These are challenging and uncertain times for us all, and it is important to have quick access to information that we can rely on. We are very grateful to David Bedford, Academic Support Librarian at the Drill Hall Library, Universities at Medway, for providing this guest blog post, which highlights some key sources of reliable information on the COVID-19 outbreak.
Change is, they say, the only constant in life. It was first said well over two thousand years ago, and it is certainly true now. At a time when the news agenda and meme generation have become almost entirely driven by COVID-19, information and humour have a very short shelf-life. Where are the best places for us to turn?
Julie Greenhough has written an excellent post on the JCS blog, which looks at the information literacy implications of the pandemic: COVID-19: searching for truth in post truth times. This post will focus on specific sources of information. This is a time where being able to signpost to established, credible sources is particularly important.
Before I begin, two points of order. First, I will refer to the virus in question as COVID-19 throughout. The use of coronavirus is very common, but as that refers to a whole host of other viruses as well, I will avoid it unless it is used by a source of information I am referring to. Second, I am restricting this to sources which are completely open. No payment or registration required to access. Just an internet connection.
As with any other issue, there are some excellent sources of information out there, and some truly terrible ones. As an academic librarian working with health programmes, I have been keeping an eye on how the students I work with have been keeping themselves informed, and have done what I can to help guide them towards useful sources. Meanwhile, within my social networks, I have seen the whole range of sources shared. I’d love to say that my friends, faced with an information crisis, have all flocked to their friendly librarian for advice, but that would be far from the truth.
Starting at the top
Official sources are the first port of call. These will obviously vary around the world but, in the UK, the top sources of info are the NHS and the government.
The government has also created a page titled Coronavirus (COVID-19): UK government response, which compiles all the government’s publications on the topic, as well as a page of information for the public. Agree with the policies or not, it is important to know what they are, and government sources also tend to be the first with up-to-date statistics. Depending on location, other sites may also be needed, as some of the UK information is (as is so often the way) specific to England:
- Coronavirus (Covid-19) updates for Northern Ireland
- Coronavirus in Scotland
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Welsh government
For those wanting an international perspective, the World Health Organisation is a logical place to start. Their page, titled Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, contains updates, guidance and some excellent, shareable myth-busters. The CDC also has a comprehensive Coronavirus (COVID-19) page.
Then, pretty much every big organisation you could think of has a page dedicated to COVID-19 updates, info and advice, to help those who work for them or rely on their services. Many of them are updated very regularly. I can’t possibly begin to list them all, but it would be remiss of me not to include the CILIP Coronavirus Information Service, which provides advice to libraries on steps to follow whether they are remaining open or closing. In the USA, the ALA has a really useful page on Pandemic Preparedness.
Of course, checking the “last updated” note on any source of info on this issue (official or otherwise) is vital, given that things change on a more than daily basis.
Checking the facts
In terms of other sources, this is a good time to stick with those you already trust, but when that’s not possible, fact-checking organisations come into their own. Most fact-checkers have dedicated pages for COVID-19. Some examples:
- Full Fact: Facts on Coronavirus
- BBC Reality Check (at time of writing, doesn’t have a specific COVID-19 page with a stable URL)
- Snopes Coronavirus Collection: Fact-checking COVID-19
- Politifact: Coronavirus
Of course, we can come back into “do you trust them?” territory. When looking at information from fact-checking sites you are not familiar with, double-check where they are getting their confirmations/rebuttals from. A sign of a good fact check is that they show their work and provide unambiguous links to the evidence they rely on.
Beyond the paywalls
The most interesting set of sources that can be used is those that would normally not be accessible. A number of publications have made any information relevant to COVID-19 openly available for the time being. Again, I am only listing those sites that are not asking readers to register in order to read the information. This approach is a ray of light in troubling times. A few examples I have found (largely focusing on publishers with a large UK presence):
- Times Higher Education
- British Medical Journal
- New England Journal of Medicine
- Springer Nature
- Oxford University Press
- Elsevier (including The Lancet)
Finally, for curated information that researchers may find useful, there are a couple of sources emerging. LitCovid is a searchable database bringing together journal literature from PubMed – at time of writing, it indexes just over 1,100 research papers. And the Coronavirus Tech Handbook is an impressive display of crowd-sourcing, bringing together advice, tools, models and more. Not a site designed for the public at large, but the most comprehensive source I have yet encountered.
David is an academic support librarian working with health-related programmes at the Drill Hall Library. This library services three institutions: the University of Greenwich, the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University. His key interests include equipping students to engage with information sources critically (an article on this was published on the Nursing Times readers blog). Outside of the library, he can usually be found doing something theatrical, including performing in and writing musical theatre.