As an author and a librarian, I love Wikipedia, and I use it for research all the time. That surprises people a lot, who think that as both an author and a librarian, I should be “better than that.” I’m not better than that, though, because Wikipedia is pretty darn awesome.
Launched in 2001, few online sites have received as much acclaim and criticism as Wikipedia. Teachers in all levels of education are constantly at war with students who try to use Wikipedia as an “academic source” of information for papers and projects. Librarians keep having to explain that finding an answer there does not always equal finding the answer that was sought. Social prognosticators decry the downfall of civilization.
It can all get a bit extreme.
So while every week there are new pro/cons about the site, in the end, it is impossible to beat its ease of accessibility and breadth of content.
As a librarian, I have heard plenty about how Wikipedia (or Google, or just “the internet”) has made my job obsolete. To be honest, yes, there are aspects of librarianship that have been made obsolete by all of those things. On the other hand, information studies (of which librarianship is a part) is a rapidly expanding field, getting more complicated every day. So, no, my job and my degree are not ready for the long box yet.
Yet the hostility remains among the literati towards Wikipedia. It’s unfortunate, because I think it’s great! It is an incredibly useful tool, and I believe most of the people who think it is a second-rate information source are definitely NOT librarians.
Of course, no, one should never use any encyclopedia entry as a valid, “credible” research source. That’s as true of Wikipedia as it is of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedias were never meant to serve as anything more than an information clearing house, so to speak. They are designed to give a general understanding of a topic (even very specific topics), pointing in directions that a researcher can go further into study.
Think of a Wikipedia entry as a map, not a destination: use it as a tool to point you in the direction you need to go.
Which leads to the most popular criticism of Wikipedia, which is that it is crowd-sourced and therefore inaccurate and/or untrustworthy. I think, back in the early ‘naughts, there was some valid concern about that, if only because it was a very new service and did not have a lot of editors to fact check each other.
Now, however, that’s not true. Ironically, Wikipedia has a page devoted to its own reliability (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia), which lists the numerous studies done since 2005 that have shown that it shares a level of accuracy comparable to other encyclopedias as well as peer-reviewed journals.
Misinformation and hoaxes have appeared, of course, and some might go months before they are corrected/caught, which is why it is important to fact check data from other sources if you are doing serious research. Some entries are fraught with violently opposing viewpoints (such as entries about political conflicts) or get hijacked by people with an agenda. Again, it is important to check data against credible sources, if you are in a position where that information is critical to your research paper or writing. Wikipedia is great, but it’s certainly not infallible.
Personally, I think the biggest danger Wikipedia poses is the Random Article Link. You’ll never get out of that time sink alive!!!!!