Saturday, 4 July 2009

Some pros and hows of adding Wikipedia articles to the catalog

I already commented on the potential problems of adding Wikipedia articles to a library's catalog in the Distant Librarian blog entry that brought up the subject for me here, so I won't go over them again. What I want to do here is consider the benefits of doing so and doing it in the best way possible.

One benefit is that since an assumed good number of users see them as valuable and worthy of usage already, we can somewhat "ride the wave" of Wikipedia's success. Having their content linked to in our collection might say to a good portion of our patrons that, "Yes, we are hip and we can help you get to the resources we know you want." That may not sound like the best reason, but survival of an institution that most of us believe is worth saving may also be worth pandering a little to ensure continued appreciation. I'm not sure what the long term results of such pandering might be so this is probably not a sufficient reason but it does have a certain amount of short-term appeal at least.

Another benefit is that actually, many Wikipedia articles are valuable and include content not included in other resources to a sufficiently similar extent if at all. A venue where anyone anytime can add topics and start filling them up with content will always include more same-level topics than one that must pay authors to develop content. This is saying nothing about the quality of such content but if we assume some bare minimum level of quality that is sufficiently higher than neutral, or worse yet, outright falsehoods, then something is better than nothing. There will be somewhat informative articles in Wikipedia on topics that a for-fee or author-restricted resource will be able to provide. The benefit to a library catalog is that it can be filled with some content not available elsewhere.

A third benefit is that it is free, at least in terms of direct cost. Libraries do not typically have infinite budgets for collections and anytime a minimally worthy resource can be added to the collection for not outlay of money, it must be considered. Of course, the disadvantage of online resources such as Wikipedia articles is that they don't come with handy pre-made MARC records, requiring a certain amount of expertise and effort on the part of those who want them added.

Given these three benefits, how can the addition of at least some Wikipedia articles (and perhaps other similar online resources) be made easier particularly for those libraries with little time or smaller staff complements. First of all, they need to be linked to at the specific version level. This solves the issue of quality control that we tend to pride ourselves on in our collection (as mentioned in the comment mentioned above). Also, when a library/librarian has decided that a specific article version is worthy of addition, the metadata created needs to be shared, made available to other libraries considering it in the future. As a profession we tend to share well so let's use our large numbers to solve our general lack-of-local-resources problem. Finally, if we go down this path, we should go all the way down the path: if we're adding Wikipedia articles to the collection, advertise that we're doing so. One of the big problems with the library catalog as a tool is that users don't know what's in there. We need to tell them. It needs to be made clear all the kinds of resources are included in the collection and why. Not all at once though. One at a time.

Still not sure it's a good idea... May get too messy. But it seems to have a few useful positive side effects and is doable at least on a small scale. What do you think?

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