Isn’t Something Better Than Nothing?

In the debate between Wikisource and the library, I am torn. I consider myself to be an “old soul”, and place value in traditional things like books. However, as my colleagues can attest I’m sure, there is nothing more frustrating than searching for a book in the library only to discover that it does not have a place in these specific stacks or is simply not available. Of course, we as students at Ryerson have other library options such as University of Toronto and York, however the journey to these other libraries isn’t necessarily the most convenient.

The ease of access is one advantage that Wikisource has over the library. As Miso has pointed out, anything “Wiki” related is questioned in the academic realm which makes it problematic as a scholarly source. However, this week we have been part of the process of turning a literary work into a Wikisource document which allows new insight. We have physically witnessed the necessary steps into making a document accurate, as well as become informed on what steps are taken to correct a document when it is not accurate. As a class we are being held accountable for the work that we are translating from print media to digital media, and hopefully because of that accountability our finished document can eventually be considered a scholarly source.

Puneet has made the excellent point about the presence of the “human” in both wiki documents and print texts. This notion can also be applied to the accountability of a text, as humans often make mistakes. I know that in some of the printed texts that I have read, there have been obvious spelling or grammatical errors. Do mistakes such as these make that specific text lose its credibility? Most of the time, this mistake is noted but as far as I am aware it does not take any value from the information presented. So why should Wikisource be critiqued on different standards?

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One Response to Isn’t Something Better Than Nothing?

  1. michelle.keith says:

    I think that you raise a good point here Emily. There have been a number of times that I have run across something as simple (and yet obvious) as a spelling error (or 3) in a printed (and therefore credible) source. Coming out of the age of print and moving into the digital age means that we need to start giving more credit to digital sources – and that includes sites such as Wikipedia and Wikisource.

    Throughout my academic career I have definitely turned to sites like Wikipedia when I need a quick explanation or summary of an event. The tricky part comes when I have to cite something for a paper that I got from Wikipedia because it is not a credited source. However, going through this process with The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes, as well as an experiment in my second year have made me realize the amount of work that goes into the wiki sources and the attention they receive on the daily. In my second year, a couple of friends and I went onto Wikipedia and changed the page that gave the definition of “bullet.” Instead of reading that a bullet was “a projectile propelled by a firearm, sling, or air gun,” we made it read that a bullet was “fluffy white feather thrown at opponents to soften their feelings towards you.” We were testing how well the site was monitored and how quickly this completely inaccurate change would be updated. About five minutes later, we had received an email noting that our change was not credible, was voided and warning us not to make such a change again or our membership would be revoked and discredited. My point here is that from this experiment, and our own work with Hobbes, we can see that there is legitimate monitoring and academic work being put into the Wiki sites. It is also much easier to correct or update a website of any kind, but especially a Wiki because of the multiple user format, than it is to correct or update a book – which has to be reprinted and redistributed, something that is not done for a couple of typos.

    Websites like the “wiki’s” are helpful because they hold a wealth of knowledge that is easily accessed without subscriptions or the need for a university ID. And when a student is in need of some quick background information and they can’t make it to a library to find a book that might not be there and then skim through to look for the necessary information, wiki sites should be counted as credible enough. That is not to say that the student should ONLY use wiki sources, but they should count as a credible source in some respects.

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