With a proliferation of “fake news,” this field is suddenly on the fact-checking frontlines

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - OCTOBER 13: A librarian works in a library of the Johann Wolfang Goethe-University on October 13, 2014 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University celebrates its 100th anniversary with a ceremony on 18 October. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Janelle Hagen probably wasn’t supposed to make it.

She’s a middle school librarian at Lakeside School in Seattle, Washington. Hers was one of many fields that was estimated to shrink as the internet proliferated, with nearly endless information available to anyone at any time. But her job is now as valuable as ever, according to a story from the Seattle Times. That’s because Hagen’s field hasn’t ended, it’s just changed.

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Hagen teaches a class at Lakeside called “Digital Life,” which has fifth- and eighth-grade sections. The Times says these classes are a mix of technology and “information-literacy” skills, the latter of which refers to the ability to differentiate probable fact from probable fiction, as well as media biases.

Her eighth grade classes are challenged, for example, to differentiate advertising, publicity, propaganda, news, and opinion pieces. For a generation raised to read (and believe) what’s in front of them on the internet, this can be a challenge — a Stanford study from November of last year asked almost 8,000 students to identify “fake” news stories and as many as 82% got it wrong.

A poster in Lakeside School’s library shows a number of criteria, including “Is it old,” “Consider the source,” “What’s the evidence,” “Check the author,” and “Read beyond the headline.” Librarians advise students “make sure to see if they have any evidence to back up their claims. Furthermore, research the evidence to see if it is real, made up, or used in a way not intended by its creators. Are claims in an article backed up by verifiable facts? Check the authors’ backgrounds to see if they have credibility on the topic they are writing about.”

Hagen says educators feel the change in how many Americans perceive the news media.

“It’s a difficult time to work in education because we are seeing what’s happening in the world and how opinions are really first and foremost rather than facts,” she says.

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