How librarians can make Wikipedia a better reference tool #1Lib1Ref

Wikipedia 15

"You can't trust Wikipedia - anyone can put anything in it." As someone whose career involves teaching people to understand and use Wikipedia, and its sister projects, I hear that a lot. It's rubbish, of course, but once it was indeed true. In the early days of Wikipedia, content entry was unregulated. At first, no-one dreamed of adding falsehoods, but then along came the trolls, the vandals, the point-of-view pushers, and the well-meaning inept, and errors and hoaxes crept in. Something had to be done. And it was.

Wikipedians, recognising the problem, introduced a requirement for sources to be cited. Not just sources, but reliable sources - works which have good standing in the wider world, and usually which have an editorial process (beyond that of the tabloid press) that ensures that facts are checked and errors are corrected.

Now, if someone adds a statement to a Wikipedia article, other editors will check that it has a citation, and will look at the cited source to see that it is being represented accurately. If not, the edit will be amended, or undone ("reverted", in Wikipedia jargon). If the addition looks plausible but is uncited, the famous "citation needed" tag is added, alerting other editors and readers, and inviting someone to find one. We apply these rules most strictly in cases of living people, for obvious reasons.

So how does this affect you?

On 15 January, Wikipedia celebrated its fifteenth birthday - and yes, there is a citation for that. To celebrate, the Wikipedia community are asking every librarian on earth, whatever their discipline, to add at least one citation to a currently uncited fact. Doing so will not be onerous – it’s the sort of simple task that can be completed over a cup of coffee.

If you would like to assist, you first need to find an uncited fact, There are a number of ways to do this, You might, for instance, browse articles of interest to you, about your specialist subject, home town or favourite actor, band, TV show or sport team, and see if you can spot an uncited statement. Or you can search for instances of that "citation needed" tag, in our list of articles lacking sources.

Once you find an uncited fact, find the citation - this is where your awesome library skills come into play, and I won't attempt here to teach any proverbial grandmothers how to suck eggs. But if you're citing a book or journal, do please give the specific page or pages, not just the title or edition.

Before you add your citation, you might like to create a Wikipedia account (or sign in if you already have one). You don't have to do so, but there are some advantages to having one, and to being signed in to it when you make your edit. Your editing history is saved, so you can go back and more easily find things again later. You can "watchlist" (or favourite) articles of particular interest, and be notified when they are changed. And you can have a profile page, to tell other editors about your interests, and a talk page where people can leave you messages, and you can reply.

Once you're ready, edit the article and add the citation. There are some step-by-step editing instructions should you need them. And don't forget to remove the {{citation needed}} tag!

Of course, if you find that the statement you are planning to cite is wrong, or out of date, you can correct or update it, and give the citation for the new information.

When you make an edit, you are asked to enter an edit summary. Please add one, including the tag "#1lib1ref", so that we can track progress using our fancy new tool. An edit summary of "Added citation - #1lib1ref" is fine.

And that's it - thank you for your contributions to the world's largest ever volunteer project.

But of course, you can add another reference, and another. I should perhaps warn you that this can be addictive. And of course you can add extra information to articles if you want to, too. Just don't forget to include a citation.


Image source: Zacheta_wordmark.svg, made available under a CC0 1.0 license / original resized and background colour added

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