Information (for) Society

On January 18, 2012, certain websites, such as Wikipedia and Google, had service blackouts to raise awareness of proposed legislation that would affect a “free and open internet.” The proposed bills are explained here, in a PDF put together by the American Libraries Association, who also opposes these bills.

Librarians nationwide immediately jumped on the chance to show that they do not need Wikipedia – trying to prove that they can answer reference-type questions all by themselves. “Who needs Wikipedia?” was the mindset put forth by many, many libraries/librarians.

One such library touted the fact that they were able to provide answers to a patron when Wikipedia was blacked-out… by looking something up on Google Books.

The library must not have realized that Google also participated in the black-out, right alongside Wikipedia. The goal is the black-out was not to hurt people by denying them information – the goal was to raise awareness about this legislation that could have the effect of blacking out many parts of the web. Librarians who felt the need to prove their worth by bashing Wikipedia completely missed the point.

I do not understand the ire librarians feel towards Wikipedia. Both libraries and Wikipedia have common goals – both have the mission to provide free and open access to data, ‘common’ spaces where people can interact with each other, discuss ideas and explore the world. Libraries provide these services locally – anyone can walk into a public library and get information and interaction. Wikipedia provides these services The two entities are NOT mutually exclusive. Libraries and librarians need to support and embrace Wikipedia – instead of feeling threatened by it. We need to embrace it by making the best it can be.

Why not make it a goal, as a librarian, to create a Wiki account, and review entries for accuracy? Create entries for terms that are dear to your heart. Sign up to scan books for Google Books and Project Gutenberg.

As librarians, we need to follow through with the goal of providing free and open access to information. We can do this in-house, in the library, by providing exceptional service to patrons, and we can do this online, by supporting and even enhancing Wikipedia and related free and open information websites.

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