When it comes to reliability, are librarians missing the mark?

Maybe not. It might be helpful to know what they think about the matter of truth.

For example, the ACRL “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” frame of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy, it states:

Experts understand that authority is a type of influence recognized or exerted within a community. Experts view authority with an attitude of informed skepticism and an openness to new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought. Experts understand the need to determine the validity of the information created by different authorities and to acknowledge biases that privilege some sources of authority over others, especially in terms of others’ worldviews, gender, sexual orientation, and cultural orientations.

Under “Knowledge Practices” the frame states:

Learners who are developing their information literate skills acknowledge they are developing their own authoritative voices in a particular area and recognize the responsibilities this entails, including seeking accuracy and reliability, respecting intellectual property, and participating in communities of practice.

Some might say that things like this are “sufficient references to ‘truth'”.

As one person stated on the ili listserve, “The frame does not need verbose, obtuse philosophical discussions of truth. If librarians do not understand validity,  accuracy, or reliability, our profession is in trouble.”

I do think the library profession is in trouble, but not for the usual reasons.

Here was/is my careful answer to librarians who hold this position:

I know that I said I only wanted to engage with persons on the basis of my paper’s arguments. That said, this seems like a strong objection to what I have written even getting off the ground, and so will carefully address it. I did talk about the words that you bring about in my papers, and your statements drove me back to re-examine specifically what I had written. The key point is that there is a wider context that needs to be dealt with, taking into account this frame (and, of course, the Framework) as a whole.

I understand your viewpoint that the notion of “truth” is somehow covered in the presence of these words: validity, accuracy, and reliability. In fact, in part II of my Reference Services Review paper “The New Framework: a Truth-less Construction Just Waiting to be Scrapped?”, I concede that persons might get the impression that authority and truth are linked together in the Framework (even as others will vigorously deny this).

I actually say that because the Framework talks about how information is valued and used in creating new knowledge (which, if we retain the traditional notions, is “justified true belief”), it can’t avoid the issue of truth, even as it is ultimately trying to remain indifferent to it (i.e., the Framework has a “truth-deficient approach to authority”).

And why is truth basically unimportant to the Framework? Because when it comes to authority, there is another element that is thought to be the core issue: power (or, perhaps, as I more specifically argue in a recent blog post, fitness, which I argue would entail “justified true belief” being dissolved in acid forever).

Are we all sophists now?

As I say in the RSR paper, what ultimately is at issue is “whether authority – which seems to be necessarily tied up with ideas of knowledge, experience, trust, truth, tasks and responsibility – is actually only a synonym for the successful use of power, or whether it is something more.” I say it must be something more and make that case, thereby also making the case that the frame “AiCC” should scrapped and revised.

After all, when the Framework talks about the “validity” of information this is to be determined, it seems, primarily on the basis of the worldview/orientations/systems which influence us (note: “An understanding of this concept enables novice learners to critically examine all evidence—be it a short blog post or a peer-reviewed conference proceeding—and to ask relevant questions about origins… remain[] skeptical of the systems that have elevated that authority and the information created by it”; also, “recognize the value of diverse ideas and worldviews”).

It is because of this wider context of these words in the Framework then, that I wrote the following in my paper, “Is Authority Always Constructed and Contextual ?: a Classical Challenge to the Framework for Information Literacy” (and this is where I also dealt with the use of the words “accuracy” and “reliability” that you note, as a part of a rather exhaustive cross-examination of the AiCC frame):

Even those who will advocate for more objective forms of authority based on some kind of philosophical reason or principal recognize that “unlikely voices” can be authoritative, but the question here is why? Why do we recognize, or why should we recognize (?) this? Is it because we see that they, perhaps over and against “the man” – and perhaps encouraged by “special experiences” – believe that it is important to be true and to seek truth and even the truth? Or something else? And if matters of truth – and perhaps with this, justice – are indeed at issue, should the Framework strive for appropriate language that could somehow make this explicit? I note that in the “Knowledge Practices” section, it does say persons “developing their own authoritative voices” should “recognize the responsibilities this entails, including seeking accuracy and reliability.” The question however, is “why”? To “participate successfully in collaborative spaces”, to be sure. But the wider question is this: is it simply about avoiding potential consequences, e.g. one should do this so as not to discredit one’s self and those one associates with? Is the thing of real import here asking“relevant questions” with the intention of undermining power structures perceived or intuited to be unjust? Or are there deeper concerns that should be addressed here?

With the Framework’s insistence that all authority is [socially] constructed (Oxford Dictionaries says this of “construct”: “an idea or theory containing various conceptual elements, typically one considered to be subjective and not based on empirical evidence” [“Construct,” 2016]), and its advice to question “traditional notions of granting authority” – with no guidance as to what kind of traditional notions we might consider retaining – the import of the word “validity” that occurs in the more prominent parts of this frame is, to say the least, called into question here.

A word like truth, on the other hand, still retains the common connotation of being connected with what is the case, as well as what should be the case. See the New York Time’s advertising again (or, again – should I have a much more cynical view of this? I also explored this possibility in my latest blog post, sub-titled “Truth is Fitness Alone”). Truth is a word which, in effect, still means that we not only construct, but are accountable for what we construct. It brings to our mind the idea, it reminds us, that things might be wrongly constructed, a possibility the Framework doesn’t mention. Also then, that not every “useful fiction” is defensible, but might rightly be called propaganda, i.e. mis- or disinformation.

What does this mean N.Y. Times?

Again, I also am not interested in “verbose, obtuse philosophical discussions of truth” being present in the Framework. I think its mention, however, would be helpful, particularly in the context of the importance of seeking it. Without this interest, all is lost.

Again, all of this just briefly touches on the more extensive argumentation found in my papers, which I encourage persons to read and address.