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Lunch & Learn: Improving Wikipedia

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Wikipedia, said David Goodman at the October 13 Lunch ‘n Learn seminar, is by far the most used online encyclopedia, and the most referenced source in the world, with more than 338 million unique visitors a month. It contains articles in more than 260 languages, has an impressive geographic reach, and extensive coverage of topics, currently with more than 16 million articles and 5 million illustrations and media files.

It owes its success as a modern, comprehensive, encyclopedia, and its challenges, to its five pillars. It is designed for its online environment, it has a neutral point of view (which sometimes requires multiple points of view), its content is free, and all involved should act in a respectful and civil manner. Beyond that, suggests the fifth pillar, Wikipedia does not have firm rules.

Number of articles on en.wikipedia.org Number of articles on en.wikipedia.org [Source: Wikipedia]

The staggering and unexpected growth, even to those close to the project, carries with it an inherent problem: the reliability of the information. Conventional methods of certifying information are not applicable: basic principles of the site are that anyone can edit, and decisions on content are made by consensus among whoever wishes to participate, rather than by any form of centralized editorial control or peer review. There is therefore considerable resistance to its use for serious purposes. Nevertheless it is inevitably being used for such purposes, including in the academic world. This imposes a responsibility on those working at the encyclopedia to try to upgrade and maintain the quality.

This responsibility has given rise to multiple layers of control , for preventing the inclusion of improper material, and evaluating the accuracy of what is included. In his talk, Goodman explained some of these procedures, and demonstrated them in action. Though they have an effect, he acknowledged that they  work erratically and unsystematically.

Their effectiveness depends upon a sufficient number of suitably qualified people participating in writing, screening, and upgrading the articles. Therefore, there are organized efforts to recruit qualified users to work in a systematic way on content in specific areas. There are informal workgroups of skilled amateur and professionals in some subject areas. And there are experiments where some college faculty use Wikipedia writing assignments in their courses.

Most successful method, says Goodman, is the individual participation of knowledgeable people. Most involved encounter certain barriers: an anti-elitist lack of respect for formal qualifications, the somewhat artificial prevailing style, the peculiarities of the interface, the difficulties in writing simultaneously for readers with a wide range of background, the impossibility of getting one’s own way with an article, the impossibility of stabilizing a finished article, and the lack of personal authorship for completed work–in short, the crowd-sourcing environment.  Goodman recognizes that Wikipedia will never be a medium for academic authorship. But it is an unmatchable medium for communicating knowledge to the widest possible audience. The barriers can be overcome with skill and patience, he insists, and the necessary abilities are the same as those for teaching a class of beginners.

Above all, he hopes that more will become involved with the writing projects. Some you you, he hopes, will also become addicted.

David Goodman David Goodman [Source: Wikipedia]

Speaker Bio: David Goodman is one of the volunteer administrators at Wikipedia, and Vice-President of the New York City chapter. David was previously Biological Sciences Bibliographer and Research Librarian at the Princeton University Library. He has a Ph.D in Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and a MLS from Rutgers University. Goodman’s Wikipedia page contains a link to the notes he presented at the Lunch ‘n Learn talk.

A podcast of the presentation is also available.

Lunch & Learn: The Google Book Scanning Project with Trevor Dawes and Marie Wange-Connelly

googlebooks.jpgThe Princeton University Library is one of nearly 30 partners in the Google Book Scanning Project, an effort to integrate major library collections. Google expects that the project will connect researchers with key scholarly works and resources and that it will one day provide comprehensive access to all scholarly literatures.
Google Scholar currently supports searches for peer-reviewed papers, abstracts, and journal articles across many disciplines. Searches conducted at Princeton will provide a Find it @ PUL button when the library makes the full text available. Search results that contain a “book” link will provide a link to that book, the full text of which may be available.
In 2004, Google began the book-scanning project with a core group including the New York Public Library and academic libraries at Harvard University, Oxford University, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan. The agreements varied in scope. Michigan, for example, agreed to the digitization of all 7 million volumes in their collection. The project at Stanford involved approximately 2 million books in the first phase but could extend to full digitization during the life of the project. By contrast, the New York Public Library and Oxford are contributing only their non copyright, public domain material, although those holdings will exceed one million volumes. The second round of schools included Princeton, as well as the University of California, the University Complutense of Madrid, the National Library of Catalonia, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the University of Virginia, and the University of Texas at Austin.

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