Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several years, you’re no doubt familiar with the ubiquitous Wikipedia. However, based on my personal experience, it seems that most people, including librarians, don’t really understand how the participatory online encyclopedia works.
That’s why I was thrilled when I saw the New York Times ran an article earlier this week titled "All the News That’s Fit to Print Out". Though I recommend reading the whole piece, here’s the last thoughtful bit from the conclusion:
Wikipedia may not exactly be a font of truth, but it does go against the current of what has happened to the notion of truth. The easy global dissemination of, well, everything has generated a D.I.Y. culture of proud subjectivity, a culture that has spread even to relatively traditional forms like television — as in the ascent of advocates like Lou Dobbs or Bill O’Reilly, whose appeal lies precisely in their subjectivity even as they name-check “neutrality” to cover all sorts of journalistic sins. But the Wikipedians, most of them born in the information age, have tasked themselves with weeding that subjectivity not just out of one another’s discourse but also out of their own. They may not be able to do any actual reporting from their bedrooms or dorm rooms or hotel rooms, but they can police bias, and they do it with a passion that’s no less impressive for its occasional excess of piety. Who taught them this? It’s a mystery; but they are teaching it to one another.
Aren’t Wikipedians striving for the same neutral objectivity that we in the library profession hold as one of our central tenets? These people are our comrades-in-arms, closer aligned to our values than we might think at first blush.
We have much to offer each other. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that we, the library professionals rooted in an ancient and noble tradition, could stand to learn much from these upstart Wikipedians about how unbiased information can survive in this tumultuous Digital Age. Furthermore, could we not devote more into teaching these pioneers with the training and experience we’ve accumulated over the years? Wikipedia could be one of our greatest allies in creating the future for libraries.