Public Libraries Help Boost Students’ News Literacy

First-year projects completed in the News Know-how initiative that helped young people distinguish between fact and opinion in news accounts in print and online during the 2012 presidential election have been posted on the News Know-how website.

The initiative trained students, grades ten through twelve, in ten public libraries in basic news literacy skills. The skills enable them to analyze the factual content of media outlets and blogs as well as understand how corrections are made when a story is inaccurately reported in the media and on blogs. Students worked with librarians, journalists, and news ethicists in the program, which is funded by the Open Society Foundations and administered by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF).

The public library teams of young people that participated in the initiative posted digital presentations that highlight their training, outreach, and conclusions. They also made presentations to local community groups about the results of their projects. Here are the participating libraries:

  • Algona, Iowa: This team gathered information on media corrections policies at several media outlets.

  • Carroll, Iowa: The group fact-checked editorials written by the Des Moines Register, The New York Times, and a local newspaper.

  • Decorah, Iowa: This project analyzed the coverage of such topics as the accuracy of claims that President Obama was not born in the U.S. and Governor Romney’s Bain Capital experience.

  • Dyersville, Iowa: The group focused on how to be an effective media watchdog, and vetted newspapers, blogs, and online information.

  • Grinnell, Iowa: Project 1: This team researched the corrections policy at The New York Times, the Des Moines Register, and the Chicago Tribune, as well as the local NPR affiliate.

  • Grinnell, Iowa: Project 2: Students in this project followed the articles written by a columnist from the Chicago Sun Times and the Des Moines Register. Students posted their thoughts on the accuracy of the columns on a blog.

  • Knoxville, Iowa: USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and the Des Moines Register were analyzed for their 2012 presidential election coverage by this group.

  • Oak Park, Ill.: Media correction policies and blog accuracy were reviewed in this project.

  • Sibley, Iowa: This project followed local and national blogs during the 2012 presidential election to identify inaccurate claims by the Obama and Romney campaigns.

  • Sioux Center, Iowa: Monitoring election coverage led the group to identify examples of biased coverage related to the candidates’ views on important topics of the day.

“In today’s mass media environment it is critical that students are taught to analyze news coverage,” said Barbara Jones, director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom. “Through the support of libraries as a trusted information resource, students will be encouraged to practice news literacy by engaging with the media in their communities. During the grant’s second year these students will extend what they learned to engage their entire community in discussing the news environment in the U.S. Libraries remain the key community location for this to take place.”

The News Know-how initiative is currently selecting three more sites for 2013. Each library selected will receive more than $50,000 in training and support. For more information, contact Barbara M. Jones, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association, 50 E. Huron St., Chicago, Illinois 60611. She can also be reached by phone, (312) 280-4222, or by email, at