DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Nov 12 2007

Let the Reader Beware

by Nolan R

About once a week, my mother-in-law will forward an email to me warning about various things–the hidden dangers of household products, avoiding potential crimes, looking out for poisonous spiders, or preventing computer viruses.  As a rule, these emails are generally hoaxes or urban legends.  I, in turn, look them up online, and email her back to let her know whether or not it was true.

Part of being a librarian involves directing patrons (as well as friends and family!) toward accurate and reliable sources of information, in both print and non-print formats.  Print and audiovisual materials in the Library are reviewed and evaluated before being added to the collection, as are our Databases and Web Links.  Sometimes, however, Library patrons have trouble evaluating other information found online, such as from websites or in their email.

When evaluating a website, some things you might want to consider include:

  • What are the author’s qualifications?
  • Is the site current or is the information out of date?
  • Who is the intended audience and are there any biases present in the information?
  • Who is presenting the information (publishing body)?
  • Is there a bibliography or related resources section?
  • What is your purpose for using the information (just for fun, academic, health related)?

When verifying information received in an email, such as a sales offer or request, you might want to consider:

  • Who is the email from?  Do you know the sender?
  • Was the offer solicited?  Are you on an email subscription list, or did the email come “out of nowhere”?
  • Is the offer “too good to be true”? 

More information on evaluating websites can be found at UC Berkeley Library, Cornell University Library, as well as Johns Hopkins University’s The Sheridan LibrariesWhen trying to decide if an email offer you have received is just too good to be true, try looking here for more information:

Scambusters: Internet scams, urban legends, and identity theft.

FBI Internet FraudGeneral information and common scams.

U.S. Dept. of JusticeGeneral information and current scams, as well as how to report spam emails.

SnopesUrban legends and forwarded email hoaxes.


Roxanne Parrow November 12, 2007 at 9:09 PM

Thank you for this information. I always check out emails with http://www.snopes.com before forwarding them and have tried to get all my friends to do the same. May have lost a few friends from sending them a link to snopes saying their email was false! I subscribe to scambuster’s newsletter and it keeps me up on the latest scams. I hope others will take your advice.

Jesse November 14, 2007 at 2:33 PM

This just happened to my husband! He was forwarded an email slandering a political candidate…looked it up on snopes and found out the entire story was false. It’s scary to think the impact misinformation can have!

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