Wikipedia: the Original Virtual Makerspace

By Robyn Edmanson


The cover of the book commemorating Wikipedia’s 10th anniversary. Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Within research on the architecture of academic participatory libraries, there’s a worrisome discord between the rhetoric and reality of allowing library users to fully participate in library systems, particularly in terms of information seeking. An example is the reluctance of many academic librarians to acknowledge students’ research information seeking behaviours and the value of open source tools like Wikipedia.

Despite research showing 70 percent of students use Wikipedia as a kick-starter to research, some still equate openness with unreliability, mostly due to a persuasive argument almost a decade ago against it based on its perceived lack of authority, completeness and reliability. Until Nature compared the error rate of Wikipedia with Encyclopedia Britannica I would have agreed, however, take a look at the information architecture in most Wiki entries and I’m sure you’ll be as impressed as I am. The information is presented logically, comprehensively and with illustrations to aid understanding.  Wikis are now a valuable, freely accessible tool in students driving need for background information for their assignments. And the best part is Wikipedia’s collaborations with librarians and other ethical mavens to ensure accuracy.

Wikipedia has leapt mountains of intellectual scorn from some quarters to encourage collaborations between cultural institutions such as museums and libraries through initiatives such as #1lib1ref where one librarian added one reference to advocate through editing wikis on topics such as LGBT, Asia Pacific Art, Toowoomba and even the University of Southern Queensland. There aren’t many web sources to which librarians, or library users for that matter, can contribute, but Wikipedia is one of them, so embrace your inner intellectual maker and critically contribute to our collective intelligence or run the risk of being left behind.