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Library workers on the front lines of conspiracy theories in the US: one nationwide survey

Stephanie Beene (University Libraries, UNM, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA)
Katie Greer (Kresge Library, Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 19 May 2023

Issue publication date: 5 December 2023

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to investigate whether and in what ways library workers in the United States encountered patrons espousing beliefs in conspiracy theories and, if so, to explore the effectiveness of the strategies they used to address information disorder during the interactions.

Design/methodology/approach

The study was designed with an exploratory qualitative approach. Data were collected via an online survey posted to national and state library association listservs, utilizing a self-selected sampling method. Researchers inductively and deductively analyzed results, developing predetermined themes based on the research questions, then iteratively integrating unexpected data during coding.

Findings

A total of 334 responses were received over two weeks. Data represent library workers from 43 states and Washington, D.C., including various types of libraries. Library workers interacted with patrons with conspiratorial thinking, and both library workers and patrons evidenced a range of emotions and motivations.

Originality/value

This is the first national study to survey library workers and whether they encountered patrons espousing conspiracy theories. While the sample size is small, themes elucidate various strategies that library workers use for interacting with patrons who express some level of conspiracy ideation.

Keywords

Citation

Beene, S. and Greer, K. (2023), "Library workers on the front lines of conspiracy theories in the US: one nationwide survey", Reference Services Review, Vol. 51 No. 3/4, pp. 251-272. https://doi.org/10.1108/RSR-11-2022-0056

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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