Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wikipedia is OK by me

I like Wikipedia and I think it is has a valuable role to play in our search for information.

Firstly, I like it because everyone can post their knowledge and expertise on their subject of passion. Everyone is good at something and this gives those with a passion for an obscure sport, hobby or anything to have a voice, thus, affirming they are OK and their contribution is valuable. It also means when I am approached on an obscure topic that I know we will have a tough time finding resources on - Wikipedia will be able to help me.

Wikipedia allows me to contribute to my local and world community in a meaningful way. I live in a beautiful village in Hong Kong called Sai Kung, it is a fishing village of about 10,000 people and has a wonderful feel about it. The world can now know about Sai Kung through Wikipedia, and I can help ensure the information there is correct and add to it as I feel the need.

One thing that does bother me is the following statement on Wikipedia "This article does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unverifiable material may be challenged and removed. (August 2008)" I understand why it may be there, but in the case of Sai Kung's information, it is all experiential knowledge that has been shared. I check the information myself often to ensure it is correct - but what other sources can I use to cite the information contained therein?? Some things you just can't get out of a book or article, and this aspect needs to to be validated in such situations. There is a vast volume of information that cannot be verified through reliable print or other sources.

I also like Wikipedia as it is the one place where I can find the full and complete lists of series books, or books written in multiple volumes. I can be very confused about different series - such as the Warriors by Erin Hunt. There are a number of series with the same characters written by the same author - which one belongs to which series and in which order do I need to read them? A fan of the series has taken the time to record the required information, thus saving me many hours pondering and figuring it all out.

Wikipedia also allows me to research into the titles suggested by the students to purchase. I can search for one title, and soon know if there are multiple titles I can also order from the same series or author. The information given on Wikipedia about the title is usually written by a fan, sometimes a publisher, but the descriptions are usually pretty honest and lacking of sensational emotive words to try to persuade - I get the facts without the sales fluff. I can also direct my students to Wikipedia when they want to know what a book is about, or to get a feel for a series, or even to create wish lists from resources they find on Wikipedia. They can even add their own contributions about their favourite book or series.

I also like how there are so many hyperlinks that I can go off on tangents - information about the author, settings and even the individual books are given their own page and all just there for me to follow the links.

I like Wikipedia because it is tidy, organised and searchable. The index on each page makes it easy to navigate, and the accompanying graphics are usually very useful as well.

It is a truly collaborative project, one that deserves more credit than it is given. It has been proven a number of times to be accurate, and it is a useful and valuable tool to me as a Teacher Librarian. Wikipedia is OK by me.

1 comment:

Amy said...

This was the exact concept I was studying in my library course this week. I was struck by how much information was provided about one topic and hardly anything on another, even within the same article. Mick O'Leary points out that Wikipedia's weakness is "emphasis - sometimes important aspects of a topic get little or no attention, while minor facets are covered excessively." Penguins was a topic I used to compare several encyclopedia versions. The penguin Wikipedia article listed so much information about the evolution of the penguin. All three of the other encyclopedias, gave one or two sentences about the wings becoming more useful as flippers over time. Wikipedia also commented extensively on the fossils of penguins which were not mentioned at all in the other three. I think we need to keep this forefront in our mind when we are using Wikipedia with our students.

O'Leary, Mick. "Wikipedia: Encyclopedia or Not?" Information Today September 2005: 49-53