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Information Literacy and the Paranormal

October 12, 2022
Haunted?” by Vincent_AF is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s that time of year again! The time of year where I can shamelessly indulge in my TV guilty pleasures – the Travel Channel’s slate of paranormal shows. From ghosts to cryptids, to demonic possessions, it’s all there. The part that I love the most, not surprisingly, is the research that happens during the shows. The investigators may interview local historians or library staff, who have historical documents or local history texts conveniently at hand to give them a quick recap of the history of a supposedly haunted space. Some shows may have the investigators actually visit the library or local historical society, and if you’re lucky a microfilm might make an appearance. Other times, it may be the historical society, museum, or library that is itself haunted, which adds a nice twist to the formula. 

Some investigators may be more seasoned researchers, and do their own search through digitized newspaper repositories, census records, or other online materials. They don’t mention libraries or archives in these scenes, but we librarians know that they are there, hiding in the background like some information providing specter.  

Instead of taking rumor and folklore at face value, these investigators look to find some sort of basis or truth behind the experiences people have. Though some shows achieve this better than others, it is nice to see this attempt at verification demonstrated in popular culture. Hopefully these shows are peaking viewers’ interest in historical research, so they may be interested in learning more about their own town or family, even if paranormal activity isn’t involved.  

The one piece of fiction that persists though, even with these “reality” TV shows, is the ease with which the investigators find their information. There is always a convenient edit to condense the time, or a historian at the ready with a prepared pile of documents. Research can be a tedious and messy process, and though it isn’t very “camera ready” it is an important lesson to learn. The right answer isn’t always the easiest one to come by – whether that’s discovering who haunts a building or finding a research article for a class assignment. 

Alas, this is a trope that seems to be as persistent as a librarian with her hair in a bun, and her glasses on a chain. (The cardigan gets a pass though; layers are a necessity in libraries with our persistent HVAC issues!) If you want to get even more in the Halloween spirit, Book Riot did a short article earlier this year, highlighting horror movies that feature research at the library Ghosts and murderous clowns, I can suspend my disbelief on their existence, an easy-to-use Microfilm reader? What a bunch of bunk!   

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Alex K. permalink*
    October 18, 2022 2:30 pm

    My favorite part of every horror movie is when they go to the Library!

  2. Susan M. Frey permalink
    October 18, 2022 2:50 pm

    Great post!

    I have seen presentations on research into the paranormal at several national and regional conventions of the PCA/ACA | Popular Culture Association · American Culture Association. Fascinating stuff! The presentations seem to fall into two general categories: 1. examination/deconstruction of research methodology and 2. meta-analysis of how this research, or these researchers, are a part of the larger cultural record or zeitgeist.

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