Wikipedia vs. Britannica from a librarian perspective.

Good article in this month’s Searcher Magazine comparing and contrasting Wikipedia and Britannica with an eye towards castigating neither.

Let’s act like careful, reasonable people. Wikipedia is a great starting point. It’s a lesson in research methodology, a fun way to share expertise, and a groundbreaking new way of working. Its consensus model represents a shift in management styles and away from hierarchical organization. You might say that Wikipedia is Zen-like. Its ever-changing nature means that when you read it, you are completely in the moment. And its collective brain is like a conscious universe in which we are all one.

Britannica is a different animal. Flawed, yes. Behind the times with regard to non-Western and minority leadership, sure. Indispensable? You betcha.


5 thoughts on “Wikipedia vs. Britannica from a librarian perspective.

  1. Without “castigating,” the crucial element for a reference source is still the question of authority, on which the article says, “As it is difficult to hit a moving target, so is evaluating Wikipedia’s authority. One minute an article may be flawed; another, it may be capable of satisfying most experts. Users who rely on Wikipedia as a sole source are playing roulette, even if they check and recheck entries.”

  2. Great article, though Jack’s observation is duly noted. I don’t think anything in there is going to come as a surprise to critical users of information (Britannica contains errors and is biased? Wikipedia shouldn’t be used as the single source of information? You don’t say…), but what Searcher notes is worth saying.

    In my first Intro. to Reference lecture of the semester, the teacher spent a few minutes ripping on Wikipedia based on what she had read in a NY Times article. It sounded as if she just took what she wanted to hear from it (i.e. Wikipedia = bad, inaccurate), but what drove me completely crazy is the large number of very new library students in my class who not only wrote down what she said, but have continued to parrot it for the rest of the semester. I would imagine that most of these students won’t try Wikipedia now. Based on that, I’d say that Wikipedia is going to have a long row to hoe in order to get cred. What the Searcher article says is dead on: credibility is going to be acheived by winning over teachers, academics, and librarians. And as long as we have educators making uninformed choices and comments, well –

  3. Wikipedia shouldn’t be used as the single source of information? You don’t say…

    But the difference is that Britannica can be, and often is used as a single source of information (i.e., for ready reference questions), because it is reliable. This is why Britannica is a reference source, where Wikipedia is not.

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  5. Raina: They probably parroted the other prof’s views not because they believed them but because they wanted a good grade. I learned very quickly in university that it is extremely easy to offend most university profs and if you do they will hold it against you for the rest of the semester.

    I think Wikipedia is going to put Britannica out of business because 1) it is far more comprehensive 2) it is free 3) articles are of far lower quality than Britannica but they are good enough. For those people who want a rough idea of something or some specific facts the Wikipedia is good enough. For those who wanted authorative detailed knowledge on something the Britannica is not good enough. A book dedicated to the subject is necessary.

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