Archive | March, 2008

A brief, recent history of America at war… in food.

10 Mar

My Abstract for the Questioning Authority Conference

2 Mar

See conference page here.

No, You Can’t Cite Wikipedia – But Not for the Reasons You Think

While much of the debate about the use of wikipedia in academic settings, particularly academic libraries, has to do with questions of reliability and authenticity, a more fundamental question regarding the use of encyclopedias and the librarian’s role in helping a patron to credential knowledge—related to the basic question of the purpose of academic writing–has been largely ignored.

If part of a librarian’s role is to help patrons determine criteria for what counts as legitimate knowledge and then evaluate sources based on these criteria, wikipedia is an ideal teaching tool. The nature of wiki software allows users to review the debate, see how the “sausage” of knowledge production is made. Similar cycles of writing, editing, fact-checking and debating approaches that happen behind the scenes in traditional publishing are laid bare for the world to see and evaluate in the wiki model.

At a more abstract level, wikipedia offers librarians and researchers an opportunity to deconstruct the process of the production of knowledge, to evaluate how particular epistemes are maintained and who maintains them (Foucault 1966). After all, just as traditional publishing is controlled by an elite and tied to an epistemic agenda, so too is wikipedia controlled by an “oligarchy” of frequent contributors who tend to belong to specific patterns of race, class, gender and sexuality. What does it mean that the “world’s knowledge” as represented on wikipedia is largely western-, white- and male-created? What lessons can we draw from this fact to help inform our patrons’ research?

Finally, I will conclude this presentation with an explanation of how wikipedia conforms to the purpose of academic writing, be it analytic or synthetic.  I often tell patrons that the reason one doesn’t cite wikipedia is because one shouldn’t cite any encyclopedia – an academic paper aims to explore tensions within a topic, not to regurgitate facts. Source material from any encyclopedia is simply too superficial for use in higher education and doesn’t allow the paper-writer to develop his or her analysis, to give the topic his or her own spin. Perhaps ironically, then, if the purpose of academic research is to explore controversies, contradictions and tensions, wikipedia is a far better source than a “closed-source” encyclopedia, because on wikipedia the memory of a debate about an article lives in the background of the article itself, available for the user to peruse.

the home stretch

2 Mar

I graduate from library school in about eight weeks, and anything could happen after that. There are, however, interesting projects in the works.

  • Two papers for the Questioning Authority conference — one on my own about the real teaching value of wikipedia (it’s not what you think — I’ll post the abstract later, maybe) and one about how to navigate the different and converging knowledge cultures of libraries and IT in an e-library environment.
  • I’m still thinking through my gender and labor paper, but it may be a chance to get back to a few ideas about gendered professional development, public space and public knowledge, and the gendered nature of the service sector.
  • My Aluka project. More on this in another post, but it is the brilliant, possibly redeeming red-headed stepchild terror of the semester.
  • Looking for work!
  • Curriculum committee project — addressing performance gaps by gender in tech-intensive courses. I did a few interviews this weekend and am working hard to turn it all into some sort of usable evaluation plan.

More on each of these later…