“Which bridge did Muhammed Ali throw his medal off of?” and other interesting questions answered by the Research Assistance & Instruction Department

By Anna Marie Johnson

Imagine a job where you were able to learn about all kinds of different and fascinating topics in the process of helping someone answer a burning question that they have. That is part of the work of the Research Assistance and Instruction (RAI) office. Librarians, professional staff, and peer research assistants answer questions like these (and much more prosaic ones such as “Why can’t I access this journal article I need?”)  via e-mail, chat, phone, or face-to-face:

  • How many buildings are there on Belknap Campus?
  • How did St. Paul come to be a Roman citizen?
  • What is the childhood address of Hunter S. Thompson?
  • What was the roll call vote for the Kentucky senators and House members for the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
  • Can you help me research design for justifying the excavation of a privy?
  • What are the cultural reactions regarding American Indians during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (1870-1929)—particularly in how American Indians and the related federal policies were represented in the media?
  • Where can I find industry and consumer data for Gillette Fusion?
  • What are the general prosodic characteristics of English and Spanish?

Over the years, we have helped with questions that ranged from the esoteric (journal articles on the dead Sabaean language, from someone wanting to piece together the language and write a book about it) to the downright impossible, such as the patron who wanted a copy of the WHAS Radio broadcast license from 1927, or the patron researching obscure magicians and street performers from Europe.

“What’s the best book you’ve ever read?”

While we go to great lengths to track down an answer, sometimes there’s a little luck involved. One day, a call came in to Rob Detmering, the librarian responsible for Film Studies. The caller was looking for one of the original copies of a 1972 film called Asylum of Satan. The film had reportedly been shot here in Louisville and the out-of-state caller thought that the university might have a copy. Rob asked around to the Archives, the Art Department, and a few other campus contacts that he thought might know something,

“How many theaters exist in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel?”

but to no avail. Rob did some digging in the online database for the Courier-Journal that the library subscribes to and discovered the film had been shown at a film festival in 2008 at Baxter Avenue Theatre. Rob called the theater and spoke with someone who not only knew the film but knew the location of the copy that they had used in the showing.

We often learn a lot as we’re helping.  Our former Libraries Diversity Resident George Martinez received a question from a faculty member asking about the history of the African American Theater program at UofL. He looked through some microfilm and consulted with our colleagues in the Archives & Special Collections to find articles that traced the history of a controversy over how money generated by the Fiesta Bowl was being used for scholarships. The results of that controversy was the increase in hiring and scholarship distribution to increase the diversity at UofL.

Got Questions? Ekstrom’s RAI Department can help you track down your answer! Oh, and there is some doubt as to whether Ali ever threw his medal off any bridge, but the closest answer is the Clark Memorial.

 


Getting Real About Fake News

By Anna Marie Johnson

Many of us have had this experience recently: You read something odd, exaggerated or outrageous on social media and think, “Could something this odd/exaggerated/outrageous be true?” But have you taken time to investigate?  Most people don’t.

Sometimes the consequences are minor. For example, an ad appeared on social media recently for a Fisher-Price Miniature Bar Play Set, complete with tiny beer bottles and bar stools. Posts immediately disparaged and urged boycotts of the toy company Fisher-Price, which subsequently issued a press release saying the ad was fake.

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Image: Louis Prado, Noun Project. Creative Commons.

Sometimes, however, the consequences can be severe. A conspiracy theory story about a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton first appeared on a white supremacists’ Twitter account and went viral, ultimately leading Edgar Welch to take a gun to a pizza parlor and attempt to shoot people (See “Pizzagate” on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pizzagate_conspiracy_theory).

How can you tell if something is fake or even just misleading? There is no easy formula, and we must first fight our own propensity to believe things we want to be true. However, here are three important ways to avoid spreading fake or misleading news:

  1. Keep a skeptical mindset about any news.

Being skeptical means being a critical thinker and examining your own thinking. When you read story that makes you think, “Wow, that’s unbelievable,” stop and examine that idea. What about the story seems unbelievable? What about your own feelings on the topic make you want to believe the story? What pieces of the story seem to lead you to see the story from the author’s perspective? Often reading beyond the headline is important because headlines are designed to memorable and catch your attention, the details of the story are often far more mundane.

  1. Rely on respected news sources.

Relying on respected news sources is an important piece of the puzzle. Respected news sources follow standards of practice or ethical codes of conduct. They will provide evidence for their claims. The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, are all legitimate and respected sources of news. That doesn’t mean they never get anything wrong, it simply means they have a long history of accurately and fairly reporting the stories they cover. Often checking several of them is a good way to get the full perspective on a particular story.

  1. Refuse to share anything you haven’t checked for truth.

When news that is fake or misleading is shared on social media, the problem is compounded, because more hits mean that search engines will surface the news item more readily, more people will see it, and it will seem to attain greater legitimacy.

While there is no surefire formula for detecting fake or misleading news, help is available! The librarians in Ekstrom Library’s Research Assistance and Instruction Department are available to help you decide the quality and legitimacy of news sources. Come by and see us on the first floor in Ekstrom Library’s east wing, call us at (502) 852-0433, or use our chat service to reach us!