Wikisource vs. the Library

It is hard to pick a side when both the library and Wikisource, in essence, work to accomplish the same noble goals: to disseminate and preserve information. Both have limitations and benefits, as Puneet illustrates in her blog entry. While the library’s primary, potential disadvantages lie in economic (resources/funding) and physical (storage space, preservation of materials) limitations, Wikisource is potentially problematic because it opens up the roles of archival curator and book editor to anyone with an internet connection. Wikisource’s democratization of these functions (editor and curator) do engender the possibility of greater access to information; however, as I mentioned in my earlier post, this democratization does diminish the corpus’s academic legitimacy. As all of us know, it is a big no-no to include any Wiki materials on a works cited list… doing so results in an almost automatic professorial/GA eye roll, followed by the comment, “Look for a more legitimate source!”

Although Wikisource’s academic legitimacy may be shaky, one of the source’s biggest advantages over the traditional library is its status as a hypermedial archive. As Jerome McGann indicates, the incorporation of visual and audial elements in a text “are preferable since literary works are themselves always more or less multimedia forms” (4). The ability to include audial and visual materials in Wikisource editions may, arguably, lead to the publication of more “complete” works—works with the ability to more fully represent the inherently multimedial nature of literature. Furthermore, the ability to include hyperlinks can enrich the reader’s understanding of a text; hyperlinks can help to remove the text from isolation and place it into a broader socio-historical nexus. Wikisource’s benefits (increased access to texts and the publication of multimedial/hyperlinked works) are without a doubt significant; however, the issues that I cannot seem to resolve are: Who is the intended audience for our edition of The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes? Lay public or academia? If our intention is to target an academic audience, will our edition be accepted or discredited by this community? How do open-access information archives, such as Wikisource, fit into institutionalized academia? Should academia embrace or discredit these open-access archives?

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5 Responses to Wikisource vs. the Library

  1. sarah.skrydstrup says:

    While I think you make a valid point about the legitimacy of the information that is available through highly democratized online spaces like Wikisource, I believe it is more important to question how institutions decide what is “legitimate” and what is not. A point made by Prof. Jason Boyd in our discussion last week is indicative of how arbitrary decisions about legitimacy are. He spoke of how The Victorian Web would not be considered “legitimate” to many institutions based solely on the appearance of the page alone. It would appear that legitimacy lies more with the appearance of legitimacy, rather than how pertinent or valid the information and content actually is that resides on a web page in cyberspace.

    As many students know, what is more important is the availability of information and how accessible it is. It is extremely frustrating to try and gain access to a database and need to subscribe to it to obtain that information. Wikipedia often cites extremely helpful sources that help legitimize the information that citation is attached to. It is up to the reader (student) to carefully process what he or she is reading to decipher what should be considered “real” or “valid”. The institutional attachment to information does not necessarily make one source more legitimate over another. For example, because the Canadian government advertises a jobs initiative and has a “legitimate” website to support the ads does not necessarily mean that the so-called initiative is real. Does the fact that our blog exists on WordPress through Ryerson University with the recognizable blue and yellow symbol make the blog more legitimate than if we had created the same blog without Ryerson University attached to it?

    Referring back to the Ray Siemens et. al. article, James Davis suggests that democratization of information can help make education more inclusive through collaboration. I am however left with the same questions as you Miso. Perhaps it is idealistic to think so but I think that our edition of The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes resides in both the public and academic realm.

  2. jason.boyd says:

    I would suggest that an opposition between an academic and a lay audience here is perhaps forced. On one level, we simply want AN audience for JOH’s writing, and an annotated social edition might 1) make JOH more accessible to a general readership; 2) make JOH more teachable in a classroom; 3) draw attention to JOH’s writing as a potentially rich focus of academic research; 4) demonstrate the value of the social edition, as a pedagogical exercise and as a scholarly activity.

    If the digital social edition is a process, then there is the potential to continually layer on annotations intended for a range of audiences: high school students, undergraduates, academics, non-native speakers of English, social and literary historians, etc. Ultimately, our audience is anyone who might find our annotated edition of value.

    • jason.boyd says:

      In the focus on “audience” in my reply above, I neglected to note that we don’t just want to create a readership for out social edition of JOH, but a readership/writership–a community–interested in contributing to, building upon and extending our work to enable further study of JOH and her works.

  3. julie.morrissy says:

    I think Jason’s response is very helpful, both in the context of this discussion, and in the context of the wider discussions that we have been having about the place of the digital humanities/media in academics, and in public life. Being part of a generation who are trying to integrate digital resources into our way of academic/public lives that were previously so heavily based in print resources, I think it’s natural for us to feel as though we have to make a choice. I definitely have struggled with this idea over the past few weeks – constantly trying to figure out which is “better” for which audience. I am now trying to switch my mind into a more open approach like the one Jason points to – one that sees the multiple opportunities for use that digital resources represent, alongside print resources, rather than instead of them. The idea of layering annotations to allow the audience for a social edition like JOH to continuously expand is a really exciting prospect, and we should definitely think about the different audiences we can include when we get to that stage.

  4. Pingback: Wikisource and the library | The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes

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