Wikipedia and Libraries

Wikipedia seems to get mixed reviews in the academic world, but I don’t fully understand why. There are those that complain that they can’t trust the untamed masses with such an important task as writing and editing an encyclopedia, then there are others that say you can’t trust the experts with it either. For my part, I’ve come to love Wikipedia, despite having access to EB and other, more traditional sources. Why? Because it takes better advantage of the web than others, and unlike those commercial products, I don’t have to sign in to use it.

In fact, my only criticism of Wikipedia is that I’d like to use it more by integrating it into library resources. One example I use is of putting biography data from Wikipedia into our catalog search results displays. We have three books about Nikola Tesla, but why not include the first few paragraphs from the Wikipedia entry on him?

In my presentations I note the increasing tendency toward self service, even when we know we can get better answers/service by talking with somebody. This is true of travel (when was the last time you booked airfare through a travel agent?), and there are signs that suggest that it’s becoming true in libraries too. What I’m suggesting is that we need to improve our automated systems so that we can continue to serve our patrons even as their needs, expectations, and wants change.

In short, we need to transform our online systems into answer systems. So my criticism of Wikipedia is that there’s a lot of valuable data there that is difficult to automatically link to library data (author names, for instance, are rarely in the library of congress’s authoritative form). I don’t have any real solutions for this right now, and I see a lot of benefit to Wikipedia’s open (more human) form, so I haven’t really argued this much.

Still, I was pleased to see this note in TeleRead suggesting that librarians are “infiltrating” Wikipedia. The tip of the spear seems to be at Quaedam cuiusdam, where Peter Binkley is talking about some things, like OpenURL resolution, that could make Wikipedia a better resource for libraries. Good stuff.