Wikis…

June 13, 2007

I think out of all the social software tools available to librarians the wiki has the most potential in quite a number of applications.  In the readings by Meredith Farkas most of the applications are delinated well: reference, collegial interaction and teamwork, knowledge management (which Angela Kille’s discussed in greater detail) to annotated the library catalogue, being a centre of community information, and acting as a pathfinder (i.e. – subject guides).  I do agree with Jill’s comments that wikis can lead to more work for librarians, I think that overall it allows patrons to contribute in ways that librarians otherwise cannot.  In the instance of a pathfinder, as Farkas points out, librarians cannot necessarily be expected to thoroughly account for all sources of information and allowing students and faculty to input on the subject can improve upon what already exists.  I believe it also provides a cheaper and easier to implement reference service than the vendor provided virtual reference software.  Also, having the reference questions available to be viewed and commented on by all can be encouraging to many afraid or unsure whether or not to ask librarians questions, and to getting a more complete answer to a given question.  Though I don’t want to speak too glowingly about wikis, I believe that they are the best tool available if libraries want to really connect with their patrons.

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I completely concur with Qingyi in regards to Wikipedia despite persistent detractors both within and outside the library profession.  Beyond the issues of vandalism, spamming, and overly opinionated people, is the criticism that Wikipedia lacks authority in authorship, being that anyone can edit or add entries, and therefore its content is suspect.  This opinion was exemplified by Stephen Colbert through his ironic alter-ego on the Colbert Report, arguing that Wikipedia followed his personal ideology of “truthiness”, in that it represents a truth by consensus, as opposed to fact.  Wikipedia even has an article that addresses this (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_in_popular_culture).  Colbert encouraged people to alter an article in regards to the population of African elephants to prove his point and in addition started a mock-wikipedia as satire:(http://www.wikiality.com/index.php?title=Main_Page).  This criticism is echoed by many professional critics, and we all took reference in our first semester and the use of the site was prohibited and I counted myself among the critics until recently.

I do however agree with its founder Jimmy Wales that despite people’s “pettiness, idiocy, and vulgarity” (Schiff), that ultimately an unobtrusively collaborative effort has yielded as accurate results as can be found in the more reputable publications.  With Wikipedia the people themselves have done a good job at policing vandalism and that controvercial subjects are given a fair and open hearing and in the case of Colbert’s elephants, the vandalism that occured was quickly countered by Wikipedia members.  There are many topics in which there is no one and absolute truth and perceptions of them can be coloured greatly by their currency as the Schiff article pointed out in regards to the recent Israeli invasion of Lebannon.  These debates are covered in talkback sections as are other issues of accuracy and organization that anyone can read and comment on, which is something unavailable in tradtional encyclopedia formats.  Also for most articles one can see all alterations and deletions made to it as well and articles that infrequently or do not cite sources are openly declared at the top of the page.  More well recieved encyclopedia do list their contributors and have each article signed by them, but the idea that a person will look up how to contact a professor at the Sorbonne and contest their point-of-view is unlikely.  As Wales himself described the goal should be accuracy, not authority, and from my perspective even the most “authoritative” opinions can be the most biased.  I’m not argueing that Wikipedia is the best source of information and common sense should prevail and people should obviously cross-check whatever they find with other sources but as a reference source it should not be ignored.