Do you have the facts on Wikipedia?

Wikipedia logoDr Ally Crockford works as the Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland (NLS). This post is the first its kind in Scotland, and is part of an attempt by the NLS to lay the groundwork to improve open access to the library’s resources.

Last night Ally gave a presentation on her work at an SLA Europe event that was sponsored by Springer and hosted by the NLS. Her focus was the “real facts” about Wikipedia.

Ally is keen to dispel some of the myths about Wikipedia, and to address a number of concerns that are commonly raised about the reliability of information presented in its entries. At the start of her talk Ally referred to a number of studies that have shown that the reliability of Wikipedia is similar to that of the Encyclopaedia Britannica online. She argued that instead of being seen as an admission of low quality, the warning banner that sits across the top of Wikipedia entries should be perceived as a signal to encourage active reading. In short, the banner prompts users to think critically about the content that is presented to them. That Wikipedia makes it possible to see how entries have developed also encourages users to engage more deeply with its content.

Ally’s talk also included explanations of how contributions to Wikipedia are edited and moderated, and the professional and personal value of becoming a member of the community that contributes to the site. Ally made particular reference to the relationship between Wikipedia and libraries. She dismissed the view that Wikipedia should be seen as a threat to traditional library and information services. Indeed, she believes that libraries that collaborate with Wikipedia can reach out to new users.

Ally highlighted some recent projects where individuals have gathered together on the same date to create and edit Wikipedia content on particular topics. There is an opportunity to join in such an initiative in Edinburgh at the end of this month at the Edinburgh Women in Computing editathon 2014, which takes place on Friday 21 March.

The formal part of the evening concluded with some questions from the audience. There were a couple of about stats (on the number of contributors to Wikipedia, and how to see the stats for a particular page), and a query on how to post to Wikipedia about your own organisation without risking bias. The final question as to whether or not Wikipedia is a “geeky boys’ club” led to an interesting discussion of initiatives underway to address this view, both in terms of the profile of contributors and actual content.

If you missed the event and would like to know more, you’ll be pleased to hear that Ally’s presentation was recorded. It should be available soon as a podcast from SLAEurope.

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