The World of Wikis

I have to admit that I am skeptical of wikis. Farkas’s article points out that wikis enable everyone to participate in creating Web content, even with limited technical skills. Although I agree with this, I have doubts. If anyone can add and edit content, how will I know if what I am reading is accurate? I don’t like the idea of someone else coming along and changing what I wrote, especially not if they are creating an error in doing so.

Allowing patrons to add to subject page wikis seems like a good idea, since librarians may not have a lot of time to keep these pages up to date, but I think these additions need to be moderated to some extent to ensure wiki content is appropriate. It could harm the library’s reputation if inaccurate or offensive information is posted anywhere on the library’s Web site. Is the wiki really going to save time, then? Credibility is especially important for academic libraries. Students need to know the information on the subject wiki can be trusted if they are using it to guide their research.

On the positive side, I do think the idea of a community wiki is interesting, mostly for public libraries. This is a good way for community groups to get the word out about meetings and events and for the library to become involved in the community. Again, though, should someone moderate the postings?

Wikis can be a great collaboration tool for co-workers, but I think there need to be policies in place to ensure transparency in terms of who did what. Colleagues should not change each other’s work for no reason. I do like the idea of a “collective knowledge” wiki for library reference staff. It would be handy to compile information about tricky or frequently asked questions in one place. This would save librarians time in the long run and help them serve patrons better.

I thought Sook Lim’s article on college students and Wikipedia was quite interesting. Wikipedia can be useful for finding quick facts but I don’t consider it an academic source. It concerns me that students might rely too heavily on this wiki that anyone can edit without presenting their credentials because it is convenient, rather than consulting a more scholarly source. I found it somewhat reassuring that students used Wikipedia more for personal reasons than academic research. Students did not often expect to find the “best” information there. I just wonder if “okay” is good enough for them, i.e. do they verify the information elsewhere? Instead of trying to prevent students from using Wikipedia, since many will anyway, librarians should teach them how to evaluate the information they find there, including assessing the sources cited.


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