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The Closing Keynote: Trust, Facts, and Democracy: How Libraries Fit Into the Biggest Issues of These Times

Lee Rainie and Jane Dysart

Lee Rainie and Jane Dysart

Popular and frequent CIL speaker Lee Rainie, Director, Internet and Technology Research at the Pew Research Center, keynoted the final day of CIL2019. Some of Pew’s primary stakeholders are librarians and are parodied regularly on The Onion. Since the 2016 election Pew has paid attention to the cultural stresses going on. There is an interplay among trust, facts, and democracy; libraries intersect with these factors.


Trust in the Federal government is stuck at a historic low. There is little overlap in the sources trusted for political news, and audiences have changed. Many users see social media as an especially negative venue for political discussion compared with face-to-face; they are much more angry. People will do things on a computer that they would never do publicly. 41% have experienced harassment; 66% have witnessed it. Libraries, the military, and firefighters do a great job of keeping things civil. 63% of people say that libraries are greatly important to their community. Here is some data on people’s trust in sources of information; notice that librarians have a special place.

Trust in info sources

Trust is very localized; people have the hope that community discussions can be a solution.


The interplay between trust and facts is close. Most say that Clinton and Trump supporters cannot agree on basic facts. Fake news is seen as a problem; 23% of people report sharing fabricated news. Political awareness, digital savviness and trust in the media all play large roles in the ability to distinguish between factual and opinion news statements. Younger Americans are better able to distinguish. Gen Z is now in college and entering the workforce. The misinformation problem is now a personal one; 26% of Americans have had false info posted about them. Critical posts get more likes, comments, and shares than other posts, so the attention economy rewards angry posts. It is hard to push back against that. Most people say that fake news leaves Americans confused about the facts.

Libraries have contributed to their communities because they help people decide what information they can trust.

Library contributions to their communities

People understand how valuable libraries are in many ways; 75% of them say that local libraries serve their learning and educational needs well.


Democrats and Republications are more divided than in the past. 3% of Republicans are consistently liberal and 6% of Democrats are consistently conservative. Trump’s job rating is more polarized than for any president dating back 6 decades. The country is viewed as falling short on a range of widely supported democratic values. People are in despair about political issues and think that democracy is not working. There is a rising antipathy toward the other political party. People don’t just disagree with people on the other side; they hate them. More people now expect things to get worse; most have little or no confidence in the political wisdom of the American people.  The public is broadly pessimistic about the future of America.

What people say they want or need is like a playbook or profile of librarians, who are the best coaches of all.

What people want

People see libraries as a way to upgrade their literacy. They want protection in the complexities of privacy and guidance about how to be smarter citizens. Libraries are well positioned in the culture. It is a daunting task but people are hungry for the special sauce that libraries can deliver to them.

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