Monday, June 16, 2008

Thing #10: Wikis

Oh, how I do love a good Wiki.

I was thinking earlier about Google and how I suspect that anyone that still thinks the "Google will destroy libraries" argument holds any water is undoubtedly not involved with the real work of libraries. The truth is, we have benefitted from Google. Oh, I know, I can practically hear the tortured cries of how stupid the young folk are, now they all just use Google, but I'm standing firm with my "the kids are alright" worldview and instead would posit that all this rampant Google usage gives librarians the chance to do higher-level information analysis. This is a recurring theme for me, but I just don't buy the argument that young people are that dumb. So now they go to Google, or they go to Wikipedia and they gather information. They get a starting point. And then they get to the higher level stuff on their own or though the gracious assistance of a librarian. We have better informed users that are coming to us with more specific information requests, right out of the gate. This is a good thing. I mean--it would have been so wonderful to have Wikipedia when I was in college! Say I had the assignment to write a paper on Hegel. I would have gone to Wikipedia, read the entry on Hegel, picked out what part of his theory really interested me, and then, using the references cited at the bottom of the entry, proceeding with the research knowing what I was looking for (say, Hegel and his concept of "world spirit"). Or I would have gone to a librarian and asked for help locating print volumes on Hegel, and then would have used the index to look up "world spirit". Boom--done--walk away. And this would have resulted, frankly, in better quality papers than the stuff I was writing in college. Explain to me, again, how this is a bad thing?

Thing #10 is on Wikis. This is a fun Thing, my favorite so far. I visited the Library Success wiki which is a wiki devoted to library best practices. It hasn't been heavily populated with entries (yet). But the section alone on weeding is excellent. At the bottom it lists articles of further interest and included this fantastic blog post by ricklibrarian about the decision to weed Compassionate conservatism by Marvin Olasky. His post perfectly captures what goes through the mind of the librarian when weighing whether a book should be weeded.

Then I visited the Albany County Public Library staff wiki and liked their quick-and-dirty process for cataloging papaerbacks. And I particularly liked their work process "Checklist for Psycho Space Puppet's Departure" which I was unable to quite figure out but which delighted me all the same. Rock on, Albany!

Last, I visited the 23 Things on a Stick wiki and left a note there... Was interested in this comment: I'm experimenting with this. Wikis can be fun but how can you ever trust the "information" you find on them???? Name not left, so if it's your comment, please feel free to let me know. Now, not to harsh on anonymous poster, and also not to fall down some epistemological rabbit's hole--but--anon, how can we trust any information? Oh, I know, juried academic journals, established sources... etc. How do we know what we know? How do we trust what we know? I, for one, trust Wikipedia because for some reason people have some kind of emotional investment in the idea of "truth" which is why studies have shown that Wikipedia is just as reliable (if not more reliable) than Encyclopedia Brittanica. I'm just ruminating here, but maybe our idea of critical analysis should extend beyond just checking that a source is "reliable", i.e., objective. Because isn't that what the naysayers want and claim Wikipedia does not provide--an objective source? I'm not so sure there ARE any objective sources. Oh, I don't mean to sound so ponderous and self-important. I just think examining motive is essential, whether it be applied to an academic journal or a Wikipedia entry. And I suspect we will revisit this concept when we get to the Thing on folksonomies and tags.


fresca said...

I am with you, R.
I scoff in the general direction (like the French knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail) that people are stupider now--like, we were so brilliant before?

If so, I missed that phase when we all went and did original research as undergraduates. (But I am only 47 years old, so it may have been just before my generation, eh?)
As I recall, many of us turned to the encyclopedia the night before a paper was due, and I should think Google could offer a better range of stuff to steal than those venerable volumes did.

No, I contend we as a species have always been scroungers and stealers, unless we truly love something, in which case we'll do the work to get to the moon.

Rudyinparis said...

Right! Exactly! That shit drives me crazy! I was reading an article the other day on "viral marketing" and how the whole landscape of marketing and branding has changed, what with the Internet and all. And the author referred to young people today as "the short attention span generation." WTF? Like back in the day, when we had 3 tv networks, magazine ads, and newspaper ads--that somehow we were intellectually superior??? Because we had to read magazine ads??? My God, I go crazy on stuff like that. Why does everything have to have a spot on a hierarchy? Why can't it just be different now than it was then? Why does it have to be somehow inferior? Argh!!!

fresca said...

It's common that people bemoan how rotten things are now and how they used to be better---the Romans did it too! (Et al. "You generation of vipers...")

We seem to get some sort of pleasure out of fingering decay and predicting doom, I'm really not sure why...

I think it's bad now, but it was bad then too.
And also, it's good now, and it was good then too.
But, like you say, it was certainly different!!!

fresca said...

Did you read the Dec. 2007 article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell about the "Flynn Effect"? James Flynn is a social scientist who writes about how IQs have been going up as people learn to think in more "scientific" (abstract) terms as societies value that kind of thinking more than, say, practical physical knowledge.

So actually, all the input from computers and navigating the Internet and whizzing around sound bytes and video clips and so forth is actually making our IQs go up!

(Of course, this doesn't really mean we're smarter, just better at things IQ tests measure.)

It's a fascinating article:

Julie said...

Hi! This is Julie from the playdate with Moxie. It was really nice to meet you and your girls today.

Also, you were wrong about this being "completely boring." It's been a while since my college research days, but I would have loved to have access to the kind of online stuff that's available today. It seems to me that teachers and professors just need to do a better job of teaching students how to use the tools that are out there.

Jennifer said...

I love Wikipedia. I won't let my students use it as a source, but it's *fantastic* for figuring out the basics of a large topic and orienting yourself enough to go and find more "reliable" information. I probably visit it at least once a day--a quick look at my history reveals I looked up "Buddha," ""Atomic Weight" and "Sandwich," for various things. :)

caramama said...

Excellent points!! Both about kids these days getting a different starting point than we had (and how much easier to google and wiki than search through the heavy encyclepedia books), and also about how can we know what is true about anything written? I mean, history is recorded by the victors, right? Everything has it's own slant. Very well said!