Libraries and Accurate Information about the Coronavirus

Before you share that article, consider checking with your local librarian for accurate sources of information.

Your local library is a fantastic community resource, offering a safe, trusted and welcoming space for all. Libraries are ideally-placed to play a role in the national response to the Coronavirus and COVID-19 and to help you find accurate information so that you can look after yourself, friends, family and colleagues.

Libraries: Open for information

Your local library is a great place to turn for information about COVID-19, the disease caused by the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

In the case of a public health situation like the COVID-19 outbreak, your local library is especially beneficial because it is local. Libraries have a long history of working with local public health officials, Charities and 3rd sector organisations to provide the public with timely and accurate information. Rather than sharing unattributed or un-sourced online resources, you should always turn to your librarian as a source of accurate information that you can rely on and share with confidence.

If you don’t know where your local library is, just Google it! All public libraries provide good information about their location, services and opening hours online.

Depending on local measures put into place as the situation develops, some changes to library opening hours and activities may be required, but online services like medical databases, eBooks, digital audiobooks, will still be accessible with a library card allowing you to find credible information and even entertainment.


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Making sense of the science

Librarians can help the public navigate the potentially confusing world of health information. There are lots of resources available via the NHS website and the Government’s own advisory service.

NHS 111 has set up an immediate-response COVID-19 advice service which you can access online.

Unfortunately, there are also lots of myths and misinformation online, which can mean that people ignore the authoritative advice being provided by scientists and public health officials in favour of remedies that can be ineffectual or even downright harmful. If you have any concerns or need any help navigating the thousands of resources that have sprung up, talk to your librarian!

If you want to delve further into the science behind efforts to combat COVID-19, there’s an invaluable resource called Access to Research which you can access using your library card. Featuring thousands of research papers from the medical and scientific community, it is a great resource for aspiring healthcare professionals and researchers!

The need for trusted information

People can also find it difficult to get an accurate sense of the risks presented by COVID-19. While the risk level has been raised from ‘Low’ to ‘Moderate’ in the UK and significant numbers of people have been tested for the virus, the numbers testing positive remain very low. The NHS has moved very quickly to ensure that appropriate contingency measures are in place and are working hard to give people information on basic hygiene and other good habits that will help you avoid getting sick.

Part of the problem with using social media as a source for health information is that it can become an echo-chamber that reinforces particular messages through confirmation bias. This can be particularly problematic for children and young people using messaging apps and platforms where fake news and misinformation can spread like wildfire.

Other sites may have information that is simply wrong. Misinformation may be spread intentionally as a way to drive purchasing of advertised products or for other reasons. So how can you tell if what a site is saying is considered wrong? Always check the integrity of the information source, ask yourself whether they have a vested interest and if you’re still not sure, use a ‘checking service’ like NewsGuard who run a Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Centre that lists misleading sources in the US, UK and internationally.

The risk of a widespread panic about COVID-19 could also have a very significant impact on the UK economy. Libraries can help people keep the facts and figures in perspective and support them in taking sensible, proportionate action based on official sources.

Libraries are a natural fit when it comes to the need for accurate information about COVID-19. Librarians are also curating emerging sources like the World Health Organization’s (WHO) myth busting questions and answers on the Coronavirus. So before you click on that link or share that article about pepper soup, you might want to check with your library for guidance on where to find other trusted sources of information!

Links and further reading

For further information, see also:

Public Health England Finding the Evidence: Coronavirus

NHS Inform resources on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

This article is adapted from a post that originally appeared on the US-based Libraries 2020 website.


Image Credits: Scientific Animations (opens in a new window)under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

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