Nate Gass and Haley Samuelson | Movers & Shakers 2020–Educators

After the 2016 presidential election, Haley Samuelson and Nate Gass found themselves fielding questions from worried patrons at the Cook Memorial Public Library District, IL, wondering if the stories they were hearing on the news and reading on social media were true. "We became on-the-fly political fact-checkers," says Gass.

Amy Pawlowski

NATE GASS

CURRENT POSITION

Emerging Technology Librarian, Cook Memorial Public Library District, Libertyville, IL

DEGREE

MLIS, Dominican University, 2012

Gwen Evans

HALEY SAMUELSON

CURRENT POSITION

Reference Librarian, Cook Memorial Public Library District, Libertyville, IL

DEGREE

MS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2008

FOLLOW (BOTH)

cooklib.org/be-a-voter; Fake News; Voter Education webinar

Photos by Bob Schatz

MS_logo_300x81

Fake  News Fighters

After the 2016 presidential election, Haley Samuelson and Nate Gass found themselves fielding questions from worried patrons at the Cook Memorial Public Library District (CMPLD), IL, wondering if the stories they were hearing on the news and reading on social media were true. "We became on-the-fly political fact-checkers," says Gass.

Realizing that their community needed guidance, they started a class to help patrons identify fake news, which they define as deliberately misleading information. Though students range across the political spectrum, Samuelson and Gass don’t shy from controversial topics. But whether they’re exploring how different outlets covered former FBI director James Comey’s Congressional testimony or fact-checking President Trump’s Fake News Awards, they strive to be calm, unbiased, and encouraging.

"We are not here to judge your news outlets," says Samuelson. "We aren’t here to tell you why you’re wrong. We’re here to sharpen your skills."

Class size was capped at about 12 people, but demand was overwhelming. To reach more patrons, Gass and Samuelson devoted an episode of the library’s podcast to fake news. Eager to share their work with other librarians, in 2019 they presented a webinar at the Public Library Association conference to an audience of 600-plus attendees. And to prepare patrons for the April 2, 2019 district elections, including school and library boards, village trustees, and ballot measures, they started the Be a Voter initiative, a pathfinder that describes the candidates and ballot measures and provides key resources, as well as information on how to register to vote. Users spent 15 minutes digging into the pathfinder, on average—three times longer than they do on any other page on the library website.

"In an age of misinformation, they are shining a light on the best resource for information a community—a country—has: the library," says nominator Heather Beverley, CMPLD assistant manager of youth services and a 2019 Mover & Shaker.

With the 2020 presidential election on the horizon, Samuelson and Gass are gearing up. Though Be a Voter has been a hit, they’d like to hold drop-in sessions to connect with patrons who lack digital access.

Samuelson and Gass know that many librarians are hesitant to mix politics and work, but overcoming that reluctance is vital to ensure patrons are informed. "We’re giving other libraries and librarians permission to wade in these waters," says Samuelson. "You can trust your own instincts, and you can trust your patrons to understand what we’re trying to do." 

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