During my high school and undergrad years I was vehemently told to never use Wikipedia as a resource in any of our assignments. My teachers and professors explained that Wikipedia was an unreliable resource, anyone could edit or input information on the pages and there was little fact checking. I have heard of similar experiences from many of my peers and in my own teaching career I also adopted the anti-Wikipedia stance. With this is mind, I was at first surprised to learn that Wikipedia is the “fifth most visited website worldwide” (Wikimedia Foundation, 2013, p.2), but then I realized that even though I have been a naysayer in the past, I use Wikipedia all the time. When I know absolutely nothing about a topic one of the first places I will look for information is through Wikipedia. Overall, the website is very easy to use and while I would not advocate using it as a resource, it is definitely an excellent tool to use a jumping off point.
Based on its usage facts, it is clear that many people often use Wikipedia (Wikimedia Foundation, 2013). So instead of sanctimoniously teaching others not to use this site, I believe that we need to work on instructing and informing others how to use Wikipedia productively. This can be done in both the library and classroom setting following Jenning’s example that instead of avoiding the use of the site, librarians should “leverage it to teach information literacy skill” (2008, p.433). I think it is important that people are aware of how Wikipedia works, that it is a constantly changing and collaborative work and that while it can be a great source of general information, anyone can add and edit content.
I believe that as librarians we need to keep in mind what our patrons are looking for when they come to use looking for answers. Are they trying to find out an answer for personal curiosity? Or are they looking for in depth knowledge for something like a research paper? In either case, Wikipedia might be a good starting off point, but it might not be the end game. I would recommend patrons who are at the beginning stages of their research to peruse Wikipedia. They could gain background information, keywords to be used later when searching for articles, or even use the resources provided in a Wikipedia article as a jumping off point to further articles and/or texts.
Ultimately, I have to say that I would use Wikipedia in the library with some caveats. It would be hypocritical of me not to promote the use of Wikipedia because as I stated before, it is usually where I first look for personal needs. But I definitely believe that Wikipedia should not be ‘one stop shopping’ for information, while it may be where you look first, there needs to be some form of fact checking the information gained from Wikipedia.
Jennings, E. (2008). Using Wikipedia to teach information literacy. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 15(4), 432-437.
Wikimedia Foundation (2013). How to use Wikipedia as a teaching tool.