[Web4lib] Wikipedia

Seaman, Graham Graham.Seaman at rhul.ac.uk
Wed Mar 17 12:54:32 EDT 2010

Quite apart from (not) citing wikipedia there's the issue of judging
whether a wikipedia page is giving you a useful framework to start off
examining an issue that's new to you. One way that sometimes helps with
this is to look at the discussion page that goes with each subject page
- you soon get an idea of whether wikipedia subject pages are highly
controversial, dead-ends no-one has shown much interest in, or the
result of a considered compromise between some knowledgeable people. I
think (hope) the days when people could simply classify information
sources as trustworthy or not without learning ways of assessing them
themselves are vanishing, even if it does take more effort.

Also, wikipedia itself generally does a reasonable job of pointing you
to secondary sources.


-----Original Message-----
From: web4lib-bounces at webjunction.org
[mailto:web4lib-bounces at webjunction.org] On Behalf Of Shannon
Sent: 17 March 2010 16:01
To: web4lib at webjunction.org
Subject: Re: [Web4lib] Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia (for many of the reasons in the previous message), and
even contributed to it.  But, as an instruction librarian at a
it's my responsibility to educate my students about the strengths and
weaknesses of Wikipedia.  This is an excerpt from a handout I made for
students at Pace University:

*What's wrong with Wikipedia?*

Nothing, if used with caution.  Wikipedia, like Britannica or any other
general encyclopedia is, at its best, a tertiary source.  Notice that,
your syllabus, the list of sources that your professor has given as
acceptable for your research papers does not include tertiary sources.
and graduate-level research may start with a tertiary source, in the
exploration and background research stage.  Those tertiary sources may
you to quality secondary sources, but you should never quote Wikipedia
any other tertiary source) directly if there is a secondary source with
same information.  Hunt down those secondary sources!  We librarians
help you do it!

Although the Wikipedia community does a pretty good job of flagging
potentially incorrect or biased information, you never know if a flawed
biased article was added right before you looked at it and hasn't yet
edited or flagged by someone in the Wikipedia community.

Another important aspect of scholarly research is the idea of
credentials or level of expertise of the person you are quoting.
content may be excellent, but Wikipedia does not require any credentials
its contributors.  Keep in mind that the author of your favorite
article may be a top scholar in the field, or may be in middle school.
 Which is fine when reading for pleasure, but not fine for quoting in
college level research.

And if you don't take my word for it, ask Wikipedia:


or Stephen Colbert:


Shannon Kealey, M.L.S.
Instructional Services Librarian
Pace University, Birnbaum Library

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