Strengthening Public Libraries' Information Literacy Services Through an Understanding of Knowledge Brokers' Assessment of Technical and Scientific Information


Access to information alone is no longer sufficient to support civic decision-making. Complex scientific and technical information is highly relevant to the average person. It affects policy, legislation, and choices people make in their day-to-day lives. Scientific misinformation and pseudoscience have a significant impact on public deliberation. The average person relies on knowledge brokers, such as journalists, librarians, Wikipedia editors, and activists, to translate expert knowledge for use in decision-making. Library-based services to knowledge brokers have the potential to change the amount of misinformation circulating, especially misinformation that draws on technical and scientific information. The ultimate goal of this research project is to provide libraries with actionable information to help them support citizens in finding trustworthy sources for societally relevant technical and scientific knowledge.

This project starts with three driving questions:

  1. Where, how, and for what purpose do knowledge brokers access technical and scientific information?
  2. What conceptual model describes their sensemaking and use of this information?
  3. How do knowledge brokers assess the quality and utility of technical and scientific data and documents? Specifically, which features impact knowledge brokers’ quality and utility evaluations of technical and scientific data and documents?

We will conduct three case studies, one per year, to address these questions, on the following topics: Year 1: Public health and public policy decision-making around the COVID-19 pandemic

Year 2: Climate change and its mitigation

Year 3: The role of artificial intelligence in the future of human labor

For each case study we will: (1) collect and analyze a purposive sample of about 250 public-facing documents and multimedia, including news (e.g., online print outlets), Wikipedia pages, membership-based online forums, documentaries, and data visualizations, that report, quote, or analyze research papers and/or other scientific products (2) conduct and analyze 40 semi-structured interviews with document authors (e.g., journalists, Wikipedia editors, activists/advocates), librarians, and other relevant informants about a recent instance of brokering scientific information to the public. In the final 18 months of the project, we will disseminate project findings by co-designing services in partnership with 5 public libraries. First the team will develop (1) draft materials to support public libraries in providing services to support citizens’ functional literacies in science and health information online; and (2) services for knowledge brokers to support their dissemination of high quality information. Using feedback from our 5 library partners, we will then test and refine these draft materials. For libraries the opportunity is two-fold: (1) Develop better services for knowledge brokers who mediate public access to information, which amplifies librarians’ impact; and (2) Identify strategies for managing and provisioning scientific and technical information, which can support interactions with any patron.