Wicked-pedia?

There’s been all sorts of publicity about Wikipedia since it first appeared, and opinion among the librarians I know has swung from “that’s potentially useful” to “that’s a bit dodgy, I don’t think I can trust it”, and finally on to “that’s a good start for finding information on all sorts of stuff, but I need to be aware of its shortcomings”.

So, I know Wikipedia’s handy, and I know I have to be wary of certain stuff (it’s notorious for being maliciously edited on pages covering contentious topics, and amusingly Wikipedia has a page on malicious edits/vandalism on Wikipedia), but I don’t know how to look into the workings of it and assess it properly. I know the editors are volunteers, but how do they become volunteers, and how exactly do they edit pages? And what are the systems in place to stop or flag up unreliable edits? If I’m going to explain to my service users why they should or shouldn’t rely on a Wikipedia page to inform them, I really should be able to check for myself in order to explain why that page is or isn’t reliable. But I don’t really have the time to spare to teach myself about the detailed workings of Wikipedia – I’ve had a quick look before, but it seemed such a cliquey thing that I really didn’t feel I wanted to invest the time to get involved. I know there’s also an issue with a gender imbalance towards males in the editors (and content), which makes me a bit leery of getting involved in what seems to be yet another boys club.

All of this means that I’m going to be going along to the SLA Europe event at the National Library of Scotland on Tuesday 4th March, “Do you have the facts on Wikipedia?”* I’m hoping that it’ll give me the sort of information that I need to use it more effectively, and perhaps make getting involved in the background workings of Wikipedia seem a bit less intimidating!

*Disclaimer: I will be helping to run this event, but I’d be going anyway – this looks interesting!

She would have hated me as her student!

Tara Brabazon’s hitting the headlines again, with an interview in The Guardian.
She thinks that librarians will like her take on things, as we all want more books, and must feel as she does, that using Google, Wikipedia, and even blogs is ‘bad’ research.
Well, I disagree.

I like using Google – it gives me a good starting point. Wikipedia quickly gives me information on topics that I don’t know about. Blogs give a personal view of issues, and often uncover a bias or truth not widely publicised.
Yes, books are wonderful, but to get to the information in them, I need physical access to them…which isn’t always possible. Online tools allow me to start my research from resources I can access, then if needed, I can move on to physical resources. I can’t easily tell if a book even discusses a certain topic without having it and its index in my hand, but I can do a keyword search on a pdf, or webpage, and rapidly check its usefulness.
I’m also a big enough girl to be able to assess the potential accuracy and reliability of the resources I look at.
To be banned from doing this, and allowed to refer only to a list selected by someone else seems stupid. Yes, they may be the leading texts, but what if there’s been comment on them that disagrees with them, but isn’t also included on that list?
Isn’t that just as biased as an error-ridden Wikipedia entry?

Others have already stated that her approach to training students to research by banning use of Google, and giving only a set text list isn’t a particularly great plan…all I can say is she would have HATED me as her student! 🙂