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Library of Wikipedia

Why the Wikimedia Foundation must allow the creation of a library of source material

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By Wer900

[citation needed].

The fact that this template is so prevalent throughout Wikipedia, with over 200,000 pages using the template according to its page, demonstrates the need for a fundamental change in the way Wikipedia editors can source information. On top of the [citation needed] tag come an enormous number of similar tags, further supporting the view that change is necessary and fast.

In the early days of Wikipedia, sourcing of articles was not as large of an issue as it is today. The nature of the previous views largely reflected the fact that the encyclopedia's main priority was to rapidly expand and become more comprehensive, as well as to ensure the quality of its prose. It is for this reason that the page that now contains resources for featured articles was once for pages with "brilliant prose." At the time, the strategy of aiming for comprehensiveness and quality of writing was well-suited to Wikipedia, and fueled the explosive growth in editor numbers, article numbers, and readership which have helped massively to bring the website to what it is today - the ubiquitous one-stop reference for nearly all general information.

Changing times

The Wikipedia of today is nothing like the earliest days of Wikipedia or the period which makes up the bulk of its history, the decade from 2001-2010. In those times, Wikipedia grew at an astonishing rate, with the percentage increase per year peaking at 390% in 2002 and the articles per day count peaking at 1822 in 2006.[1] However, in 2007, the biographies of living persons criteria were added to Wikipedia. The creation of this rule began officially an era where the quality of sourcing was given weight more equal to the weight given to comprehensiveness and the quality of prose. However, the move towards authoritative sourcing was already taking place, but was merely formalized with the biographies of living persons policy.

Once sourcing was given priority, editors began to scramble in order to find the best, authoritative sources for their articles. Thus, many articles which were previously unsourced and un-authoritative gained sources (Hence the reason for "Brilliant prose" becoming "Featured articles"). However, even after emphasis was given to sourcing, a large number of articles, over five percent of all of those created, remain unsourced for some or all information to this day.[2] This need for sourcing is what has also left an enormous number of articles as stubs, with little information that is useful to the reader and which make the encyclopedia appear incomplete - which it is.

Therefore, Wikipedia currently finds itself in a limbo, where sourcing is required but not always available. The reason for this is extremely simple: there are not enough free-content sources for information on Wikipedia, and editors, with limited wallets and possibly families to support, do not have the prodigious financial resources to purchase copies of non-free sources. It is for these reasons that the Wikimedia Foundation should intervene and support its mission statements by establishing a Library of Wikipedia.

A proposal for a solution

The Library of Wikipedia solution involves the Wikimedia Foundation providing a percentage of its financial resources to the Wikimedia community in order to purchase non-free content which editors would not have been able to purchase single-handedly. The amount of money provided each year would be equal to the actual net income of the Wikimedia Foundation minus the planned net income. At least under the current circumstances, it appears that this differential is quite large and would ensure a reliable source of revenue for the Library of Wikipedia proposal.[3] At the present time, the difference between actual and planned net income is about four million dollars - more than the proposal will likely ever require in a single year.

There are several ways this proposal could be implemented:

While the final proposal here seems personally to be the best idea, as it gives the greatest amount of access to the greatest number of members of the Wikimedia community, the three proposed forms nevertheless have much in common. To start, the proposal of a Library of Wikipedia in general does not simply involve the uncontrolled tossing around of the Wikimedia Foundation's hard-earned money. There will be numerous checks involved before anyone is allowed to come close to even a dollar of the endowment of the Library of Wikipedia. For one, users who contribute to Wikipedia on IP accounts will be forbidden from either using Wikimedia Foundation money or, due to copyright law and the limitations of institutional access to materials, accessing what has been purchased through this library.

In order to make purchases, administrators on the site where this proposal will ultimately be located will have to give a user rights to do so. To be doubly sure of the applicant's good faith and honor on the encyclopedia, two administrators will have to vet the individual before they gain the rights to make purchases of non-free materials with the money of the Wikimedia Foundation. For now, the group can be called librarians. Any further prerequisite requirements for librarianship in addition to the user's good faith and dual confirmation by administrators, the community of the website where the Library of Wikipedia(media) will decide any prerequisites as a part of a comprehensive Library policy to be drawn up prior to its implementation.

Librarians will be permitted to purchase a maximum of US$1000 per year with a $100 maximum per purchase unless more is authorized by a community member with Administrator privileges or higher. In order for any purchase to be made over $1000, librarians will have to group their funds and be approved by an administrator in order for the purchase to take place. This ensures that the strongest form of consensus - the contribution of financial resources as well as an outside check for validity - is required before large purchases are made. All purchases must have a demonstrable encyclopedic purpose, and if they are not cited within an article within ten days after purchase, the librarian(s) making the purchase may face penalties, up to and including permanent blocking from the website where the Library of Wikipedia is located. The specific penalty policies will, again, be a part of the comprehensive Library policy discussed earlier. The Wikipedia Arbitration Committee will be granted the power to hear cases regarding use and misuse of the Library of Wikipedia.

The Wikimedia Foundation shall reserve the right to limit contributions to the Library of Wikipedia as it sees necessary given the current situation, at any time without notice until the change has taken effect. The proposed the Funds Dissemination Committee, if it is ultimately implemented, will also reserve this right as the body competent in providing advice with regard to disbursing funds for Wikimedia programs, but will ultimately be subordinate to the Wikimedia Foundation.[4] This will be a final lever which may be pulled only if all else fails.


The benefits of this proposal are numerous. The list I have included covers a large quantity of benefits, but is by no means comprehensive:

This proposal will, overall, ensure that the educational materials in any form provided by the Wikimedia Foundation are of high quality, and fulfill the mission of the Wikimedia Foundation. That is where the value of this proposal lies.

Concluding statements

This proposal is essential for Wikipedia's future growth in both quality and quantity. As a large number of prestigious but non-free sources are staring it in the face with uncountable amounts of information, it can simply not be used due to the restrictions of individual human beings. However, the Wikimedia Foundation possesses the resources, the reach, and the organization to ameliorate this situation by providing the Wikimedia community with the funds to conduct research through non-free channels. This proposal is not one the Wikipedia community can implement alone, but with the help of the Wikimedia Foundation, this proposal may yet be possible.

Open-access initiatives and the Library

This proposal does not necessarily conflict with the recent strong movement toward open access in journal publishing (Signpost coverage). Elsevier, as well as other for-profit publishing companies such as Springer and Nature Publishing Group, will continue to exist and charge high prices for their journals - prices which are unaffordable for the average consumer. Unlike physical products, where one company may create a comparable version for a lower price, one cannot create two comparable scientific papers. Each publisher, in effect, has a monopoly on the papers submitted to it, whether or not the journal is an open-access journal.

Many such publishers have prestige, or at least great sway, in the scientific community, a position which is unlikely to change because the best scientists publish the most impactful research in journals published by for-profit companies (or at least journals which cost money) which already happen to be prestigious, thereby perpetuating the prestige of these journals and the urge to publish in them. While there may be occasional disruptions to the existing order, it is almost certainly more common that open-access journals will exist to an extent in a market dominated by for-profit journals. Open-access journals have the additional caveat of finding financial support, which comes either from researchers (who pay to publish), their institutions who pay for publishing rather than content, or charitable grants. Such funding may not be in tremendous supply, and thus open-access publication is likely to remain small.

This will ensure that the Library will still be relevant even as open-access journals gain (some degree of) prominence, as for-profit journals will continue to dominate.


  1. ^ "Size of Wikipedia". Retrieved May 12, 2012.
  2. ^ "Statistics". Retrieved May 13, 2012.
  3. ^ Wikimedia Foundation. "Financial Reports/Financial Statements July 2011-December 2011". Retrieved May 13, 2012.
  4. ^ Wikimedia Foundation. "Funds Dissemination Committee". Retrieved May 17, 2012.
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==A counterpoint: Library cards==

Before I start picking this proposal apart, I want to say that there are good concepts buried in this, and that I think it's great that Wer900 came up with it.

I do believe that the WMF can and should use their clout to open doors for the Wikipedia community when it comes to sourcing. We've seen Creedo and Highbeam approach Wikipedia and offer a set number of subscriptions for editors to use. I have no idea how much involvement the WMF had in those, and similar, license donations, but the wording of the announcements doesn't suggest that it was very much. I think that a lot of good could be done if the WMF went out of their way to approach similar sourcing websites and ask for them to give Wikipedia a set number of licenses. English Wikipedia has demonstrated that once it has access to a set number of licenses, it can set up a functional distribution system for those licenses, there's no issue on that end. And it wouldn't cost a cent, save for the salary that the WMF employee doing the outreach is being paid anyways.

However I really don't like the rest of this proposal. To be blunt, I see a lot of concepts being pulled together in a way that doesn't really work. Setting up an entirely new project to just to acquire sources, with its own administrators and user-rights, is complicated enough before you even get into the issue of funding. It doesn't strike me as being something in the purview of the the funds dissemination committee. If anything it would be a line item in the WMF budget itself. But even if the logistics of setting up a new project and the funding situation are sorted out, the idea still has fundamental problems. If we're buying a book that an editor requested, we're helping an editor work on a small number of articles that the specific book can provide sourcing for. Books are expensive: a $100 encyclopedia of battleships could be used in fifty articles, but not alone, it'd need a half dozen companion books, each with smaller scopes. It'd need one editor, or a small team of highly coordinated editors, to be in possession of the books and working on the article at the same time, otherwise the sourcing would be chunky and poor. In other words, doing it right quickly becomes not only expensive, but a logistical nightmare. Then there's the ownership issue: who owns the book? If it's one editor, the money spent is only providing value as long as that one editor is using it. If he or she becomes inactive, the investment ceases providing value. If it's the movement as a whole that owns the book, who decides how long someone can use it? Who decides who it goes to next? Who pays for shipping if one editor is in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the next one is in Cambridge, England? Who is responsible for a lost or damaged book, and how? Another logistical nightmare. And really, the English Wikipedia Arbitration Committee isn't equipped to handle sorting it all out, especially as if this were implemented, it wouldn't be restricted to just English Wikipedia, but also every other language.

But there is a way to get editors the books they need, without having to deal with ownership, and at very low cost. It also doesn't necessarily require the assistance of the WMF, although them throwing their weight or cash behind the effort wouldn't be a bad thing. We should invest in library cards. Having a library card allows an editor to get whatever sourcing books they need, when they need them. It doesn't restrict editors to using the three or four books they purchased or that are in their area. Many public libraries don't charge for library cards. For those that do, local chapters should negotiate for a group/insitutional card that members can share, and then buy that. If there isn't a local chapter, then and only then should we even begin consider using WMF personnel and resources. Many chapters have equipment banks with things like cameras or sound recorders for editors to use, why not library cards?

I believe that an increased effort in acquiring access to online source repositories and a drive to get library cards into the hands of editors can get people the sources they need, when they need them. It won't solve the issue of 200,000 unsourced articles, (that will require a lot of dedication and a shift in the editing community's priorities), but it certainly will help.

Sven Manguard Wha? 01:19, 8 September 2012 (UTC)[reply]

Minor question

Could someone figure out how the formatting got completely destroyed here? The Blade of the Northern Lights (話して下さい) 23:21, 28 November 2012 (UTC)[reply]


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