Accidental Technologist: How Can Libraries Improve Wikipedia?

Eric Phetteplace


Wikipedia and libraries got off to a strained start. Perhaps this is only my perception, but it appeared that Wikipedia was used as a defenseless punching bag in much information literacy instruction. The refrain was always “don’t use Wikipedia” or “don’t use Google” to the neglect of far worse research sources like Yahoo! Answers. This “traditional” stance of librarianship was that the community-edited encyclopedia failed any quality analysis due to its sketchy authority; “anyone can edit”—anonymously even!—and therefore its content cannot possibly be trusted. Instructors would even develop assignments wherein students would vandalize the encyclopedia, deliberately inserting inaccurate or incoherent content, to demonstrate its unreliability. Leaving ethics aside, such assignments are constructed to ignore the finely tuned “bots” (editing programs which constantly crawl the site looking for clear signs of mischief) and diligent editors working to remove such content.

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