Community

Swisher Community Library aims to help patrons be informed about news websites

Laura Hoover, director for the Swisher Community Library, demonstrates NewsGuard, a website extension that helps users d
Laura Hoover, director for the Swisher Community Library, demonstrates NewsGuard, a website extension that helps users determine the reliability of websites. NewsGuard checks whether a website publishes false or misleading content, gathers and presents information responsibility and discloses it’s ownership and funding, among other criteria. The Swisher Community Library is the first in Iowa to use this service. (Lee Hermiston/The Gazette)
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SWISHER — When Swisher Community Library Director Laura Hoover adds new books to the library’s collection, she works to ensure the library not only has a wide range of books, but high-quality materials.

Now, Hoover is taking extra steps to ensure that library patrons have access not only to a wide range of news sources online at the library, but that those patrons can determine whether those news sources are reliable or not.

“It is a library’s mission to provide the most accurate, best information to our patrons,” Hoover said. “We want to offer them a wide range of information sources, but at the same time, we want to make sure the information sources they’re getting are quality.”

To that end, the Swisher Community Library has become the first library in Iowa to make NewsGuard available to library visitors. NewsGuard is a web browser extension that gives users reliability ratings of websites based on nine criteria. Those criteria include transparency about who owns and funds the website and who is creating the content. It also determines whether the site routinely publishes false content or misleading headlines and if it regularly corrects or clarifies errors.

“These are very basic criteria that, in my opinion, every good news source should be following,” Hoover said.

If a website meets seven out of nine of NewsGuard’s criteria, they get a green check mark. If they meet fewer than nine, they get a red checkmark. Users can get on the “nutrition label” for the website to see which criteria it meets and doesn’t meet and take a deeper dive into those findings. Hoover said in no way does NewsGuard censor or prevent people from accessing particular websites.

“It’s not a form of telling you, ‘Don’t read this website,’ ” she said. “It’s just a way of giving you information about the website so you can make your own decision about whether you want to trust it or not.”

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According to a news release, NewsGuard launched in March 2018 and was founded by media entrepreneur Steven Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz. The reliability ratings on nearly 3,000 websites is based on reviews done by NewsGuard analysts.

“From middle school students to senior citizens, nobody is immune to online misinformation,” said Sarah Brandt, NewsGuard’s Vice President of News Literacy, in a news release. “Public libraries play the unique role of connecting every member of their community to quality information, and NewsGuard appreciates the opportunity to help libraries with that task.”

Hoover said she installed the free NewsGuard web browser extension with the Iowa caucuses in mind so that patrons could vet the information they’re accessing. But, she said NewsGuard also evaluates medical and entertainment news websites. Websites such as The Onion also are labeled as satire and websites such as Wikipedia are labeled as being user-generated.

The Swisher Community Library introduced NewsGuard as a trial on two of its computers in September before installing it on all of the library’s computers in October. While patrons might have questions about it, none have seen it as an issue, Hoover said.

“It’s been overwhelmingly accepted as a good thing,” she said.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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