A few thoughts on Wikipedia
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales speaks tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Swasey Chapel, as part of this year’s Spectrum Series theme, “Technology and Community.” It’s a perfect time to check in with Library Director Scottie Cochrane—who operates at the center of Denison’s universe, research-wise—to ask what she thinks about the free online collaborative encyclopedia that’s written by volunteers.
I use it all the time. Wikipedia is a place to start—a place to get a quick overview—knowing full well that what I’m reading may be biased.
In an academic environment, there are always those who would love to get rid of Wikipedia entirely. But students want to be part of the action. For them, participation is the holy grail. So it’s about education. Students have to learn to use the right resources for the task at hand, how to find them, how to credit them, and how to make the distinction between what is verifiable and what isn’t. That’s part of what we teach.
What I find fascinating is the number of people across the country and around the world who participate in the creation of Wikipedia. I think the general population has a far richer intellectual life than many realize. These people are busy, they have jobs and families, and yet they dedicate their time and talent to helping to create this online resource. And I think it’s fabulous that Jimmy Wales is coming here to speak.
I was talking with my brother about Wikipedia a few years ago, extolling the reasons why students should not cite it as a resource in their academic work. Despite the fact that his world view is such that he might as well have been born at the dawn of the last century, he told me I was barking up the wrong tree. I asked him, “Is Bubba down the road an expert on anything?” Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. But he was the one who wrote that Wikipedia entry.
So, as long as it is not misused, Wikipedia has definite value. Bubba’s opinion is interesting. It just shouldn’t be the final word for your professional or scholarly pursuits.