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Thursday, April 29, 2010

O Wikipedia!

Today I would like to wax poetic about the great, misunderstood Wikipedia. Is it reliable? Yes. Is it unreliable? Sometimes. Is it entertainment for the whole family? ALWAYS.

One reason Wikipedia gets a bad rap is that it’s written by the common folk. Anyone--including you--can add or edit articles on Wikipedia. You need no special qualifications to do so. As more and more people join in as writers, there is, of course, more room for abuse. However! Don’t let this deter you because there are several things about Wikipedia that are pretty great.

One: there are sources listed at the bottom of each entry (or there should be, anyway). I went to Wikipedia recently and clicked the “Random Article” button (this is super fun, especially for coming up with blog post topics). I landed on “Obstructing the field,” which apparently is a term relating to cricket (the sport, not the insect). If I were answering a reference question about cricket, I would NOT cite my source as Wikipedia. Instead, I’d scroll to the bottom of the page and see that the article has some external links, one being “The official rules of cricket” from the Marlyebone Cricket Club’s website (they have been the official “custodian” of the cricket laws since 1787). I would be much more comfortable using this as a source of information, but it’s possible I wouldn’t have found it without Wikipedia pointing me in the right direction.

Two: Many of the entries are on obscure items. While you could easily find a biography of George Washington in Wilson Biographies, History Reference Center, or a number of other databases on MAGNOLIA, you may run into trouble finding a biography on Jughead Jones of Archie Comics in those places. Have you ever wondered how much Jughead weighs? Wonder no longer: some Jughead aficionado claims that he is a trim 140 pounds. This is, for me, the magic of Wikipedia: someone who has obsessively read Archie comic books can share his knowledge with the world, and if he is wrong, then another Archie fan will log in and correct him.

Three: Wikipedia is an endless loop of entertainment. While this may not be the most helpful item reference-wise, Wikipedia often sucks me in. After I read the Jughead article, I had no choice but to read about Betty and Veronica too. (Did you know Betty has an older brother named Chick? Me either.)

This article about Wikipedia from the July 31, 2006 issue of The New Yorker, “Know It All,” is a great read, on top of being informative. MLC also has a copy of The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia by Andrew Lih if you’re interested in checking it out (or getting it via ILL).

Feel free to leave juicy details about all of Archie's gang in the comments.

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