Mis/disinformation and COVID-19: A conversation about infodemiology

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by Lauri Fennell, Public Health and Social Sciences Librarian

Illustration of eight people on their phones, with the text "try to stop the spread of false information"

Image created by Ruth Burrows

Editor’s note: In celebration of National Library Week and National Public Health Week coinciding this year, Temple University Libraries is pleased to share with you this conversation between Librarian Lauri Fennell and Dr. Jeni Stolow of Temple’s College of Public Health.

Because of the ever changing or evolving information that is normal with a novel disease, there’s been a lot of resistance and where there are gaps in knowledge and trust, misinformation/disinformation will grow.

Dr. Jeni Stolow is a new faculty member in Temple University’s College of Public Health. Her goal is to partner with communities to implement rapid, effective, equitable, and sustainable responses to behavior change and infection control. I first learned about her when I inquired with another faculty member about an upcoming World Health Organization (WHO) Infodemiology Conference. This was a new concept to me and I was eager to learn more. I was surprised and excited to learn that Dr. Stolow was not only involved with WHO but has been working specifically on the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting infodemic.

I was fortunate to interview Dr. Jeni Stolow about this topic on March 23, 2021. What follows is an edited transcript from our conversation, which was recorded.

Lauri Fennell: Dr. Stolow, could you provide a quick introduction to infodemiology?

Jeni Stolow: Infodemiology has actually been around for decades but is now picking up a lot more momentum in what we’re calling a co-occurring pandemic of COVID-19 and “infodemic” of information. Infodemiology can be thought of as the epidemiology of information. It aims to unpack out how information spreads throughout populations and social networks; utilizing statistics, health communication, risk communication, and different health theories to figure out the best ways to communicate with individuals. It also works to assess misinformation, disinformation, trust issues, access to information, and health literacy.

LF: What are some of the biggest challenges we’re seeing right now in terms of managing information?

JS: I will say a big part of infodemiology starts with you—your use of social media, how institutions communicate, how your own backyard is handling things, etc. So, it’s really important that we at Temple University are preparing our students, faculty, staff, and communities to be able to evaluate, assess, and promote good information.

The biggest challenge in the COVID-19 infodemic is the changing information. Because COVID-19 is a novel disease we were, and still are, learning a lot about it. That’s how novel diseases and outbreaks work. It has also become very obvious that there are trust issues related to the political climate, science, and the varying perceptions of health and wellness. Because of that, and because of the ever changing or evolving information, there’s been a lot of resistance to COVID-19. Where there are gaps in knowledge and trust, misinformation/disinformation will grow.

That is the basis of any outbreak, health crisis, epidemic, etc., and why we in public health are tasked with ensuring communities can effectively assess the reliability of information. On a given day if you open up Facebook, Instagram, or the news, you’ll see conflicting information within a 10 second period.

On a given day if you open up Facebook, Instagram, or even the news you’ll see conflicting information within a 10 second period.

LF: So we can get an even better understanding on this, can you give an example of something that’s misinformation or one of the possible other issues?

JS: Definitely. There are a lot of rumors, myths, misinformation, disinformation around everything with COVID-19, especially anything related to vaccines.  Depending on who you are or where you live, you may have a completely different understanding of the vaccines and probably heard a variety of stories about people’s vaccine experiences. One goldmine for misinformation is the topic of vaccines harming pregnancies and fertility. That’s just simply not true. Both my sisters are pregnant and I can tell you that I advocated for both of them to get the vaccine. Why?

Because (1) the mRNA platform is pretty safe, (2) we know it is an effective platform for people who are pregnant, and (3) protecting yourself from COVID-19 is more important than any unlikely side effects. I think this speaks to why misinformation/ disinformation pops up, because as soon as you think of a vulnerable group (i.e. pregnancy, fertility, fetuses, children) it becomes a really easy place to trigger fear.

Whenever there are gaps in knowledge, it creates openings for misinformation, disinformation, and fear-leveraging to occur. For example, people may not know that pregnant women often get vaccines (like the whooping cough vaccine every time they’re pregnant) and may be confused as to why public health is “allowing” these women to get vaccinated. The truth is that we have a long history of pregnant women, or women contemplating pregnancy, needing vaccines and prenatal care, so why is COVID different? Is it just that you’re afraid? Is it just because it’s new? Is it just an excuse to avoid vaccination?

And so, wherever there are those opportunities to strike fear or confusion, that’s where you’re going to see a lot of people with their agendas leveraging it for misinformation/disinformation.

Wherever there are those opportunities to strike fear or confusion, that’s where you’re going to see a lot of people with their agendas leveraging it for misinformation/disinformation

LF: So I heard two things that I would like to highlight a little more. One is about the agenda behind who is giving you that information and the other is the fear or the emotion that you experience when reading something and how that might play a role in whether you believe it.

JS: The reality of the situation is anytime you’re dealing with a health issue people have different agendas. This is true for every health issue since the beginning of time. This gets multiplied by 1,000 once you have a politicized situation like COVID-19. There is now an undertone, symbolism, or connotation to behaviors as opposed to behaviors just being based on best practices and safety. What is the symbolism behind wearing a mask?

Whenever you have this politicalization or symbolism tied to behaviors it starts to get trickier, but it also makes it easier to manipulate information. For example, prior to the introduction of these COVID-19 vaccines, the idea of an anti-vaxxer seemed pretty silly or extreme to people. But right now in 2021 we have a whole new meaning to this idea of an anti-vaxxer or vaccine hesitant person in relation to COVID-19. It’s interesting that people associate anti-vaxxing differently between the MMR vaccine and COVID-19. There’s a lot of moving targets and moving meanings behind all these components of health.

The other thing is fear. I wrote an article with several of my colleagues about how people should not leverage fear to motivate behavior. “Fear appeals” is a sore spot for me because once you start scaring people or utilizing fear to motivate people you take away their autonomy. Furthermore, you can trigger underlying mental health issues and start alienating populations. You cannot do that. You cannot create “good” and “bad” people.

Over the last year, we’ve seen a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes that come from fear and xenophobia. Fear and hatred are closely tied together. Whenever you have messaging that uses fear, or tries to trigger a fear response, it can demonize, alienate, or harm certain populations. Honestly, if you see health information using fear tactics, it’s a really good way to flag that this source is probably just trying to get more likes or reads from a sensational reaction than it is trying to give you the facts.

Whenever you have messaging that uses fear, or tries to trigger a fear response, it can demonize, alienate, or harm certain populations.

LF: There are many tools out there that maybe help people think about or evaluate their source.

People don’t necessarily want to use a checklist every time they read something new.  But, there is one thing that every tool I know of identifies, and that is to take a pause.

There are even campaigns about that, like #pledgetopause.

JS: Exactly. I love the way that you phrase that. Every tool, every checklist, every recommendation always starts with pause. Take a minute and reflect. We are living in a very fast time where, especially with social media, being the first to send out information or having the most sensational information is really appealing. That can be harmful. I understand the desire. I understand that a lot of us are “doom-scrolling” just trying to find out more, or trying to find information that satisfies our preexisting biases.

It’s really important to take a pause before sharing because you’ll often realize that the reason you want to share information is for emotional gain, not to educate or support your network.  Most importantly, if you don’t know, don’t share. If you are not 100% capable of defending, restating, and explaining a source or information, you should not be sharing it.

If you have questions, you should ask! We are fortunate to be a part of Temple University where faculty and librarians are so happy to walk you through assessing information.  If you’re leaving Temple University with a degree, it’s assumed that you can effectively interpret information and teach others about it. If that doesn’t feel like a comfortable skill, you should come talk to us because that’s our job.

 If you don’t know, don’t share. If you are not 100% capable of defending, restating, and explaining a source or information, you should not be sharing it.

LF: So what can someone do when a friend or family member shares something that you believe could be misinformation or disinformation?

JS: Really good question. I think it depends on the format.  In any situation, the best thing you can do is once again pause, figure out what they’re actually saying, why you disagree, have evidence, then approach them. Those are the general steps to use.

The other thing you can do is report it on social media. If this is on a social media platform, I recommend sending them a message. Actually talk to them. People are not going to interpret good intentions on social media, we know that.

Address the issue and say, “Hey I’m really glad you shared that post, I actually learned about this in class. I’d love to talk to you about it, here’s my thinking ….and here’s my logic…”

The more emotion you can take out of your response, the better. Whether you’re texting, on the phone, at a family reunion, or just talking to your parents at dinner, it’s okay to take a second, say “I hear you, I totally understand where that comes from, I’ve heard these other things, what do you think?” It’s not about conflict, it’s about conversation. That’s the big difference. I think oftentimes we polarize ourselves into right and wrong, liberal and conservative, X and Y. That is not how you communicate. Everyone has common ground; it’s just figuring out where it is and then building an understanding from there. It takes time, it takes a thick skin, but it’s worth it. Always make sure that you pause before you share and make sure that you are taking the emotion out of information.

LF: And what about for those who are not part of an academic institution?

JS: I would say, for anyone who is interested in learning more check out our module but also reach out! We’re hoping that the future iteration of this module is for everyone, from five-year-olds in the community, all the way to 95-year-old professors. Whoever you are, there will be a universal module available to help people navigate health information.

Editor’s note: Temple University Libraries is open to all. Learn more about our community access to our resources, services, and spaces.


RESOURCES

Learn more about:

Building a Digital Humanities Project with Synatra Smith

Photo of Synatra Smith

Photo courtesy Synatra Smith

Temple University Libraries is pleased to welcome Synatra Smith, PhD as our new Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Postdoctoral Fellow. In this joint position, she is splitting her time between the Libraries and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA). While working with the Libraries, Synatra will focus on digital scholarship projects related to African American art history in collaboration with the Loretta C. Duckworth Scholars Studio. She also plans to work with the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection.  

Synatra earned her PhD in Global and Sociocultural Studies with a concentration in Anthropology from the School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University.

In October 2020, Beckie Dashiell, editor for Temple University Libraries, had the opportunity to check in with Synatra and learn more about her research interests and the work she is engaging in at the Libraries and the PMA.

Beckie Dashiell: First of all, welcome to Temple Libraries! Can you share with our readers more information about your research interests and ongoing projects?

Synatra Smith: My research focuses on the creation, perpetuation, and transformation of the socio-political intersectional Black cultural landscape with special attention to the ways in which virtual and physical space are used as environments to conceptually and practically transform Black identification processes, as well as the material culture that contributes to this phenomenon. 

I’ve been working in the galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAM) field for the past five years officially in museum education, but I’ve also curated, worked in collections, managed an outreach initiative, etc. Typical small museum work where each department is a staff of one and everyone does everything. I’ve painted walls, been the bartender at events, testified in front of the County Council for funding, and written grants. Outside of this fellowship, I’m working on a multi-chapter report to historically contextualize the use of racially restrictive deed covenants in Hyattsville, Maryland as a federally-sanctioned method of residential segregation during the first half of the twentieth century.

Beckie: Can you tell us a little bit about the kind of work you’ll be doing here at the Libraries, particularly in the Scholars Studio? What goals do you have for your time here?

Synatra: The Scholars Studio offers me an amazing opportunity to learn about a variety of digital tools for data collection and analysis that I intend to apply to my collection and interpretation of Black art, history, and culture. I’m currently participating in a few Zoom workshops to learn photogrammetry, text analysis with Python, and 3D scanning and modeling. I’m kind of creating my Batman utility belt of digital humanities tools that will allow me to develop an interactive exhibition that showcases current local Black art and scholarship through an Afrofuturist lens that reimagines time and space in order to speculate about the future. 

Beckie: As part of your fellowship, you’ll be working jointly with the Libraries and the PMA. What kinds of opportunities do you see this collaboration offering?

Synatra: PMA’s Library and Archives is working on a Wikidata project to link their collection to those records, and that data can be queried using SPARQL [a coding language] to visualize it in some fascinating ways. We’re also creating blog posts about local Black artists in PMA’s collection and we’ll be conducting oral histories with these artists soon, all of which can be added to Wikidata and linked back to PMA’s website. I’d like to do something similar with Temple Libraries’ collection so that when a person Googles one of these folks, they’ll come across their items in both of these organizations’ collections and archives. 

Also, both of these institutions are providing a launchpad for my own research project to explore the myriad ways in which Black artists and scholars in Philadelphia reimagine and conceptualize their communities. I am going to be working on capturing a broad spectrum of materials, from murals, zines/comics, posters, fashion/cosplay/textiles, and performance art, to three-dimensional models of sculptures and monuments, and using linked data queries and mapping tools for data visualization. 

Beckie: Can you envision any potential impacts for the kind of work you are doing? 

Synatra: As a true millennial, I not only have a full time fellowship and a research project, I also work with a childhood friend and his fraternity brother on a mobile Black culture trivia app called Trivia Black. I recently started brainstorming ways to integrate a gaming experience into this project potentially through virtual reality and/or augmented reality to create a more interactive digital exhibition model. Think Pokemon Go or the Sims but Black, local, and scaled way down to fit within a 2 year fellowship. 

Also, something Trivia Black talks through pretty often is how to make Black history not feel so heavy, which can be particularly difficult thanks to the legacies of enslavement, disenfranchisement, and terrorism against Black people both historically and currently. We try to be very intentional about the way we phrase questions, which is something I also do in my work more generally. The story may start with an injustice but I try to shine a light on the way we’ve fought against that oppression. Relatedly, I recently hosted a panel discussion where one of the panelists explained that her organization’s work integrates spiritual healing practices when the community interacts with the archive to soothe the very deep emotions that often arise. With all of that being said, I’m thinking of ways to keep the narratives pretty balanced between celebratory and tragic, and how to be responsible when tackling Black trauma in an interactive, gamified virtual exhibition.

Beckie: Thanks so much, Synatra! We look forward to checking back in with you over the course of your fellowship, and seeing how your project continues to develop

Editor’s note: A condensed version of this interview appears in the Fall 2020/Winter 2021 issue of Speaking Volumes, the newsletter for friends of Temple University Libraries.

Reading for social change: Perspectives on oppression and wellness

Guest post by Brittany Robinson, wellness education program coordinator with the Wellness Resource Center 

Self-care practices such as getting quality rest, consuming nourishing foods, and regularly moving our bodies are known to positively impact our well-being. We can make choices that help us feel well. At the same time, our well-being is also influenced by systems that we can’t control. Access to resources, support, and opportunities are distributed disproportionately and can have profound effects on our health and well-being. Today’s post is a collaboration between the Wellness Resource Center and Temple University Libraries

Abstract image, viewing building through window

photo by Joseph V. Labolito, Temple University

Oppression is discrimination that is supported by systems and structures within a society. It shows up in education, policies, healthcare, and more. Health disparities are just one area in which the consequences of oppression are clear. Folks with marginalized identities often experience health inequities at alarming rates. Bringing these systemic issues to light is necessary in the journey to create positive change. Before engaging in discourse, it is helpful to educate ourselves around oppression and its harmful effects. Books are a wonderful resource that allow us to view reality from diverse perspectives. 


How Does Reading Help? 

Before engaging in discourse, it is helpful to educate ourselves around oppression and its harmful effects. Books are a wonderful resource that allow us to view reality from diverse perspectives. Research shows that reading can improve empathy and perspective-taking. 

Here are some suggested titles, available through Temple Libraries

Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington 
Washington’s text takes readers on a journey of the mistreatment African Americans have endured as unsuspecting experimental subjects within the U.S. medical system from the era of slavery through present day. 

The Health Gap by Michael Marmot 
Through examples and telling statistics, President of the World Medical Association  Michael Marmot writes about social injustice being a threat to global health. He also highlights existing tools to reduce health inequities that we may not be utilizing as we should. 

Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care by Dayna Bowen Matthew 
In this text, Matthew discusses how unfair and unjust healthcare treatment of folks with marginalized identities leads to avoidable health disparities. She offers solutions that address implicit bias.


Resources Available 

Temple’s Tuttleman Counseling Services has specially-trained therapists and support groups for Temple University students.

Temple’s Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership (IDEAL) provides a space for the campus community to learn about diverse perspectives, receive training, and explore strategies for making our campus and the world a more equitable place. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has health disparities resources to help folks further their understanding of the causes and consequences of oppression in healthcare. 

Visualizing “Fake News”: Exploring Information Literacy Through Graphic Design

This past fall, librarians here at Temple worked with a professor in the Tyler School of Art and Architecture’s Graphic & Interactive Design (GAID) department to support students in an introductory graphic design course.

At the beginning of the semester, Professor Jenny Kowalski assigned students in GAD 2001 a project to design posters on the theme of information literacy, using the Libraries’ “Fake News,” Misinformation, and Disinformation Research Guide as a resource. Jill Luedke, art and architecture librarian, and Kristina De Voe, English and communication librarian, also visited the class virtually to discuss the role of information literacy in an era of mis- and disinformation as students were introduced to the project. 

The students in this course created some really fantastic posters exploring this assigned theme. Below, we present a sampling of their works. You’ll also read—in the students’ own words—about their poster concepts as well as their processes, inspirations, and any challenges they encountered. 

A project like this is a great example of instructor/librarian assignment collaborations that often take place throughout the academic year. It’s also an engaging way to help spark important conversations around mis- and disinformation, especially in our current context. The Libraries is planning to further highlight these images—via displays in the Charles Library and integration in learning materials—in order to help foster critical reflection and discussion.


Kristin Burnett

Concept: So far for each of my two poster designs, I have an individual concept. My first poster talks about being aware of our filter bubbles when it comes to accessing and internalizing our own information, and my second poster’s concept is more abstract by communicating the message that the authenticity/truth in the information we read can be skewed and manipulated, especially when passed along through many sources. 

Process: When working on these posters, the beginning of my process was reading many articles on topics like misinformation and going through visual examples that explore ideas surrounding information literacy. My main inspiration included a variety of different elements like graphic styles, illustrations, and compositions, which were all collected in mood boards and ended up being very helpful tools when bringing my ideas into Illustrator. One problem I faced in the midst of this process was deciding which sketches/concepts I needed to choose; as I worked on one poster concept, I usually would have a new idea for another concept and later on needed to narrow them down objectively. The main solution to this problem was getting feedback from others.


Marcus Frye-Boyd 

Concept: The concept of my poster stands behind informing others that when we use vertical reading/research techniques we limit and distort full truth. So I used photoshop digital distortion techniques to my text to show this visually. [Note from the Libraries: for more on vertical vs lateral reading, check out the News Literacy Project or watch this video.]

Process: So I had quite a few inspirations for my digital distortion and aesthetically I wanted to make a cooler version of those iconic the more you know posters but my biggest inspiration was by a designer named Mishko who uses the technique a lot. The liquify distortion technique is actually a little hard and slightly random in results so I had to commit early. My first technique looked a little corny and had spacing issues so ended having to start from scratch. Also maintaining different versions before and after using a tool is important because photoshop is very destructive. But the biggest challenge to overcome was the slowness it forced into my computer when using the recommended mixer brush. At one point I didn’t think I’d be able to execute at all and had no control of the marks I made on the color distortion. I found out though if I edit the spacing on the brush it would move faster. Then voila I was in business to continue what I set out to do. 


Rachael Hollar

Concept: My poster is trying to approach the idea of information literacy and the problems with “fake news” and social media as a whole in how it spreads manipulated content. I am doing this by using a layout and style inspired by vintage horror movies.

Process: My inspiration is vintage horror movie posters, and I am using Procreate for the whole thing. I had some initial problems with layout and how I wanted to personify the “manipulated content monster,” but I solved those by getting feedback from my classmates. 


Audrey Lee 

Concept: I wanted to create a poster that emphasized the fact that fake news is a national threat, and that other countries (particularly Russia) are using it to purposefully divide and weaken our country. The colors and negative space are meant to create a sense of alarm and urgency, while the font and texture emulate Russian activist art from the early 20th century. 

Process: I took a lot of inspiration from editorial illustrators like Jon Krause and Aad Goudappel, who use simple shapes, negative space and visual metaphors to convey clear political messages. I also took some inspiration from comics like Spy vs. Spy, which use visual contrasts and reconnaissance themes. I started in pencil for the sketches and thumbnails, created the rough in Illustrator, and added texture in Photoshop. I had a few issues with the concept—the negative space wasn’t totally clear at first, nor was the message. After adding the bold colors and the references to Russian design, the poster became conceptually clearer.


And check out the rest of the students’ work for this class:

Welcome back: Your spring 2021 guide to the Libraries

As we enter another semester where many of us remain apart due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of us here at the Libraries want to help you succeed amid these challenging circumstances. We are committed to providing you with important resources, materials, opportunities, and services, no matter where you are.  Check out our round up below.

If you plan to visit us in person, we encourage you to check our website for the latest information on access and services during COVID-19

Photo of physically distanced seating in Charles Library

Third floor open study area in Charles Library, photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg, Temple University

One-on-one research help

Librarians are here to offer personalized assistance as you work on your research papers and projects. No matter what you are studying or what major you pursue, we have a librarian who specializes in your field

Getting in touch with your librarian is easy: you can chat, email, or schedule a virtual appointment. For more ways to get in touch, visit our Contact Us page. 

New spring 2021—library chat goes 24/7! No matter when you’re working, we will be here to answer your questions. library.temple.edu/chat

Access to collections

We provide access to a broad range of physical and online materials—from books, databases, and journals to ebooks, archival materials, and movies—all searchable through our website: library.temple.edu.

If you are looking for fully online materials, we have highlighted those on our website.  

Recognition for your research

We will soon begin accepting applications for the Livingstone Undergraduate Research Awards, in which we recognize the best scholarly and creative work produced by Temple undergrads. Did we mention there are cash prizes?!

Online learning opportunities

The Libraries are more than just a place for books! We host specialized online learning opportunities, such as workshops on everything from telling stories with data to using citation managers to getting started with 3D printing. We have a full slate of workshops scheduled for the spring, and we hope you’ll join us. 

And check out our Beyond the Page public programming series. This semester’s theme is Made in North Philly, and we’ll be offering a variety of virtual readings, concerts, conversations, and more. 

As always, our events and workshops are free and open to all.


Here are a few more tips to help you start the new year off right:

Perspectives on substance use disorder: An exercise in empathy

Guest post by Lauri Fennell, public health and social sciences librarian, and Vicky Nucci, alcohol and drug prevention coordinator at the Wellness Resource Center

Self-reflection and assessing old patterns is common with the start of a new year. Often the New Year is brought in with drinking. This is a tradition that can bring about a lot of feelings, and we may not know how it affects our campus community. Building empathy and expanding our perspectives will help create safe and healthy spaces for all. This post is a collaboration between the Wellness Resource Center and Temple University Libraries.

Abstact image of lights on Temple's campus

photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg, Temple University

The importance of sharing perspectives

In a world where substance use has been normalized and oftentimes glorified, it’s important to understand all sides of this issue. 2020 was a challenging year and connecting with each other continues to be important. Students have had to navigate new models of participating in course instruction and connecting with one another in virtual spaces. Isolation has had its effects on all students but particularly on our students in recovery. If you or someone you know are affected by substance use disorder (SUD) and would like to seek options, check out this article from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism


Explore

Temple University Libraries has a large collection of videos and books (including ebooks). Search all Books and Media with your subject term, then limit by subject—e.g., fiction, memoir, etc. The Free Library of Philadelphia is another place to discover books on addiction and recovery.

Below you’ll find a curated list of media that is centered around folks’ experiences with substance use disorder. A few in the recommended list may be available as an ebook or audiobook too.

Memoirs/Biographies

Memoirs and biographies share personal stories, from the individual’s struggle with substance use disorder to the effects on family members. As with any reading, some will love a title while others don’t. 

Educational Texts

To learn more about substance use disorder, below are a couple of texts:


A space for reflection

Stress is often met with “I need a drink” or “you deserve a drink.” The language we use with phrases like happy hour, BYOB, and others, assumes that everyone wants to drink. The next time you plan a gathering or talk about how to handle stress, think about the implications our words can have on folks who live sober lifestyles or are in recovery.

 

This winter break, enjoy a good book

As winter break draws near, many of us are looking forward to relaxing as we get ready for the new year. What better way to unwind than to curl up with a good book? We polled Temple Libraries staff members for the books they recommend you check out this winter:


Book cover for The Blind AssassinI recommend The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. You might know Atwood from The Handmaid’s Tale, but The Blind Assassin is by far my favorite of her novels. It’s a story within a story within a story. There might even be another story in there. It’s genre-bending, hard to classify, and the more I write about it, the more I think I’m due for a re-read.
—Beckie Dashiell, Editor, Library Outreach and Communications

 

Book cover for The Vanishing Half

I recently read The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and thought it was such a page-turner. I always love a novel that pulls you into its world so much that you are still thinking about it even while you are not actively reading, and The Vanishing Half did that for me.
—Geneva Heffernan, Lead Administrative Specialist, Library Outreach and Communications
(Bonus: This ebook is available through the Libraries.)

 

Book cover for Useful Phrases for ImmigrantsI would recommend Useful Phrases for Immigrants, a short story collection by May-lee Chai. Temple University Press published her memoir, Hapa Girl, back in 2007 and I’ve followed her writing ever since. I particularly love short stories so I devoured this collection. Chai’s writing is so precise and emotional. She freights so much meaning and reveals telling details about her characters, sometimes in a single sentence. And I love that the collection provides so many vivid characters.
—Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager, Temple University Press

 

Book cover for Braiding SweetgrassBraiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer—A collection of essays on how botany and the teachings of Native America are connected. I particularly loved the traditional story of the three sisters (corn, squash, beans) and how that story is reflected in the garden (each helps the other grow) as well as supporting the body nutritionally. Kimmerer teaches at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry and is also a member of the Potawatomi tribe. 
—Nancy Turner, Associate Director for Organizational Research and Strategy Alignment
(Bonus: Another ebook that’s available through the Libraries.)

 

Book cover for Such a Fun AgeI picked up Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid because another library staff member was reading it, and then couldn’t put it down. The novel takes place in Philly and the protagonist is a Temple alum, so reading it felt like a little local scavenger hunt. It also provides a really nuanced depiction of race, class, and privilege, and manages to do so with a lightness that still makes it—forgive me—such a fun read. 
Sara Wilson, Assistant Director, Outreach and Communications
(Bonus: This ebook is available too!)

 

Book Cover for the 7th Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleThe 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. This book quickly became possibly one of the best books I have ever read. I describe it as a mix of Agatha Christie and Groundhog Day. This book is full of twists and turns and I literally couldn’t put it down! Highly recommend if you like mystery, historical fiction, a twist of sci-fi, intrigue, and fast paced writing.
—Carly Hustedt, Bibliographic Assistant II, Access Services

 

Book cover for Tarka the OtterTarka the Otter by Henry Williamson. A wonderful book which is little known in this country: “one of the defining masterpieces of modern nature writing…that seeks to transcend the boundaries between the human and the animal worlds.” —New York Review Books (NYRB)
—Gregory McKinney, Librarian

 

Reading for Social Change: What We Can Do for World AIDS Day and Beyond

Guest post by Brittany Robinson, wellness education program coordinator with the Wellness Resource Center 

December 1st is World AIDS Day—a time to show support for those whose lives are impacted by HIV/AIDS and to remember those who have died from an HIV/AIDS-related illness. World AIDS Day has been recognized and helped raise awareness for 32 years. The 2020 theme is “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility,” which encourages us to  unite worldwide to reduce new cases of HIV, end stigma, and make the world a better place for folks living with HIV. This post is a collaboration between the Wellness Resource Center and Temple University Libraries.

Approximately 1.2 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV and about 14% are unaware of their status. Living with HIV can be challenging due to isolation and stigmatization, but this does not have to be the reality. We have the power to work individually and collectively to create change. Using kind person-first language, becoming informed about the realities of HIV, and addressing misconceptions can reduce experiences of shame and isolation. One way we can begin doing the work of educating ourselves and reducing stigma is by reading accounts that accurately portray the experiences of folks living with HIV/AIDS. 

How Does Reading Help? 

Reading provides us the freedom and space to explore perspectives and experiences that are different from our own. Research shows that reading can improve empathy and perspective-taking. 

Here are some suggested titles, available through Temple Libraries

Positive by Tom Bouden

Bouden’s graphic novel tells the story of a young woman, Sarah, who discovers that she is HIV positive. Readers are taken on a journey as Sarah learns to navigate taking medication, responses from friends, and stigma. This story focuses on how life with HIV can be and often is filled with love and joy. 

Vital Signs: Essential AIDS Fiction by Richard Canning 

Canning has organized a collection of powerful short stories that speak to the struggle, bravery, and resilience of folks living with HIV and AIDS. 

Available Resources 

Temple’s Tuttleman Counseling Services has specially-trained therapists and support groups for Temple University students. 

Temple’s Wellness Resource Center has workshops and resources centered around healthy sexuality, stigma reduction, and social change. 

Philadelphia FIGHT provides inclusive and patient centered comprehensive primary care, and HIV primary care, research, education, and advocacy to folks living with HIV and those who are susceptible. 

AIDS United is a national organization with a mission of ending HIV in the United States. They offer blog posts, free webinars, and other resources for folks interested in improving the state of HIV nationally. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a wealth of information to help folks understand the basics of HIV, prevention methods, living fully with HIV, stigma reduction, and more. 

Reading for Social Change: #1Thing We Can Do For A Safer Tomorrow

Guest post by Liz Zadnik, associate director of the Wellness Resource Center

* Take Care While Reading: Mention of intimate partner abuse *

October is recognized nationally as Domestic Violence Awareness Month—a time to honor individuals and families who have experienced abuse, as well as for communities to join together in efforts to create positive change. The 2020 theme is #1Thing, as in one action we can each take to move us toward a world free of interpersonal violence. Today’s post is a collaboration between the Wellness Resource Center and Temple University Libraries.

Image of woman running in front text reading #1Thing, Awareness + Action = Social Change

While millions of Americans experience some form of intimate partner violence during their lifetime, it is often something they endure alone. Making something visible—speaking these truths—can minimize the shame and isolation so many may experience. One way we can start this collective conversation is by reading the accounts of folks brave and generous enough to share their lives with us.

How does reading help us in our collective efforts to create a safer world? 

Emerging research has found reading literary fiction can help readers with empathy and compassion. The skills of empathy—perspective-taking, staying out of judgement, identifying emotions, and then communicating recognition of those emotions—are strengthened as we bear witness to the perceptions, thought processes, and worldviews of characters.

Here are some suggested titles, all available through Temple Libraries:

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Machado’s memoir of her experience with an abusive partner weaves together themes of sizeism, heterosexism, and cultural understandings of love and worthiness. Incredibly candid, Machado approaches a difficult subject with wit and a combination of narrative tropes—including classic horror—to create something entirely unique.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

A classic text that won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction, The Color Purple shares the stories of women connected through their pain, growth, and bravery. The powerful novel offers a journey that is inspiring and life-affirming.

Milk and Honey and The Sun And Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur 

Kaur’s poetry seeks to raise awareness of domestic and family violence and how social norms contribute to victim-blaming, shame, and pain. Unflinching and honest, each offering evokes a range of emotions and asks the reader to open their heart to something new. 

Resources Available

Temple’s Tuttleman Counseling Services has specially-trained therapists and support groups for Temple University students who have experienced different forms of interpersonal violence.  

Philadelphia’s Domestic Violence Hotline connects folks with multiple organizations in the area for crisis intervention, safety planning, resources, and referrals. All conversations are free, confidential and anonymous: 1-866-723-3014

The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers support to anyone in the United States and also has a chat feature available any time, 24-hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-799-7233.

 

A welcome interruption: Winners read and inter-university contest announcement

On Tuesday, September 29, 2020, Temple University Libraries celebrated the winners of our second-ever creative writing contest, which explored the theme of “Interruption.” The contest winners and select finalists joined us virtually from around the city, region, and even the world to read their winning pieces via Zoom.

The event featured readings by:

The contest’s overall juried winner, Kristen Loughlin, was unable to join us for the live event, but you can view a video of her reading her winning short story, Bar Lines, on the Libraries’ YouTube page.

And in case you missed the reading, you can check it out at any time on our website.  

A new writing contest opportunity for Temple students

As we wrap up our own contest, we are excited to announce Temple Libraries’ participation in Short Édition’s first-ever inter-university contest. (Short Édition is the French publishing house who we partner with for our contests and who makes the short story dispenser we have in Charles Library).

The Long Story Short Award writing contest is open to all students at university partners (that’s us!), and submissions will be accepted from October 5 to November 19. 

Submissions are limited to 7,500 characters (not words, so take note!). There are cash prizes, and select submissions will be published across 300 Short Édition short story dispensers worldwide.

Learn more at the contest website, and good luck! We hope to see an Owl take the top prize!