information influences us. Likewise, we need to acknowledge our own personal biases and be honest and gracious with ourselves and others that they exist.

I invite you to learn more about this topic by attending a panel discussion about fake news, hosted at the Eastern Avenue branch library on Monday, Feb. 6th at 6:30 pm. The event is free of charge and refreshments will be provided. Please come with questions for our panelists, which include representatives from local television, print and radio news sources as well as writers and educators in the field of journalism. Visit our webpage for more details.