Wikipedia as Community Service

If I were “You”: How Academics Can Stop Worrying and Learn to Love “the Encyclopedia that Anyone Can Edit”. I’ve spouted off about this a million times before, and I’m glad to see someone else finally saying it too:

This recognition of the extent to which the Wikipedia has engaged the imagination of the general public and turned it to the amateur practice of scholarship suggests what I think may prove to be the best way of incorporating it into the lives of professional academics: since the Wikipedia appears unable to serve as a route to professional advancement for intrinsic reasons, perhaps we should begin to see contributions to it by professional scholars as a different type of activity altogether—as a form of community service to be performed by academics in much the same way lawyers are often expected to give back to the public through their pro bono work. A glance at almost any discussion page on the Wikipedia will show that the Wikipedians themselves are aware of the dangers posed to the enterprise by the inclusion of fringe theories, poor research, and contributions by people with insufficient disciplinary expertise. As certified experts who work daily with the secondary and primary research required to construct good Wikipedia entries, we are in a position to contribute to the construction of individual articles in a uniquely positive way by taking the time to help clean up and provide balance to entries in our professional areas of interest. In doing so, we can both materially improve the quality of the Wikipedia and demonstrate the importance of professional scholars to a public whose hobby touches very closely on the work we are paid to do—and whose taxes, by and large, support us.

I’d like to insert a little more concern about access to information by the general public, and perhaps add just a glimmer of the serials crisis into this article, but I guess that’s for librarians to do, not academics. Though it will never cease to amaze me that academics don’t seem to realize that they give away their intellectual labour all the time to support a third party distribution system that takes money away from the universities, thus making academics the number one threat to library budgets and the number one reason why those with access to the internet but no access to university libraries can’t get a hold of scholarly works, but hey. It’s Monday morning, and this article is a start.

Via Jason.