“Most people don't realize how important librarians are. I ran across a book recently which suggested that the peace and prosperity of a culture was solely related to how many librarians it contained. Possibly a slight overstatement. But a culture that doesn't value its librarians doesn't value ideas and without ideas, well, where are we?”
Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why Can’t I Cite Wikipedia?

One of the biggest questions I get as a librarian is “why can’t I use Wikipedia as a cited resource?” I don’t disagree that Wikipedia is a useful tool for quick answers and I agree that it is an impressive use of technology to coral our collective knowledge on the Internet. That being said, there are many reasons why it is still not a citable academic resource. Let me explain why.

First and foremost, the format of Wikipedia is a wiki which means that it can be changed by anyone at anytime. This means that it has credibility issues. Wikipedia itself has a disclaimer page within its pages stating that it is not a citable source because it is a tertiary source (encyclopedia) and a wiki that can change at a moments notice. Wikipedia recommends using it as a starting point and then doing further research using the cited resources within its pages.

( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citing_Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Academic_use )

Wikipedia espouses itself as the “free encyclopedia anyone can edit.” There are good things and bad things about being editable by anyone. For the most part, Wikipedia seems to end up self-correcting, but in the short-term, there is potential for misinformation. As a result, it is critical that he user double check resources when using Wikipedia. The best advice is using it as a starting point for further research using its cited resources.

Encyclopedias of any kind are used for general knowledge of a subject. They are more in depth than a dictionary, but they are not for true research. Younger students do use encyclopedias to do reports on subjects, but once students reach the level of high school, they are expected to start doing research that is more in depth. By the time a student leaves high school, he or she should understand what is or isn’t a citable resource and why. That is my goal as a librarian.

There are so many rich primary resources available for students, many of them on the Internet and many of them for free. If you are having trouble and need a research librarian’s help, the Internet Public Library is available 24/7 at www.ipl.org and will be happy to help with your questions. Librarians from around the country volunteer with the IPL which is housed at Drexel’s School of Library Science.

So remember, Wikipedia is not evil, it just isn't a citable resource. It's a great general reference for getting you started. Use it as a jumping off place to find some solid research. It's also not a bad resource if you need to cheat at Trivial Pursuit because you can always sneak a peak at your iPhone. But don't tell anyone I told you to cheat, because I never cheat at Trivial Pursuit. I take my chances on winning or losing the old fashioned way by relying on my vast stores of useless knowledge.

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