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Wikipedia Philosophy [Oct. 11, 2012, 6:46 p.m.]

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Why should I help Wikipedia?

We'd like you to help Wikipedia, because we believe we share the same mission. We want to make as much information as possible freely available and accessible for people everywhere around the world, and so do you. We probably share some basic values: we believe information is powerful, we believe that access to information will help people lead more informed lives and make better decisions for themselves, and we believe it's important that information be available that's free from commercial considerations, both in its production and dissemination.

We also believe that Wikipedia is enormously influential. Hundreds of millions of people are getting their information from Wikipedia, which we believe is itself a good argument for educators getting involved with us. Your goal is to ensure people have access to high-quality information — it seems to us that improving Wikipedia is directly in line with that goal.

Who owns Wikipedia?

The articles in Wikipedia are collaboratively written and have been released by their authors under an open source license. This means they are free content and may be reproduced freely by anyone, without permission, under the same license. Wikipedia is managed and supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. It is supported by donations. There is no advertising on Wikipedia.


Anyone can edit Wikipedia. How can it claim to be accurate?

"Wikipedia only works in practice, in theory it can never work."



How common is vandalism on Wikipedia?

It is pretty common for people -–often schoolkids just playing around-- to try to vandalize Wikipedia. This normally takes the form of trying to erase entire articles, edit Wikipedia to make fun of other kids, or insert joke material into articles. (There is some good discussion of attempted vandalism in this lovely article about Wikipedia by novelist Nicholson Baker.)

However, Wikipedia has a variety of filters and bots designed to prevent vandalism before it's completed, or revert it immediately after it's done. So, most vandalism is never seen by anybody.



What is Wikipedia's position on academia? Does Wikipedia want help from academics?

Definitely, yes. One fairly common misconception about Wikipedia is that it's hostile to experts. That's not true. Many Wikipedia editors are academics, and most editors have a deep respect for people who dedicate their lives to educating others. Wikipedia editors tend to consider themselves as part of an ecosystem of knowledge-sharing that includes people like librarians, academic researchers, public broadcasters, archivists and museum workers, and the like. Wikipedia editors welcome anyone who wants to help, and it's obvious that academics have relevant, useful skills for our work.



Why do I read sometimes that Wikipedia is closed to outsiders, or resistant to help?

It's true that becoming a Wikipedia editor is not always easy or intuitive, although it is gradually becoming easier. One barrier is the editing interface itself, which has been extremely difficult to use. (In May 2010, we launched a new interface that is significantly more user-friendly than the old version. It solved some glaring usability problems, but there are still quite a few that need to be fixed.) Another barrier is the policy learning curve: in order to edit Wikipedia successfully, new people need to first read and understand quite a bit of policy. (We actually don't think that's much of a problem for academics, since they are already familiar with many of the core concepts that go into editorial production work, and they are fast and skillful readers.) Another barrier can sometimes be the tone of debate and discussion on the wikis: Wikipedians tend to be very blunt, which can sometimes be interpreted by new people as unkind. Really, it's rare for a Wikipedian to intentionally want to give offence. Communications online inherently offer limited scope for warmth or nuance, and Wikipedians may sometimes be struggling to express themselves across language barriers. We advise everyone to assume good faith.



Wikipedia on the reference desk and evaluating articles

Wikipedia is a useful resource in many reference situations: to get a quick overview of a topic, to provide a starting place with relevant links to other websites that have been vetted by editors, and to get further terminology for searching. Wikipedia's multi-lingual nature means that articles in different languages are linked together (under the "languages" link on the left-hand sidebar) which can be useful if translations of key vocabulary are needed. Particularly for pop-culture or non-traditional encyclopedic topics, Wikipedia may be the quickest, most accessible source of information for many patrons and students. This extends to librarians as well: Wikipedia can be a very useful tool for doing collection development or basic research in unfamiliar areas.

Of course, Wikipedia's quality is not uniform, and evaluating articles is important. There are a few resources to guide you in evaluating articles; the basic steps are to:

Since authorship and editorial quality is not automatically vetted on Wikipedia, unlike in traditional publishing, a much higher burden is placed on the reader to determine if what they are looking at is useful, accurate information. Wikipedia can provide an excellent springboard for teaching these ideas of information literacy as applied to many different sources and the Internet at large.

How do I cite a page from Wikipedia properly?

For those who want to cite Wikipedia articles, go to the article you want to cite, then click "toolbox" on the left-hand side, and then "cite this page." Citations in several standard formats, with permanent links to the version of the page you are looking at, are provided.