"ACT UP: Evaluating Sources and Pushing Against Privilege" with Dawn Stahura from Salem State University



On Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - 1:00pm to 2:00pm, Dawn Stahura from Salem State University discusses her evaluation method called ACT UP, which goes beyond standard evaluation methods like CRAAP. Because source evaluation is social justice work, it is critical we teach students how to push against privilege in publishing as well as identifying misinformation before sharing it with others.


Dawn Stahura from Salem State University
Presented on April 7, 2020

Presenter's Content:

Descriptive Outline:

Setting the Stage

Stahura provided some background for the development of Act Up, and why she finds it especially relevant in our current context. While teaching a reference course in the SLIS course at Simmons, Stahura spent class discussions focused on subject headings, controlled vocabulary, and systems of oppression. Her students found these topics transformative in their understanding of information and the process of accessing it. Stahura began to consider what it would look like to bring some of the concepts and conversations into undergraduate library sessions. She started by addressing subject headings in all of her instruction. These conversations about the disconnect between Library of Congress and community naming highlighted the barriers to finding resources. The takeaway for students was that the tools are broken, not necessarily their research techniques. Each semester, privilege would come up more and more in discussions, but Stahura realized that the lists and techniques students used to evaluate information didn’t include privilege in the process.

Act Up became Stahura’s response. The name is intentional to highlight social justice as a foundation for information evaluation, and as a reminder that movements and shifts in consciousness take time. The name also provides an opportunity to highlight the ongoing work of the Act Up advocacy group. Stahura considers source evaluation and fact checking as forms of activism and social justice work, and highlighted the myths circulating about COVID-19 as an example of the life and death nature of mis-and dis-information. She also pointed out the way our current context amplifies the impact of privilege in information settings, pointing to the digital divide in impacting access, and the privileged platform of the president to spread misinformation. Stahura addressed the importance of understanding how positionality impacts the way we feel and engage with information, and emphasized that there is an emotional side to searching. All of which Act Up addresses.

The ACT UP Method

Stahura spent some time talking through what she means when using the phrase ACT UP

  • Different from normal, defined as heteronormative, white, male, etc, which means patriarchy and systemic oppression of marginalized groups

 and what it means to use this method:

  • A move away from passive media consumption
  • Thinking critically about the resources we are using and citing
  • For instructors: thinking critically about resources that are assigned
  • Recognizing the social responsibility to share information that is true

In explaining the method to students, she tells them that using the ACT UP method will:

  • Evaluate sources
  • Push dominant narratives
  • Burst filter bubbles
  • Set tiny fires to the status quo

Stahura then walked us through the ACT UP acronym and highlighted questions for students or talking points to further reflection and discussion. She also connected each of these criteria that students should consider to the ideas she articulated in the meaning of ACT UP:

  • A=Author
  • C=Currency
  • T=Truth--She emphasizes the rule of 3, asking students to find support for claims in at least 3 sources
  • U=Unbiased--Stahura explained that there is no such thing, so instead we might look for impartial information that includes a clear statement of perspective. She also mentioned the emotional aspects of searching and the impact of positionality on our information choices
  • P=Privilege--Again, addressing the disparities in the publishing world and the importance of asking whose voices are missing, looking past academic journal articles to push against the dominant narrative, personal privilege and the impact of that on information that is available.

ACT UP LibGuide

In addition to the ACT UP method for evaluating information, Stahura has created a libguide to highlight other concepts and resources to incorporate in the research process:

  • Pushing against privilege: Resources for finding academic sources outside of library databases.
  • Evaluating News: Information about how to verify news claims with an emphasis on fact-checking images
  • Bursting your filter bubble: Options for pushing against a filter bubble and find different perspectives
  • COVID-19: Specialized information for our current situation

Wrapping up

Despite how overwhelming this all can seem, Stahura emphasized the importance of pushing against misinformation, and that we can do that one claim at a time.