Amid considerable debate among librarians about their experiences with Wikipedia, a new WikiProject to coordinate their efforts as Wikipedia contributors started last week. The project attracted additional discussion and a significant number of participants have already joined in.
The immediate impetus for the debate came from librarian-blogger Jenny Levine, who related her negative experience in trying to add an external link to a Wikipedia article about The Da Vinci Code, one that would allow readers to find libraries with a copy of the book. Comments on the subject spread to other blogs and mailing lists, and eventually a WikiProject for librarians was started by Peter Binkley last Monday.
In addition, Jeff Pomerantz, a library science professor at the University of North Carolina, had earlier posted some reflections on a presentation held at the school about Wikipedia. Pomerantz said the presentation changed his thinking on the subject when he realized that collaborative editing fundamentally resembles the academic peer review process. Observing that people will undoubtedly continue using Wikipedia, sometimes naively unaware of issues about its accuracy, he concluded that librarians have a "professional responsibility to make Wikipedia a reliable information source."
Luke Rosenberger recounted how the discussion prompted him to become an active Wikipedia contributor. Word continued to spread and a number of other people signed up for the WikiProject, both old hands and those new to Wikipedia. Pomerantz also signed up, commenting, "I have just joined this project, and so should you." Several other librarian-bloggers posted about the project, and it has even gotten attention from the media, as both Binkley and Rosenberger were contacted by producers at the new public radio program Open Source for its show on Wikipedia (see related story - although they were not used in the segments actually aired).
At the same time, some people were voicing concern about the rhetoric of "invading Wikipedia" and how such attitudes might be received. Richard Akerman and Jessamyn West blogged about the need for librarians to adapt to Wikipedia's culture as well. One initial concern was the organization of Wikipedia:Book sources, which is linked whenever a book's ISBN number is wikified. It was generally agreed that the page is a "nightmare", and it was partially a misunderstanding over Wikipedia practices and the function of the page that prompted the discussion initially.
Joe Mabel noted that librarians have skills that can be helpful to Wikipedia both in terms of organizing information and evaluating whether or not sources are credible. Another area in which connections between Wikipedia and librarians are important is simply in terms of their using and recommending it as a reference tool. Although not himself a librarian, Mabel has worked on reaching out to librarians and helped start a guide to researching with Wikipedia last year.
Wikipedia's level of acceptance among librarians has long been a particular focus of attention, as librarians are frequently quoted by the media when discussing Wikipedia and they can have a special influence on perceptions of Wikipedia's credibility. Considerable discussion resulted last August when an article in the Syracuse Post-Standard quoted local librarian Susan Stagnitta on what she told her students about Wikipedia, using the headline "Librarian: Don't use Wikipedia as a source".
Some libraries have already found Wikipedia a useful outlet to more widely distribute information they have special expertise in; for example, the library system for Barnet (a borough of London) reports having a project to add local historical information about the area to Wikipedia. As further evidence of interest in Wikipedia among librarians, project participant Neschek reported landing a librarian job "in part because of a well-received talk I made last year on Wikipedia and wikis in general."