Thursday, 25 February 2010

Wikipedia (again)

Over the past few years, information professionals have spent spend an inordinate amount of time discussing Wikipedia. Everyone has an opinion, and usually an example of some inaccuracy. When interviewing wannabe librarians/researchers I often throw in a 'what do you think of Wikipedia?' question as the response can reveal a lot about an applicant's approach to information seeking. Many come out with 'don't trust it' - the 'official' approach that seems to be taught in most British schools and universities. In fact, exams watchdog Ofqual recently said that children should use Google and Yahoo to improve essays, but avoid the online encyclopedia.

Students need to learn how to discriminate between sources, but the fact remains that reliably sourced articles on Wikipedia can be unbeatable. I was reminded of this the other day when reading a post about the process of updating entries on Russell Potter's Visions of the North blog. Potter, an academic and leading authority on arctic exploration, writes about adding his comments to a Wikipedia entry on the sinking of the Karluk, the flagship of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, in 1914. The finished article (for now anyway) is a model of a well researched contribution, "providing a balanced and informative reference entry where before there was only a dark corner with a few half-hearted scraps mingling with rumors and undocumented sources" (Potter).

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