February 18th, 2008

What do you think of Wikipedia?

I have had a number of discussions with librarians and non-librarians alike about the merits of Wikipedia recently. I am realizing it is challenging to talk about Wikipedia because we need to clarify which Wikipedia are we talking about–is it the Wikipedia for a favorite musician or tv show? Is it the Wikipedia for looking up a term you don’t understand (defacto dictionary)? Is it the Wikipeadia you use to settle a bet (a.k.a ready reference)? Is it a wikipedia entry lovingly tended by a group of dedicated scholars? Is it an entry about a living person (some of the most inaccurate)?

The quality of Wikipedia varies to such as extent that it is harder and harder to paint broad generalizations to use or not to use. What do you think? Do you use it? If so, how?

Here is a recent blog post that takes a rather strong stand on the need to learn/educate on Wikipedia and similar new information tools.


“Wikipedia, or more generally the networked archival structure it represents, alters the way in which we create, share, and record knowledge, and thus has rather significant effects on how we approach education across all disciplines, and specifically in technology and science. Students and teachers alike must understand how systems of knowledge creation and archivization are changing.”

Parry, David. Wikipedia and the New Curriculum: Digital Literacy Is Knowing How We Store What We Know. Science Progress. February 2008.




Comment from Erika
Time February 21, 2008 at 11:14 am

I think it’s fascinating to watch how a Wikipedia entry can develop, if you know how to access the entry history page. It can offer some ideas on counterpoints and alternative perspectives to the main page content.

Here is a great time lapse:

Development of the Heavy Metal Umlaut entry — http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/gems/umlaut.html

WARNING: Includes a quick flash of an obscene spam attack on the entry.

Comment from Michelle Foreman
Time February 24, 2008 at 9:25 am

Wikipedia is really the most amazing resource. From a philosophical viewpoint, it provides a generally well-developed research resource, world-wide and free. Imagine the value of this in low-income areas in which subscription services are nearly non-existent.

I think that we, all too often, take an “all or nothing” view to reference sources. I have heard many teachers tell students that they can not use Wikipedia, because it could be wrong. I think this is an antiquated view of research, and it denies an excellent opportunity to develop information literacy skills. I have also heard teachers recommend Wikipedia as a first source, without any direction regarding quality assessment of the entry.

Of course, we could have a whole dialog on this topic! Let me simplify my position by stating that I believe one option is that teachers should allow the use of Wikipedia, when accompanied by an appraisal. However, I believe that teachers and instructors at the K-16 level should require short (even just one sentence) appraisals of all sources used during research. I think this would develop the cognitive skills necessary to evaluate sources as a natural part of the research process.

Thanks for bringing up such a great topic!

Comment from KateP
Time February 25, 2008 at 1:14 pm

Thanks for the comment, Michelle. I often do not think of the K-12 perspective with my higher education tunnel vision. I agree with the appraisal idea for all sources–and to make it a habit–not just an add on to one or two assignments.

Comment from Erin
Time February 28, 2008 at 2:06 pm

I have two more links that may be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about Wikipedia.
First, Wikipedia Vison tracks edits to Wikipedia as they happen. It’s mostly just fun to watch. http://www.lkozma.net/wpv/
Second, Slate has an interesting article that criticizes the characterization of Wikipedia as a “democratic” information source. http://www.slate.com/id/2184487

Comment from Sue
Time March 8, 2008 at 11:30 pm

I use Wikipedia to find information on movies (for example, the Saw movies so I didn’t have to watch them), stars, pop culture subjects. I would never use it for a paper or anything school related. I really don’t trust the info enough to use it for official stuff. When I was an undergraduate, I tutored writing and I often had to explain to other students that they really should not use it. Really, the professors didn’t like it.

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