University of Michigan
News for faculty, staff and retirees

December 19, 2018

Librarian fights fake news with information literacy

December 11, 2017

Librarian fights fake news with information literacy

Faculty/Staff Spotlight

Topic: Campus News

With accusations of "fake news" prevalent across the media, Jo Angela Oehrli's work on improving students' data and information literacy is more important than ever.

"It's so easy to use technology tools to manipulate things like data and information so we really need to get ourselves to places where we have the critical thinking skills to engage with things deeply," she said.

Oehrli, senior associate learning librarian and children's literature librarian at the University Library, grew up on a dairy farm. She went to Western Michigan University for a degree in English and history, and worked at the WMU library during her undergraduate studies. She was then hired full time, and worked there for several years before earning a secondary school teaching certificate at WMU.

She went back to work at an alternative high school for struggling students and subsequently taught at various locations in Michigan. As the internet's presence grew, she decided to earn a Master of Science in Information. Following graduation, she was hired to her current position at the University of Michigan.

"My home base is the library. It's where my heart is now," said Oehrli, also adjunct lecturer in curriculum support, LSA.

Jo Angela Oehrli works as senior associate learning librarian and children's literature librarian at the University Library. (Photo by Daryl Marshke Michigan Photography)

Oehrli's days vary. From working the "Ask a Librarian" IM service to working with undergraduates on how to critically process data and information, her work all centers around how to make information more accessible.

She also teaches an LSA course called "Fake News, Lies, and Propaganda: How to Sort Fact from Fiction." The goal of the course is for students to create a strategy for engaging with the news, both in deconstructing the fake and comprehending the true. It fits perfectly with the library and librarian's mission through time, she said.

"A librarian is someone who facilitates critical thinking about information. We aren't the be-all end-all of answering questions. However, we can help reveal questions you might not have considered before."

The weekly Spotlight features faculty and staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, email the Record staff at urecord@umich.edu.

Outside the library and classroom, Oehrli recently finished her role as co-principal investigator with Kristin Fontichiaro, clinical associate professor of information, on a project called "Creating Data Literate Students." The project won the $240,000 Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Grant, and its goal is to incorporate data and statistical literacy into high school librarians' repertoires to aid students. She also has written children's books about statistical literacy.

In addition, Oehrli won the LIRT Librarian Recognition Award from the American Library Association and this year received U-M's Librarian Recognition Award.

"At the end of the day, however, it is the combination of helping students in the library, teaching and research that keeps her life lively and interesting," she said.

"I get to teach about fake news, work with amazing U-M students and faculty, speak at conferences, and travel for library duties. As Coach Harbaugh says, 'Who's got it better than us?'"

Q & A

What moment in the classroom stands out as the most memorable?

When I was a social studies teacher, students used string from WWI No Man's Land for barbed wire and paper wads for ammunition to stage the Cold War. Just as they were about to "battle," I took one paper nuclear bomb and dropped it in the middle. "That's it, battle's over. Everyone lost." It really brought the Cold War stakes into perspective.

What can't you live without?

My family.

Where is your favorite spot on campus?

The Shapiro Lobby during the regular academic year. It's a real reflection of campus.

What inspires you?

I love to learn, and it inspires me to learn more. And I love to see students experience "aha" moments.

What are you currently reading?

"Home Fire," by Kamila Shamsie. The ending astonished me.

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

My parents. They instilled a hard work ethic in me which has sustained me through working multiple jobs and working through college.