Vast Active Library and Information Science blog. From a recent library science graduate in Wellington, New Zealand. A focus on reference and current awareness tools and issues, especially free, web-based resources.

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Thursday, September 02, 2004
Few more on Wikipedia  
Jessamyn weighs in in favo(u)r of Wikipedia:

Does this [Alex Halvais's experiment, discussed previously] prove that the Wikipedia is authoritative? Not necessarily, but it's one more data point explaining how the system works to people that aren't familiar with it, and one more data point to use with naysayers who think that having a resource be freely editable means that by definition it can't also be authoritative.

On the other hand, Karen Schneider (director of Librarian's Index to the Internet and ALA council member) criticises Wikipedia:

I am the director of a digital library that is the anti-wiki. We put our labor into "information you can trust," and we're doing that to save librarians time....Would you really want a librarian to hand you ten resources with the comment that "some of this is crap, but you figure it out?"

I don't have an issue with wikis, but if I'm going to do the legwork to check the authority of a resource, then I'll use an authoritative resource in the first place....All information is questionable. That's what real librarians believe. And some information is better-packaged and more authoritative than others.

I see wikis are useful in the other direction. Wikis are good tools for checking up on the "authoritative" sites, to find out the rest of the story, the other perspective, the slant you don't get from oh-fish-ul resources. But I wouldn't assume that the wiki is correct; I would assume the wiki is opening the door to further queries.

Finally, the TANSTAAFL principle applies....

I'm not so sure I agree with Karen. I don't see LII (which is a wonderful resource) as an anti-Wiki - the two are closer than she seems to think. From the LII About page:

While the bulk of our work activity is performed by the LII staff, we also have over 100 Contributors from libraries in California and Washington State....

We have a rigorous commitment to data quality. Every site entered in the LII database is reviewed at least twice--sometimes three or four times--before it goes "live." An active weeding program keeps us current--while sites change and die all the time, LII almost never has more than 100 "dead" sites.

So both Wikipedia and LII use a team of volunteers. The key differences (as far as I can see) are that LII's volunteers are all professional librarians; and that LII has a formal review and weeding procedure. Whereas in theory anyone can edit Wikipedia. However, I still believe the nature of Wikipedia offers an informal means of achieving this same end. The Recent Changes page is constantly watched by many users, in order to identify and correct egregious changes.

And, while most contributors clearly aren't information professionals, they may yet be subject experts. (It's difficult to imagine what motivation a non-expert or troll would have for writing about wave-particle duality or other scientific or technical topics. And Wikipedia has proved itself to be far more accurate in its coverage of my own country (New Zealand) than some official electronic encyclopedias supplied by highly reputable companies. (If you're reading this, there's a high liklihood that your library subscribes to them). Likewise, the MDMA (ecstasy) article on Wikipedia is more accurate and comprehensive than almost any other such article I've seen online.

In sumnmary, I think the bottom line is: is this an accurate source? I have seen many criticisms of Wikipedia based on its nature, but I've yet to see one based on its content. Obviously, I wouldn't take it as gospel, but I think that we need to see some actual examples of flaws in Wikipedia's content, before we dismiss it out of hand.

Oh, and I didn't recognise the acronym Karen used, which I've quoted above. Guess where I went to find out what it means?

[edit: added link to Karen's post which I'd left out originally]