When I was a LIS student I wrote in my dissertation about the evils of Wikipedia as a source of information even though – like most of us I suspect – I use it all the time. However – again like most of us – I would always verify it against other sources if I was using it for something significant.
This week at work the Power of Wiki was brought home to me. Big Time.
During a presentation on the forthcoming Club History which as Archivist, I have helped research, but which I had to miss, a Club member stood up and said something like ‘why have you included nothing about ‘X’, when everyone knows he was a member?’ ‘X’ I might add was a very famous figure in Military History.
This flummoxed the author who confronted me the next day (the publication has already gone to press by the way)and I demonstrated by showing him the Membership Lists for the relevant period, that ‘X’ was never a Member. Somewhat puzzled by the assertion (as no-one has never mentioned to me that he might have been), I checked to find the source of this rumour and….perhaps unsurprisingly, found that it was in a Wikipedia entry on the Club which cited as its provenance a British Tabloid Newspaper article. You know the sort: ‘past members include….’
I quickly edited the article (the first time I have ever done anything like that), but realised that this may be too late as for some, various myths have probably already become ‘facts’.
The moral of this is: take control of Wikipedia before it takes control of you. I intend to learn much more about how to edit articles on there so that we can get the Club’s official version of events which after all we have spent a year researching, out there, so that years hence my successor will not have to face such an uncomfortable scenario.
Wikipedia is a wonderful concept but, it is only as good as the Wikipedians. Or, if you want to put it more bluntly: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.