Judy O’Connell’s recent post about students and Wikipedia reminded me that there was a very funny post about Wikipedia a few months ago, on the nswtl listserv, whereby someone had found, incidentally, that some fool had sabotaged the entry on the Newcastle (NSW) Earthquake… to say that it was started by someone stamping their foot in anger.
Of course, before the first post to the listserv was barely in people’s “In” boxes, someone else, a registered contributor to Wikipedia, had gone into the site to edit the entry back again. And then announced their restorative action on the listserv. Which caused more consternation because several teacher-librarians had already bookmarked (but not thought to “Save to file”) a copy of the sabotaged entry to use as an example when doing explicit teaching about online research.
Slam it all you like; Wikipedia is invaluable as an orientation tool. A living, breathing, evolving encyclopedia of everything, written by people who fancy themselves as experts in areas of trivia. (Sounds like me!)
I’ve been know to use the wiki when I hit a topic I know nothing about, and it usually gives me at least a feel for the type of more authoritative information that is likely to be out there, beyond the Wikipedia entry. Or whether it’s a more obscure topic. And when I’ve found topics that have rather lean (or totally wrong) information, and I know something about them, I’ve been known to add data myself: Number 96, The Magic Circle Club, Luna Park Sydney, Star Trek, Andorians… important stuff like that. Even cataloguers keep a watch on it.
Of course school and university students will be drawn to Wikipedia – like moths to a flame! The key is how we all, as researchers, use that information to keep on investigating!