Libraries & Wikis

July 13, 2006 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

Overview: Wikis are used for a number of tasks in libraries and library communities.  Several wikis, such as that used by the University of Connecticut and St Joseph County public library are location-specific, talking mainly about resources and information at one particular location.  St Joseph County’s wiki, furthermore, is only editable by staff of the library.  Other wikis have a topical theme rather than a location.  LISwiki is an attempt to create a general encyclopedia about library and information services.  Library Success is a Best Practices resource.  Butler Wikiref is a review of reference materials in wiki form.  I’m going to review several specific resources, and then take a look at the different approaches to wikis being used by different resources.


LISwiki is a resource dealing with all aspects of libraries and information science.  Much of the information on LISwiki is in an encyclopedia form, providing definitions.  These articles range from the in-depth (such as ones on advocacy) to stubs (banned book).  LISwiki acts as an easily searchable directory , and much of its utility comes from its links to outside content.  The banned books page, although a small definition on LISwiki, links to Wikipedia’s list of banned books and the Open Directory Project’s banned book pages.  One of the good things about LISwiki is that it has dedicated users who read through any article edited or created to verify its content.  When I started using the resource, I submitted an article on roving reference.  Within half an hour, two people had edited it to add more information and fix categorization.  This is a great resource and one that it is good for librarians to know about, but the most PLCMC could do with this resource is to know about it and contribute to it.


Library Success is a resource bringing together best practices information for library activities.  This includes program ideas, success stories, recommended reading for different groups.  This has a very different feel to LISwiki, as instead of being an attempt to gather together definitions and policy information, it is an attempt to gather helpful resources.  Taken together, these identify very different needs and purposes to library wikis.  LISwiki is in many ways more informative than Library Success, but does not have much of a sense of community.  Library Success, as a collection of ideas, suggestions, and anecdotes feels more like a community or a brainstorming session.  This is a great resource, and one that it would be of value for PLCMC staff to read and contribute to.  It could also be of use to copy this style of wiki when compiling department-specific resources.  The current Youth Services area on PLCMC Central, for example, could benefit from a wiki format so that the resources could be more easily edited and updated, and more easily searched.

Library For Life Subject Guides

Unlike the last two links, which were intended primarily as resources by librarians for librarians, this is a resource aimed at the public.  This is run by St Joseph County Public Library as a subject guide, maintained by librarians as a reader’s advisory aid for the public.  These range from legal guides to pets to The Da Vinci Code.  The guides mix reader’s advisory, links to outside resources, and also contain links to St Joseph County’s catalog.  Close links between the catalog and the wiki mean more traffic between the two areas.  A possible disadvantage of this wiki is that it can only be edited by staff.  This means that the public are observers rather than participants, and renders the wiki as a tool for putting up encyclopedic websites quickly rather than an open-source collaboration.  If the public were involved, this subject guide could easily become a social networking library catalog, with readers being able to edit and expand the information given about different books.  There are aspects of this design that would be very useful for the library to copy.  Searchable subject guides could help people find titles they didn’t know they needed.  However, this is hamstrung by the unnecessary restriction on who can edit pages.  The communication on this site is one way, and one of the major points of Web 2.0 and by extension Library 2.0 is that this kind of information should be a dialogue, not a monologue.


while not a library-specific resource, Wikipedia has the distinct advantage of being the most popular and well used wiki in existence.  This means that any articles on wikipedia are read by a huge number of people and edited by a huge number of people.  Thus, there are probably more librarians and library science enthusiasts reading and working on wikipedia’s library pages than any other wiki.  This does not of course mean that wikipedia will always be the most accurate resource, and it is often prone to malicious editing.  Wikipedia’s founder has publically urged students not to cite wikipedia articles in schoolwork because their veracity cannot be guaranteed.  John Hubbard, founder of LISwiki, frequently offers Wikipedia’s pages on Pope Benedict XVI as an example of the best and worst of Wikipedia.  Within minutes of Benedict becoming pope, an entry for him had been created, incorporating much of the information from Wikipedia’s earlier pages about Cardinal Ratzinger.  The page was edited hundreds of times that day to add more information, and it quickly became one of the most complete resources on the new Pope that existed on the web.  However, wikipedia articles can and will be edited by anybody, and during the first day of Benedict’s reign as pope, the page was edited several times by a prankster to swap his pictures for those of Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars movies.  The page was quickly changed back, but this served as a good example of Wikipedia’s vulnerability to malicious editing.  This vulnerability, of course, exists in all open wikis.  Obviously, the library can’t replicate wikipedia, and shouldn’t be intending to, but it would be a good idea for all librarians to be aware of the many strengths and notable weaknesses of Wikipedia so they can advise the public in its use.

Library resource wikis

These two resources have a lot in common.  Both are location-specific, one dealing with particular reference resources available at Butler University, the other being the support documentation for the use of library and information technology at the University of Connecticut.  Both are open-edit (anyone can edit them) and both provide what is in a way proprietary information.  One reviews only the reference resources that Butler subscribes to.  The other supports only the technology that Uconn has on its computers.  These are interesting uses of the wiki software.  Butler’s site is a little more what you would expect, giving users the chance to rate and give tips on how to use different online resources.  Uconn’s is a little more unusual, as it is in a way letting the users edit the manuals for their equipment.  This could be an interesting way of quickly discovering what bugs and issues come up in the use of different programs, and what ways people uncover of solving or working around them.  A problem both of these sites have, though, is that they don’t seem to be updated with much regularity.  Butler’s wiki had only had one change in the last thirty days.  Uconn’s had had more, but most editors were keeping to their areas of interest and the main page had not been updated for a year.

Having looked at a variety of the wikis out there, I’m going to try and look at some of the options open to a library wanting to build a wiki as an information source.

Location based versus subject based:  A location-based wiki has a lot of advantages.  You can tie it in to other aspects of your site.  You can assume access to your library’s facilities and use the wikis to socially network existing site content (the catalogue, the reference resources, and so forth).  The disadvantage is that a PLCMC-specific wiki will not have much interest for non-PLCMC patrons.  While PLCMC patrons are our priority, it should still be possible to create a resource that helps all library patrons.  Reader’s Club is in some ways location-based, as each review links back to the catalogue.  However, it is also of use to patrons outside of the library system, as the information is not proprietary.

Open versus Closed: Restricting editing privileges to your wiki is a good way of stopping your wiki from being vandalized and ensuring the quality of information within.  Unfortunately it’s a bad way of keeping people interested in the site.  One of the points of a wiki is the democratization of information.  Anyone with knowledge about a subject can add their knowledge to the pool.  A good middle ground between wide-open access and staff-only access might be to require users to log in, creating a username and password.  This also makes edits easier to track.


Entry filed under: Misc.

The Future of the Catalog and Librarything Technology Tool Box

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