Why I use Wikipedia – everyday!

As librarians we are asked questions…lots and lots of questions. These questions range from “Where is the bathroom?” to “I’m doing a research paper on single nucleotide polymorphisms. Can you help me find some articles?” The bathroom is down the hall, but single nucleotide polymorphisms – what? One quick Wikipedia search later and we know that single nucleotide polymorphism is a DNA sequence that is often referred to as SNP. This may not seem like much, but in the library world, it’s just enough. We now know that you need to search our science databases or point the student to our Biology Research Guide for further exploration and research.

We are all familiar with Wikipedia’s weaknesses, but its strengths are just as great. Wikipedia provides concise articles on a multitude of topics – nearing 4 million – including references and links for further research. There are over 17 million users and almost 1500 administrators. That makes for a lot of content generation and a lot of eyes watching, editing, and adding to said content. In fact, this process of content generation is itself useful in teaching the research and writing process.

Is Wikipedia an authoritative source? Emphatically no! Is Wikipedia a good place to familiarize oneself with the unfamiliar, a place from which to jump, a free resource available to all sans publishers and hefty subscription rates, a resource from which to teach the research and authority process, a resource our students are already using? Why yes!

Here’s an example of how one group of faculty are using Wikipedia to promote their students work and teach the research and writing process:

http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2011/12/21/why-smart-profs-want-students-to-use-wikipedia/

Here’s an article on how students are already using Wikipedia:

http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2830/2476

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