Separating Fact from Fiction

People often ask me, “They still have librarians? Isn’t it all on the internet?”

I respond to these questions that, as a librarian, part of my job is simply getting people to believe that they can’t necessarily trust what they read on the internet.

The coronavirus crisis reminds me continually of the importance of librarians and how much work we still need to do to help others see that, too.

An Infodemic

The World Health Organization has used the term infodemic” to describe the flood of inaccurate information about the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 that can make it difficult for people to find the information they need. Social networking is playing a major role in spreading this misinformation: according to CNN, this problem has gotten so bad that WhatsApp Messenger (a text and voice app) have had to limit the amount of times a message can be forwarded to one in order to slow the spread of false information.

a woman wearing a mask looking at an image on a laptop
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

Combating the Infodemic

Librarians have been sharing tools to combating misinformation for years, and these tools are as key to combating the coronavirus infodemic — after all, the information literacy skills taught by librarians are meant to go beyond the classroom. They are life skills, and if there was ever a time to apply those skills, this is it.

A key information literacy concept is seeking authoritative information. This means that the person or organization providing information is an expert in the topic he or she is commenting on. In the case of the coronavirus, an appropriate person to provide medical information would be a doctor who is a specialist in infectious diseases and epidemiology, and an example of an authoritative organization is the World Health Organization (WHO) or The Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Mythbusting Websites

It can be hard to sort out incorrect information on your own. Below are some websites that can help you debunk coronavirus/COVID-19 myths and rumors:

Snopes.com is a well-known website devoted to exposing disinformation. This includes discussing the validity of myths relating to COVID-19. It can be accessed at https://www.snopes.com/

Brandon Harrington, Library Assistant at Starrett City has created an excellent Fake News LibGuide. Addition fact checking websites listed there are:

A Ray of Hope

Beyond these authoritative resources, we can look to well-qualified people to connect us with accurate information, too. Someone I have come to respect throughout the coronavirus crisis has been Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

As a librarian, I appreciate that he answers questions by stressing the importance of making decisions based on quality data, rather than on personal beliefs, assumptions, or anecdotal information. The peer-reviewed studies he praises are the same type of studies we help our students and faculty find every day.

doctor anthony fauci
Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health (NIH). Credit: NIH

Conclusion

While the coronavirus crisis has led to a flood of misinformation, we hope you find this post helps you find ways to separate the fact from fiction and to find accurate voices to listen to — and know that you can always call on a librarian for help.

This post was contributed by Michael Kahn, Librarian, Touro College School for Lifelong Education

References

ACRL. (n.d.). Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework

FactCheck. (2020). https://www.factcheck.org/

Gold, H. (2020, April 7). WhatsApp tightens limits on message forwarding to counter coronavirus misinformation. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/07/tech/whatsapp-misinformation-forward-limit/index.html

Harrington, B. (2020, February 13). Fake News: How to spot Fake News. [LibGuide]. http://libguides.tourolib.org/fakenews

PolitiFact. (n.d.). https://www.politifact.com/

Quinnipiac University. (n.d.). April 8, 2020 – Fauci, governors get highest marks for response to coronavirus, Quinnipiac University National Poll finds; Majority say Trump’s response not aggressive enough. https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=3658

The Washington Post Fact Checker. (n.d.). https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/?utm_term=.24060580321d

United Nations. (n.d.). UN tackles ‘infodemic’ of misinformation and cybercrime in COVID-19 crisis. https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/un-tackling-%E2%80%98infodemic%E2%80%99-misinformation-and-cybercrime-covid-19

Staying Balanced on the Hyphen

This blog post contains discussions of bipolar disorder. If you are in crisis or you think you may have an emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area at any time (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). If you are located outside the United States, call your local emergency line immediately.

Do you know someone with a mental illness? Someone who is considered neuroatypical, whose brain works differently than most people?

Perhaps you know someone with bipolar disorder, as “an estimated 2.8% of U.S. adults had bipolar disorder in the past year.” (The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center, 2017) Or you know someone who has this disease and you don’t know it — someone who, as I put it, is “staying balanced on the hyphen”. This might be someone who works very hard on a daily basis to stay within a “normal” range of emotions and not give into the manic highs and deep lows of the illness.

one woman comforting another woman
Image by Serena Wong from Pixabay

Bipolar disorder is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as “a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks” (The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center, 2020). It is characterized by extreme see-sawing moods, from “extremely ‘up,’ elated, irritable, or energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very ‘down,’ sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes)” (The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center, 2020). Continue reading

The New Meaning of “Shelter in Place”

For the first time in the history of Chicago Animal Care and Control, the shelter has run out of dogs to adopt — and Chicago is not the only place in the United States seeing an uptick in animal adoptions and fostering since the coronavirus outbreak began.

In New York City and Los Angeles, the ASPCA says its applications for dogs and cats are up 200%. Nationwide, the statistics are even more promising. Petpoint, a software program that monitors 1,200 animal shelters across the country, found that adoptions are up 700% this year compared to 2019. Why the increase in pet adoptions and fostering since the coronavirus outbreak? It seems that sheltering in place, social media appeals, and the need for companionship are all driving this trend.

a cat and a dog cuddling outside
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

With stay-at-home orders in place across the country, many animal shelters are suspending operations. The temporary closure of shelters is leaving many animals vulnerable to not receiving adequate care. Furthermore, adoption events that usually bring in potential pet parents are being cancelled or postponed due to social distancing guidelines. The situation has caused shelter workers and volunteers to reach out on social media over the past month to ask the public for help by adopting shelter animals. If people are unable to adopt, shelters are asking them to foster animals temporarily until the shelters can reopen in the future.

In addition to being a platform for shelters to appeal directly to the public for help, social media has also been used to form virtual adoption communities and host online events. Since many live adoption events have been cancelled, some shelters are using Facebook Live to showcase adoptable pets online to people across the country. This method has given animals more exposure to a larger audience than traditional live events, which, in turn, is bringing in more potential adopters. Social media has also allowed rescue organizations across the country to work together in order to bring animals from one region to another. This has been very helpful since some areas of the country have a surplus of animals and others have a surplus of interested adopters and foster applicants. 

young kittens in a cat bed
Image by Helga Kattinger from Pixabay

Americans are responding to these social media activities in droves. The response seems to have grown out of both a sense of compassion toward the animals in need and a desire that many Americans have to help out others in a time of crisis to “try and do their part.” This response is also likely the result of the companionship that pets can provide in this anxious time. Taking care of pets provides consistency and routine for people who are not used to living under these new restrictions. In a time of social distancing, pets give people a sense of comfort and connection. They are giving people activities to engage in, too, whether that is going outside to walk the dog — while practicing social distancing — or having online meetings with other pet owners. The benefits to both humans and animals has been great and is something to cherish during this stressful time.

This post was contributed by Annette Carr, Librarian at the School of Health Sciences at Bay Shore

References

Beck, M., & McFetridge, S. (2020). Coronavirus in US: Pet fostering takes off as COVID-19 keeps Americans home. Retrieved from https://abc7ny.com/6077028/

Chicago animal care and control runs out of adoptable dogs for 1st time ever. (2020). Retrieved from https://abc7chicago.com/6082614/

Fies, A. (2020). People and pets help each other through coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/Health/people-pets-coronavirus-pandemic/story?id=69949246

Jeunesse, W. L. (2020). Pet adoptions, fostering spike amid coronavirus restrictions. Retrieved from https://www.foxnews.com/us/pet-adoptions-and-fostering-spike-during-coronavirus

Lessons from Pandemics in Jewish History

It may feel like our current crisis is completely unprecedented, but the truth is that we can look to history for evidence of what has happened before and how people have survived pandemics. Jewish and biblical history hold valuable insights into our present situation. 

Examples of Pandemics from the Bible

When King David conducted a census of the population, he ordered the counting of the people directly, instead of counting indirectly by means of half shekels (mahazit ha-shekel). As a result, the Rabbis tell us, a plague took place which killed 70,000 people, with 100 people dying each day.

It was decreed that the plague would be annulled if 100 brachot, or blessings, were recited each day. The Rabbis explain that since 100 people died each day from the plague, the recitation of 100 blessings a day would counteract midah kineged midah, or measure for measure (see Midash Rabba – Numbers 18:17; Tur 46, quoting Rav Netrunoi Gaon).

headofkingdavid
Head of King David, ca. 1145. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In another instance, we find the terror of plagues in Leviticus 26:25, which states, “And I will bring the sword upon you… and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you.” In yet another example, Ezekiel 7:15 states, “The sword is without and the pestilence and the famine within,” and, beyond that, the Philistines’ capture of the ark was said to cause a plague of hemorrhoids.

Examples of Rabbinic Responses

What remedies have Rabbis suggested over the ages to defend against epidemics?

The Talmud mentions the efficacy of offering prayers, particularly Tehillim (Psalms). If the situation does not allow large gatherings, then synchronized prayer, done at the same time in private domains, is effective.

This is also the theory behind daf yomi, developed by Rabbi Meir Shapiro. Jews around the world each study a page (daf) of the Talmud, the central text from which Jewish law is derived.

Being in quarantine or self-isolation at this time may give you more time to study, so you might like to keep in mind the elixir of old given by Rabbis for remedying not only physical illness, but also spiritual illness (refuat ha-nefesh ve refuat ha-guf). The Chofetz Chaim urges the study of laws regarding slander and gossip that are believed also to curb the onset of plague and  warns against causing harm psychologically of persons by “meanspeak“, embarassing person in public, and otherwise causing harm to individuals You might also like to learn about ethical principles which can be applied to the internet, as you interact with others in our digital world.

read-3566317_1920
Image by Darelle from Pixabay

Conclusion

Wiping out this pandemic requires basic respect for life as the ultimate good, respect for human dignity, and great doses of humility, compassion, and above all, care for the sanctify of life.

Ultimately we must recognize that the ways of G-d are beyond human logic. We can look to history to understand how humans have reacted in the past, but only time will tell how we react to our current challenge. Keeping in mind these lessons, we can help others along the way.

This article was contributed by David B. Levy, Chief Librarian at the Lander College for Women

Information in this post was drawn from yeshiva.org.il Wiki pagesThe Black Death by Robert S. Gottfried, and Biblical and Talmudic Medicine by Julius Preuss, translated by Fred Rosner.

How I’m Making Working From Home Work For Me

 

image of woman working on a laptop at a desk
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Working from home might seem like a fantastic thing: no commute, no fighting traffic, no struggling to get up early, and no need to switch from your PJs to real clothes. But it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Waking Up

Yes, it is exciting that you can sleep in a bit later, but I swear it makes getting up harder. My body is pre-programmed to wake up at 6:30 a.m. every day, but now, I wake up and hit snooze or wake up later and feel groggy as anything. I haven’t been late for my usual start time, but I’ve cut it closer than ever before and logged in at 7:29 a.m. (This is in contrast to my usual habit of arriving at the building at 7:15 a.m.!)

Getting Dressed

While staying in my PJs seemed like such a wonderful option, I decided on casual clothes instead (jeans and a t-shirt), because I wanted to stay in a work frame of mind. Being in my usual work clothes motivates me to stay productive, while I think that if I had stayed in my PJs, I would have wanted to get back in bed and go to sleep.

Commute and “Traffic” Jams

It might seem like I’d have an easy commute — a few steps out of the bedroom, up the stairs, down a hall and into the computer room — that takes what, maybe 3 minutes?

Well, that’s not the case when you have cats.

No one told my cats that I’d be working from home, and it turns out that they have their own ideas about my “walk to work.” First, there was trying to get up the stairs as Bowie, my wonder kitty and ever-present pal, decided it was time for a petting session on the landing of the stairs. It took two or three minutes until his majesty was satisfied enough to let me pass.

At the top of the stairs, I found Romeo, our lovely boy and belly rub king, who also flopped over and demanded pets before he let me pass.  Finally, I was accosted by Auggie the ninja cat as I opened the door to try to get out of the room; she nearly knocked me over.

All-in-all, what I thought would take me just a few, quick steps, took me about five minutes.

Bringing the Library Home

Being able to log onto our chat reference service from home allowed me to provide reference and research support virtually, and to assist our students with their needs, just like I would have if I was in the library with them.  Although I wouldn’t have been able to physically get them a book if they needed one or to grab a physical copy of the latest journal, this luckily didn’t come up in my questions.

I have also been able to work on this blog and to start reviewing books for our collection, some of the tasks I would normally work on library.

plant and book on table with window in the background
Image by janexieok from Pixabay

All in all, I believe my work from home experience has been a success so far — despite the fluffy traffic jams and a desire to stay in bed. I am thankful that, in this trying time, Touro College is looking out for its students and employees. Level heads will prevail and we will be back to normal before we even know it!

In the meantime, we have collected many resources for students, faculty, and staff to support them during this time:

We are still supporting our community virtually! Please contact us if you need help from home: https://www.tourolib.org/contact

This post was contributed by Heather Hilton, Librarian, Bay Shore