Recently, I had a chance converse with some librarians online. We discussed ways to engage students more in research. In the midst of our discussion, I mentioned Wikipedia. Every librarian gasped as if I just spewed out every bad four-letter word George Carlin, Sam Kenison, Benny Hill, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor used in one of their stand up comedy sets. They quickly chirped how Wikipedia is not a trusted resource because anyone can edit Wikipedia. I almost started the debate but instead used the active listening strategy of listening to understand vs. to respond. As they talked, I heard each librarian share how a 12 year old kid could go in and make things up, how hackers change information based on trolling an audience and how anything with the word wiki is bad for education. One every proudly proclaimed, “I use Wikipedia all the time for my research—but I certainly wouldn’t cite it!”

After I finished listening to their reasons, I responded with a few questions that popped up. What was the root of this distrust with Wikipedia? Did Encyclopedia Britanica declare Wikipedia was the devil?Was it a bad reputation from their initial launch? Could these amazing educators be correct or nah?

They asked me if I use Wikipedia and I shared that I use it often. They gasped again!

(Note: I must’ve really said some bad words in their minds!)

When they asked I why I explained to them a few key things:

  • Yes, I use Wikipedia because it is an open source (anyone can edit it) website; however, the majority of the topics are edited by experts in that field. If I want information on nuclear triads and go to Wikipedia, chances are, many experts populated that information on that topic and those experts actually deal with nuclear triads and the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
  • It is one of several sources I will use when conducting research and not the only source. Others are Google Scholar, Open Access Journals, WorldBook Online (subscription) and HighBeam.
  • The information is more kid-friendly and provides less jargon than other sites, which makes it easier to understand.
  • Wikipedia has a team that verifies content full time, which is different when it first was launched in 2001.
  • Wikipedia is a web encyclopedia then compare it to the sort of encyclopedias they had as children, there cannot be any doubt that it is more comprehensive, more detailed, more thorough, better sourced, more accurate, less biased and overall a better source of information than humanity has ever had access to in the past.
  • It has an area to allow citations, which means you can click through to view the original article or data in question. Traditional encyclopedias never had that. Then, Wikipedia asks anyone to cross-reference check articles to ensure it is reliable.

We all finished the meeting learning a few things we hadn’t considered and promised to look into new ways to engage students as we brush off some of the old-tried-and-true- ways as well.

  • Are there crappy articles on Wikipedia? Yes.
  • Should that stop you from starting your journey on a specific topic with Wikipedia? No.
  • Is Wikipedia credible. Yes.
  • Should you copy/paste paragraphs from Wikipedia in your research dissertation? No
  • Should you scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the references that will take you to more resources on said topic? Yes.
  • Should Wikipedia be your one-stop shop to get all data on your research? No.

I think our discussion opened their perspectives a little to try Wikipedia again. I encourage you to be open minded and try Wikipedia again too!

Picture selected from the Amazing Bill Keane and www.Familycircus.com.


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