One of my colleagues forwarded me this email from her son in college. She had sent this around to the rest of our reference department as well, hoping to get answers from our staff. Her son writes:
Hey Mom, I’ve got a kinda silly reference librarian question for you concerning the validity and accuracy of an online information source. You see, my roomate staunchly vouches for the accuracy of information on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. His argument is that because of its large base of writers, and the enormous amount of information that those writers have, coupled with the fact that many of the writers watch after certain posts making sure that they update and protect the information that they are interested in, the information is as accurate and complete as any other legitimate, peer reviewed, edited online/printed source of information. My argument is that because Wikipedia is open to all persons that want to post, and that the majority of those that post are not experts in their field, coupled with the fact that there is no universal editor for the site, makes all of the information on the site, from trivial details about someone’s favorite band, to biological information about mice, suspect. I don’t necessarily mean in papers that we write for college, its obvious that I couldn’t use Wikipedia information for such purposes, however, I was telling Nick that I suspect the information on the site to the extent that I would be worried about citing facts/information in common conversation. You don’t have to answer in a wordy fashion, I was just wondering whether or not Wikipedia was potentially a reliable source of information for non-academic situations.
What do you think? If you have any input, please use the comment form. I promise to forward all opinions to my colleague’s son.