Freedom of misinformation – LIANZA 2023

Rob Cruickshank (LIANZA Standing Committee panel chair)
Leslie Weir (Librarian and Archivist of Canada)
Māia Abraham (Christchurch City Libraries)
Distinguished Professor Steven Ratuva (University of Canterbury)
Associate Professor Spencer Lilley (Victoria University of Wellington)

> What’s the extent of the problem of misinformation in our society today and the effect on Indigenous people?
Leslie: In Canada, 150000 children attended “Indian Residential Schools” – many never returned home and of these the death of many was never recorded. Misinformation of the time shut down people trying to get the story out and erased the history. Now reckoning with this history and need to work to make sure it’s recognised.
Māia: In Aotearoa we’ve been dealing with misinformation around Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It’s come in through the history of Western education in New Zealand as Hana O’Regan discussed (in an earlier keynote: she noted that eg in the 1930s the ministry of education overrode teachers’ recommendations and kept Māori language out of the curriculum on the grounds that it would actually be good for them to lose it).
Steven: The role of politics and the media. Example of the “Voice” referendum in Australia, and of dicussion of “co-governance” recently in New Zealand. All draws from pre-existing prejudices and misinformation about the hierarchy of humanity. Knowledge is not neutral – it has to do with power. Indexing can be used to reinforce prejudiced worldviews. Advertising is another forum where very little is truthful – and lots of fast food ads are targeted towards Māori and Pasifika using stereotypes – maybe not consciously/intentionally but it’s embedded in the subconscious.
Spencer: Looking at critical information literacy skills. Eg Elsdon Best taking information from Tuhoe informants, filtering it through a Western lens, and applying it as if it were something Māori believed as a whole. Expecting all Māori to think the same, have the same tikanga etc is its own kind of misinformation. A lot of misinformation issues today are around trust.

> What can we of librarians do about this given we have a responsibility to provide access to information?
Leslie: We hold all the original treaties, records of the residential schools etc. Currently tend to work nation to nation considering the question of data sovereignty as (like iwi and hapū in Aotearoa) there’s no one size fits all.
Māia: It’s a personal responsibility, thinking about our responsibility as librarians. Consider who has the rights to the information. Be intentional about who we’re hiring/training to work with the collections. Think about your organisation history. Libraries ultimately are a Western way of collecting and organising information though this doesn’t mean Māori information can’t exist there.
Steven: ‘Harm’ can mean different things to different people. Sometimes get students to research something they disagree with. Commodification of knowledge – publication as a way to move up the academic ladder. Elsevier profits $3.3billion off of researcher work and then we have to pay to access it again. Ethics gets thrown out the window by commercialisation.
Spencer: Lots of work going on in the open access space. But need to ensure that metadata for publications beats the algorithms. Need to get OA content ranking higher than content from the traditional systems. Need people to get content from multiple sources and do their own thinking instead of going to an AI generator.
Steven: Scopus algorithms aren’t friendly to Indigenous knowledge – they keep out Indigenous journals, almost seems intentionals. Researchers forced to get their metrics up in order to be promoted but hard for Indigenous researchers to do this when their journals aren’t indexed.

> What can libraries do practically?
Leslie: We need to contextualise material – work with communities to identify advisories/context that needs to go on material. Especially if material may contain traumatic content. May need support services.
Māia: No one size fits all. Work with the people around you to come up with a solution – don’t wait for a solution to fall into your lap – and to implement it.
Steven: Can’t start censoring books (different people would pick different books to ban, and there’d be an outcry). But could have a team exploring which books would create the most harm – and identify rather than burn them.
Spencer: Comes back to education – of people working in our institutions so we’re aware of our own collections, and be aware to use skills to educate others. Be allies of Māori and Pasifika staff and communities. Libraries have always been a strong advocate of freedom of information, need to drive this home in our collection development policies.

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