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Changing view of Wikipedia

I was very pleased yesterday about the reactions of international librarians in workshop when asked about Wikipedia. They cited it as great starting point, pointed out the many ways the entries can be analyzed for accuracy and bias, and told how they used it as a teaching tool, not just a source of information for students. That's my people! My firm belief that librarians are more important than ever in the age of digital information was once again confirmed. (BTW, you participants in the workshop yesterday were great to work with!) 


When I first started talking about Wikipedia and how it was was written and updated, librarians and teachers were pretty horrified. A reference source anyone could edit - even without an academic background check? I always loved it, thinking how much I had started to use other crowd-sourced information found on TripAdvisor and customer reviews of products in helping me make "informed" decisions that were better than those I found in traditional guides. I even defended it in a Leading & Learning article in 2006.

The infographic below, while sensationalized (see Joyce Valenza's thoughtful critique*), is telling. 


As I always suggest to people, if you don't believe the accuracy of Wikipedia, just look in the Wikipedia article "Reliability of Wikipedia."

Like any powerful tool, the wise use of Wikipedia needs to be taught. I pity the students who don't get help from librarians in doing this. It's not Wikipedia or the librarian kind of choice. It should be a Wikipedia AND the librarian choice.

*But, like political or commercial messages, infographics are carefully-crafted media messages.  And they beg careful deconstruction, scrutiny, and analysis. - Joyce Valenza (still the smartest person in all LibraryLand!)

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Reader Comments (7)

Every year I have my grade 9 students answer the big question, "Is Wikipedia Evil as a Research Tool?" After a series of lessons examining the validity, reliability and currency of Wikipedia, the students are always amazed that despite what many teachers want them to believe, wikipedia is not an "evil" research tool. It has its time and place in the grand scheme of research (I've used it many times as a Masters student trying to get ideas for papers) and need not be easily dismissed by teachers and students. The problem with wikipedia, like any other resource, is that it should never be the sole source of information for any research project.

March 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJo-Anne Gibson

Participatory culture (journalism, science, etc.) has opened wide the door to contributions of named or unnamed creators with little or no prepublication vetting. If educators don't give kids practice in evaluating sources in the "playground standbox" of Wikipedia, they won’t stand a chance when they need to evaluate the "wilder" web of SuperPac backing, Holocaust deniers, and assertions of self-proclaimed authorities in health, education, etc..

Here's a self-check on your own evaluation savvy. For fun I made a list a while back of all the ways I could think of that the information we could access was distorted or missing:

Do we take any of this into consideration when we look something up or teach students to search for information? We all need to develop more sophisticated "rules of thumb" for evaluating information and Wikipedia is a manageable place to practice. Here are some tips for weighing accuracy in Wikipedia:

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

Hi Jo-Anne,

You've hit the nail on the heat - Wikipedia should not be the sole source of information for any question. One nice thing about most entries are the links to other sources referenced.

Keep up the good work,


HI Debbie,

Wow, a comment from my research guru/hero. I am flattered!

I can't think of more important survival skill than the ability to evaluate the quality of information - from any source, including my neighbors. Information can kill, main and cause great harm.

And the biggest challenge is helping people recognize bias - that while information presented may be accurate, only the parts that support a stand are recognized.

Great list, too. Thanks for the link. Hope you participate in Banned Website Awareness day again this year.


April 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

It's always interesting to me that Wikipedia creates passionate conversation between professionals. Some view it as an evil source, while others see it as collaboration in its finest form. I usually fall somewhere in between.

I've just recently starting reading Daniel Pink's book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and one of the very first topics that shows the wonder of human motivation is the fact that Wikipedia is wildly successful, even though it's an open source site. People aren't paid to spend time updating information on the web, but they do it anyway. Why?

I have not finished the book yet, so I can't quite answer that question, but Pink's book is certainly an eye-opening experience for me in how my students use their spare time, and why they spend time doing the things they do. A recommended read for sure!

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaria Burnham

Hi Maria,

I'm a big Daniel Pink fan and have read Drive. Don't we always do better when we are somehow passionate about our tasks?

Thanks for reminding me of the connection between the book and Wikipedia!


April 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson


Just a quick thanks for your post. Some teachers are horrified that I tell students Wikipedia is a fine place to start their search (along with our databases and SweetSearch - thanks for turning me on to that, Buffy Hamilton). I'm going to use your Trip Advisor crowd sourcing analogy when next I'm confronted with disapproval!


p.s. hope you got to Juan Dolio or Boca Chica this winter!

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Waterworth

Hi Susan,

Very nice to hear from you. Yes, I returned to Boca Chica and Zapatos Hotel last January and finished the first half of my book. I did a brief search for our conversation about the DR, but was unable to recall your name or school affiliation. I'd have said "hi" while there.

Glad you liked the post and thanks for the comment!


April 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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