Wikipedia’s Creator Advises to Not Use It As a Primary Source

I am constantly on students’ cases to not use Wikipedia as a primary source (or as their only source). They whine and throw around very outdated (and wild) statistics about how Wikipedia is vetted.

No wiki with unrestrained access can be vetted.

My students will cry in the fall, though. Wiki’s own creator has now said that Wikipedia is little more useful than a printed encyclopedia and should be used in a similar manner, not as the basis for citing in a paper, but for uncovering good primary sources.

I can’t help but cheer!


The Benefits of Keeping a Journal

It all started when I read a brief abstract of an essay that discussed how scientists shun the imagination as a researchable source. It just seemed odd to me, because so many scientific discoveries happened because somebody said, “What if…”. “What if,” is a question from the imagination. Without that question, you really don’t have a direction to go.

A little while later, I perusing my aggregator again and discovered a brief bit on a book on creativity and keeping a creative journal. Somehow, the connection that got formed in my brain at seeing it, because my brain was still back on that imagination in scientific reasearch thing, was Leonardo da Vinci and his journals full of creative ideas and scientific explorations.

It made me wonder: Can scientific research really exist without searching the imagination at some stage of the research and experimentation process? Science is about problem solving. Is it possible to solve a problem, especially a challenging, complex one without turning inward and searching one’s imagination.

Maybe I’m crazy…

Wikipedia != Encyclopaedia

I’ve been encountering interesting things this semester between my two jobs. In one case, a student’s paper was half taken from the website of the school she is applying to, and she didn’t bother changing the font to make it less evident, nor did she cite the website or give it any sort of proper credit. It was grounds for the school to decide whether or not it fell into the zero-tolerance policy the school has toward plagarism.

At my other job, I was asked to edit a school paper for one of my former writing students. It was a history paper that had to have primary sources cited in support of the arguments presented in the paper. The student had two citations (in a six-paragraph paper with roughly twenty points that needed support), and both came from Wikipedia. I asked him if his teacher allows Wikipedia to be used as a source, and he didn’t know. But he was certain the teacher wouldn’t mind simply because it was Wikipedia.

All right, so let’s cover exactly how much is wrong with these two situations. In the first case, it’s that the student failed to cite the website. Perhaps she didn’t know how. Perhaps she didn’t know where to look to find that information out. (In case you’re curious, I googled “citing web sites” and came up with all three of those links, which cite the three most common citation methods used in schools.)

In the second case, the student had poorly written citations (no author, no date, just “Wikipedia”). He then sat there and tried to argue that Wikipedia was a completely valid source. I didn’t have time to explain to him how exactly a wiki works or why Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information, but I let him know he needed to find real sources. He wasn’t very happy with that, given that his paper was already late.

Somehow, students are not being taught that websites used as sources must be cited correctly as they are somebody else’s work, and they aren’t being taught to critically evaluate the information they find on the web. Some schools and teachers adopt a zero-tolerance policy for plagiarizing from the web or just ban websites from academic papers as a whole, but I think the problem can be resolved with a little bit of education.

Does the Digital Age Remove the Need for a Human Librarian?

Here’s a link to an article on the need for librarians in the age where anyone can look up anything on the internet. While I appreciate Jessamyn West’s initial position, I think the interview bit she posted sits better with my own worldview (however misguided) on the librarian’s role in our society.

It is wrong to assume that a librarian only sits there and looks up books or information or shelves books or checks books in and out. I worked in both my high school library for a couple of years and then a public library for several months after that. Much of that work is completed by student workers and others without the training to be a full librarian.

While a librarian can do these tasks when needed, they are fulfilling other roles. They are creating educational experiences, trying to help build literacy and a love of reading in the public they serve. They help with locating obscure pieces of information. They make sure that their collection is serving the public by making sure materials are available and in usable condition.

They preserve knowledge. They disseminate knowledge. They encourage others to learn how to find knowledge, and many of them make it quite enjoyable.

In my own opinion, even in these changing times, there will always be a need for librarians in the exact same way there will always be a need for teachers.

Any librarian who stumbles on this and thinks my worldview is off is welcomed to correct me.

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