Is existing simultaneously an option? Wikisource AND the library

This week I found myself searching for inspiration to write this blog post. Despite reading over my colleagues’ posts and reviewing the class readings again, I still struggled to find a particular subject that caught my interest. The main reason for this probably stems from the issue I take with the category for the week: Wikisource vs. the Library. In my opinion, presenting these two institutions as opposing factions does not seem to be the most productive or accurate means of evaluating them.

Wikisource and libraries share many common traits, including a goal of spreading knowledge by archiving texts in an accessible manner; Wikisource even labels itself as “the free library that anyone can improve”! This is something Steven points to in his post that really got me thinking about how libraries are increasingly entering the digital domain. Librarians today are trained in archiving material as well as digital texts – the focus is no longer solely invested in the book as a tangible object but as a work that can also exist digitally. The ability to employ technology in a library for the use of archiving and making texts more accessible, in a digital format, has become a major aspect of librarians’ educational training and skill development. While Wikisource is adopting scholarly forms of archiving, librarians are learning to rely on the digital humanities. This weakens the division between the library and online attempts at archiving, like Wikisource, since the same techniques and standards of organization are being upheld in both.

Levels of organizational structure and systematical standards are being applied in the digital realm where they was previously only expected in the physical building of a library. This means there is greater access to texts since people can potentially read a book, or rather a digital scan/OCR of a book, from the comfort of their own home. However, I must acknowledge that the Wikisource version of a “library” cannot achieve the same level of scholarly validity (as an institution) as an “actual” library because of its foundation in a social medium. Just look back to our posts from last week to refresh your mind on how controversial a “scholarly” social edition is.

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4 Responses to Is existing simultaneously an option? Wikisource AND the library

  1. cstelman says:

    Your suggestion that “presenting these two institutions (Wikisource and the Library) as opposing factions does not seem to be the most productive or accurate means of evaluating them” stood out for me, probably because I completely agree with you. It’s interesting how easy it seems to be to assume that Wikisource and the Library are in opposition to one another- when in reality, as you have highlighted in this post, they benefit and learn from each other positively more than they seem to be competing. Yet it took me almost until now to accept that although libraries and platforms like Wikisource both attempt “to disseminate and preserve information”(as Miso suggested here), they are not necessarily working against each other to do so. So if libraries and platforms like Wikisource are simply working to achieve similar goals in different ways, why do we seem to have a tendency to advocate for libraries over Wikisource or vice versa?
    I think this tendency stems partly from the fact that, as you have acknowledged, the “Wikisource version of a “library” cannot achieve the same level of scholarly validity (as an institution) as an “actual” library because of its foundation in a social medium.” This is interesting because realistically, those who will actually benefit from platforms like Wikisource are students and scholars, but of course, as my peers have pointed out, Wikisource probably has the least credibility in the realm of academia. So even if Wikisource can achieve the same goals as a library, does it matter if it’s not credible?

    • sydney.tyber says:

      Cstelman, I think you are pushing olivia.harris’ discussion further in an interesting manner by leading into questions about credibility and validity. I started to write a post in response to your final question, but about halfway through I realized I was writing in circles and getting nowhere. The reason for this (I think) is because I actually don’t have a working knowledge of what “credible” means in this sense. First, there is a difference in whether a source is actually credible or is perceived as credible.
      Dealing first with the idea of actual credibility, we must consider the elements that make something credible. While we think primarily of authorship, there are other factors as well. Two that come to mind are citations and timeliness. What sources does the work draw on? When was it published? By these parameters, many of the books in the library are actually less credible than those on the internet: the ease with which we can check the sources in a Wikipedia article through its hyperlinks certainly rivals the bibliography of the book; the books on the shelves of many libraries were written decades ago, and no publisher has created a new edition, whereas online texts can be updated (and often are) with ease. For my research is the better choice really the monograph in the library by a professor from 1971, or a Wikipedia article by anonymous users with great citations and current information?
      The question of authorship is what drives the debate about perceived credibility of a text. Foucault tells us that the author is a brand, and that how these authors have been branded dictates what a reader expects from a text. It would seem that in this case, the medium of publication functions as a brand as well, as we make assumptions about the text based on its material (or virtual) form. I think we need to start asking whether or not the virtual is inherently less credible, and if not, how can we change people’s perceptions?

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