June 15, 2006


A couple of very sensible views on Wikipedia:

From Scott McLemee:

Nor is use of Wikipedia limited to people who lack other information resources. My own experience is probably more common than anyone would care to admit. I have a personal library of several thousand volumes (including a range of both generalist and specialist reference books) and live in a city that is home to at least to three universities with open-stack collections. And that’s not counting access to the Library of Congress.

The expression “data out the wazoo” may apply. Still, rare is the week when I don’t glance over at least half a dozen articles from Wikipedia.


Sure, we want our students, readers, and fellow citizens to become more astute in their use of the available tools for learning about the world. (Hope springs eternal!) But what is to be done in the meantime?

Given the situation at hand, what is the responsibility of people who do have some level of competence? Is there some obligation to prepare adequate Wikipedia entries?


The advantage of Wikipedia’s extreme openness is that people are able to produce fantastically thorough entries on topics far off the beaten path. The wiki format creates the necessary conditions for nerd utopia. As a fan of the new “reimagined” “Battlestar Galactica,” I cannot overstate my awe at the fan-generated Web site devoted to the show. Participants have created a sort of mini-encyclopedia covering all aspects of the program, with a degree of thoroughness and attention to accuracy matched by few entries at Wikipedia proper.

And via LISNews, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales:
Speaking at a conference at the University of Pennsylvania on Friday called “The Hyperlinked Society,” Mr. Wales said that he gets about 10 e-mail messages a week from students who complain that Wikipedia has gotten them into academic hot water. “They say, ‘Please help me. I got an F on my paper because I cited Wikipedia’” and the information turned out to be wrong, he says. But he said he has no sympathy for their plight, noting that he thinks to himself: “For God sake, you’re in college; don’t cite the encyclopedia.”


“It’s good enough knowledge, depending on what your purpose is.”

In an interview, Mr. Wales said that Wikipedia is ideal for many uses. If you are reading a novel that mentions the Battle of the Bulge, for instance, you could use Wikipedia to get a quick basic overview of the historical event to understand the context. But students writing a paper about the battle should hit the history books.

This is exactly the kind of advice I give all the time at the reference desk or in IL classes. Wikipedia is a good place to get started, get some basic information and a few good links, but you really can't use it as the last word in a university level paper. However, I often suggest Wikipedia to my sons (grades 5 & 7) as a source of really good information for their work. Often for them, the info in Wikipedia and some of the external links is more than good enough.

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