Why librarians (and therefore libraries) will always be better than Wikipedia. 


As librarians we protect our services, collections, and patrons from censorship and bias. Simply put- We do not allow it. From too much left or right wing material to too much sci-fi or mystery. At our core we begin from a place of balance, equality, representation, and non-censorship.  This is one of librarianship’s inherent characteristics that draw people to join the profession.

Interestingly I found this today:

Wikipedia Countering Systemic Bias Project

The Wikipedia project suffers systemic bias that naturally grows from its contributors’ demographic groups, manifesting an imbalanced coverage of a subject, thereby discriminating against the less represented demographic groups. …
This project aims to control and (possibly) eliminate the cultural perspective gaps made by the systemic bias, consciously focusing upon subjects and points of view neglected by the encyclopedia as a whole.

 

I must admit…this felt a bit like finding Bigfoot because he stepped into Times Square and said “Ya got me!!”  For how many years have librarians been asked if, in the face of Google and Wikipedia, we would continue to be relevant?  And here we have Wikipedia providing us with the very best answer – within their product exists “systemic bias that naturally grows from its contributors…”.  

Well ladies and gentleman, I cry foul.  There cannot possibly be a more diverse demographic group than is represented within the profession of librarianship. And yet (though VERY isolated instances may occur) public librarians have built centuries of public trust for exactly the fact that they embody the antithesis of what Wikipedia now admits is a serious “systemic” concern for them.  

Long live public libraries…public librarians…and all they have become known and respected for.  See world… it’s isn’t that easy… otherwise anyone (or everyone in the case of Wikipedia) could do it.

 

13 Comments

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13 responses to “Why librarians (and therefore libraries) will always be better than Wikipedia. 

  1. Many librarians and the libraries they build are working to develop a better WP.. The NPOV rule guards against bias. Librarians need to make WP better not discount it. As the 6th most visited site on the web WP will be used. My approach is to add library resources to WP entries –esp. special collections– to lead people from WP to libraries.. See for example this article on what Notre Dame libraries sponsored:
    http://ndsmcobserver.com/2015/03/edit-a-thon-aims-to-highlight-notable-women/

    –Kathleen

    • Kimberly Matthews

      Kathleen,
      Thank you for your comment.
      A few thoughts:
      1) I must disagree with your assertion that NPOV is guarding against bias. It is intended to do so (and indeed might have a positive effect within the individual article). But when Wikipedia itself details “systemic bias” of its product as a whole – there is clearly bias so egregious NPOV isn’t even close to controlling it.
      2). I’m not sure I agree librarians NEED to work to make Wikipedia better. Librarians plates tend to be pretty full simply doing our job. I would agree that we can engage in occasional programming or efforts such as the 2010 program at Notre Dame. But I feel those should be done to shed light on and educate our patrons that Wikipedia is not the absolute authority or unbiased information source they may have come to believe it is- not with the thought that we can “fix Wikipedia” (a daunting task just a smidge outside our mission) As librarians our responsibility was, is and should continue to be assisting our patrons in learning to find, evaluate and use solid informational tools both in print and online. If Wikipedia offers a source and product that falls within this category that is wonderful! If not, we should know that and direct our patrons appropriately.

  2. Reblogged this on LBPSB Library Resources and commented:
    Nothing we did not know but something that we need to get out to the general population!

  3. Hi Kimberly, I run The Wikipedia Library at the Wikimedia Foundation. While you rightfully call out Wikipedia on our challenges with systemic bias, I think you have the ‘fix’ reversed. Librarians don’t Need to help Wikipedia; but it would be better for both of us if you did. Librarians and Wikipedia are not at odds, rivals, antagonists. We’re extremely complementary facets of the research and knowledge landscape. Wikipedia is where 500 million readers each month begin to get a sense of a subject. Librarians need to acknowledge the fact that ‘discovery happens elsewhere’, and elsewhere rather than being a library or library website is generally Google -> Wikipedia. At the same time, we have failed if readers *end* their search on Wikipedia; instead we are interested in leading readers from the encyclopedia back to full texts and reference experts. That’s where librarians serve a critical function par excellence. Meanwhile, librarians are the curators and custodians of the world’s most fantastic and authoritative sources. This is a huge opportunity to improve the content of Wikipedia by either contributing yourself or teaching your patrons how to do so. At the *very* least this is an opportunity to engage patrons with a basic feature of 21st century digital literary–how collaborative knowledge production works (and doesn’t work). I wish you would imbue your criticism with an equal realization of the opportunity we both have to improve the circle of research access and resource discovery. If we work together, we’ll get a lot farther a lot faster. For more information, please check out http://enwp.org/WP:TWL/UNILIB. Best, Jake Orlowitz

    • Kimberly Matthews

      Thank you for your comment.

      First. I was not “calling out Wikipedia on its challenge with systemic bias” as you say. I was commenting on Wikipedia’s recent admission because I believe it is of interest to my readers and should be made known to a wider audience. In addition, I shared my opinion on the situation because, unlike Wikipedia articles, blogs are all about opinions.

      You wrote: “I wish you would imbue your criticism with an equal realization of the opportunity we both have to improve the circle of research access and resource discovery”. Mr Orlowitz, if That had been the purpose of my post or, more importantly, if I actually believed that…I would have.

      Secondly, you reference that I have my “fix” reversed. I did not offer a “fix”. A previous comment from a reader did and I replied. But in my blog post I made no assertion of what could/should/would fix Wikipedia. Nor do I have any belief that librarians from public or academic libraries should play a role in any “fix” in an organized and systematic way. Though I absolutely agree you could benefit from our assistance – simply put – I don’t think that’s what the tax payers are paying us to do during our work hours.

      That said- I am of course very pleased to see that Wikipedia realizes the value and importance of librarians. For that reason, I strongly encourage you to add them to your staffing if you haven’t already (just as Google did). I have no doubt Wikipedia would benefit from harnessing those research and repackaging skills. However, I stand by my previous comments that librarians have their hands full completing their own mission and it would be inappropriate, if not unethical, for us to focus too heavily on assisting one company or another improve its individual product-regardless of its widespread use. Imagine Encyclopedia Britannica coming to library-land back in the day and saying “Hey! Librarians are great and we are all in this research and knowledge landscape. Working together benefits everyone! So if you find the product lacking just go ahead and write up some material, send it over and we will include it in the next printing”. We would have all laughed and said “Sure thing…who is paying for that?”

      I was especially taken with your comment “Librarians need to acknowledge the fact that ‘discovery happens elsewhere’, and elsewhere rather than being a library or library website is generally Google -> Wikipedia.” LOL. Trust me Mr Orlowitz … We are and have been aware of this for a long time. The deep and wide-spread professional concern with that very fact was the driving force of my post.

      Professionally, I find Wikipedia to be a very interesting social experiment. I also agree that it is very important to teach our patrons about 21st century digital knowledge collaboration. Personally, I also agree that it is often a great first quick-read if you are ‘googling’ something. What I do not find Wikipedia to be is a serious player, as you seem intent on positioning it, in the “research and knowledge landscape”. By your own guidelines- Wikipedia should contain no original thought. Therefore, at best, articles are repackaging of information from credible sources (much like a high school/college term paper). Your own guidelines state: “Good and unbiased research, based upon the best and most reputable authoritative sources available…Try the library for reputable books and journal articles, and look for the most reliable online resources. If you need help finding high-quality sources…ask at the reference desk.”

      So yes, I agree with Wikipedia that the Library remains the best place to find authoritative sources and assistance from our professional reference staff.

      I also agree with Harvard University in their “Guide to using sources: What’s wrong with Wikipedia?” In which they state:

      “There’s nothing more convenient than Wikipedia if you’re looking for some quick information, and when the stakes are low (you need a piece of information to settle a bet with your roommate, or you want to get a basic sense of what something means before starting more in-depth research), you may get what you need from Wikipedia….”

      “…The fact that Wikipedia is not a reliable source for academic research doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to use basic reference materials when you’re trying to familiarize yourself with a topic. In fact, the library is stocked with introductory materials, and the Harvard librarians can point you to specialized encyclopedias in different fields. These sources can be particularly useful when you need background information or context for a topic you’re writing about. ”

      For libraries it isn’t about “getting further faster” as you summarize the benefit of combining efforts… It’s about remaining worthy of the public trust we have built by providing unbiased, uncompromising professional information and research services.

      So again, I agree with Harvard and Wikipedia, as was the subject of my post, I believe librarians and libraries will always be better knowledge and research resources than Wikipedia.

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  6. KRLemmons

    Reblogged this on Lifelong Quest.

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