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Round Earth, circular reasoning: Library Information Technology students confirm Earth is round in flat earth discussion

In a world of information overload, library professionals are an invaluable asset in the struggle to separate truth from fiction.

On Oct. 2, SAIT Library Information Technology students led an open discussion in the Reg Erhardt Library, titled “A Flat Earth? A Discussion About Extraordinary Claims,” which examined information literacy in the digital age.

The discussion was focused on media and opinion surrounding flat Earth theory, which affirms that the physical manifestation of our planet is a level plane, rather than the spheroid we all know and love.

Flat Earth theory was the perfect subject to get students to enjoy the library space, explore an outrageous topic, and discuss the wider implications of the dissemination of dubious information, said SAIT library technician and student engagement assistant Pablo Zanetta.

“I was brainstorming for a topic that could get people pulled in, interested, and pull up a lot of issues surrounding the library world, library professionals, and dovetailing it to a discussion surrounding censorship and fake news,” said Zanetta.

“It just hit me – ‘that’s the perfect topic’.”

The discussion covered issues like how to assess the credibility of a source, why people might be attracted to outlandish claims, and whether such viewpoints are potentially valuable – or dangerous.

The job of library professionals to help isolate real evidence from the false or misleading is increasingly important due to the sheer amount of information being produced and spread, explained Zanetta. 

“In the 16th century, if you were a polyglot, you could potentially read everything in the library – everything that exists in terms of knowledge.

“Now, that information can fit on a thumb drive.”

Beyond the total number of bytes in existence, wading through knowledge is also complicated by the increasing number of mediums in which information exists, said Zanetta.

Flat earth? not a chance. City lights sprawl across Earth’s very much rounded surface. A constant glow hovers in the upper atmosphere. Beyond Earth, starlight fills in the darkness of the cosmos. (Photo by NASA’s Earth Observatory/NASA)

“Today there are so many other types of resources, like video games, movies, and journals.”

Technology has also allowed sources that were once obscure or inaccessible to now be viewable with just a few clicks on a smartphone.

“Collections that have been digitized [are] now accessible to the rest of the world, as opposed to having to go some dusty library in Italy.”

While library professionals somewhat act as gatekeepers of information, their job really is to facilitate information transfer by pointing patrons in the right direction and helping them weigh the pros and cons of each source, explained Zanetta.

“We must have some ability to evaluate information, and not necessarily pass judgement on them, but be able to say this resource is more authoritative compared to this other resource, but here are both of them.”

While an authoritative encyclopedia may be preferable as a source for a term paper as it can be sourced and cited, the corresponding Wikipedia article is valuable as a place to determine the keywords for a literature search strategy, he explained.

An in-depth look into the primary sources surrounding Flat Earth theory uncovered the fallacious and nonsensical basis of the dogma, said library information technology student Morwan Eldoma.

“The resources [we examined] surrounding the Flat Earth theory contained obvious misinformation, and a misunderstanding of certain accepted sciences.”

“The danger of that misunderstanding is that it can lead to the widespread belief of something that is clearly wrong – leading to ignorance, which is a problem.”

Information literacy starts with knowing what information is available, said Eldoma.

“Students should be aware of what resources are available at the library and on the library website, and how to use them in an effective way for what they want to find out.”

Information literacy is aided by possessing a broad knowledge base, which one can develop just by reading fiction, and not just via more technical sources like textbooks, said library information technology student Trinity Martin.

“While fiction doesn’t necessarily contain hard facts, it can help you read between the lines more.”

While the discussion covered a myriad of topics, Zanetta went on a tangent relating to ever-changing claims about the impacts of certain foods or supplements on human health, and how making the wrong choices based on misleading or incorrect sources can have dire consequences.

“If you don’t have the right information you can make some decisions that are detrimental to you,” said Zanetta.

“Information can be life or death.”

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