otter-fishing-wikipedia

The first article that came up when I hit Wikipedia’s “Random Article” button. I’ll call it a win.

Greatly appreciated this post from Jessamyn West promoting the #1Lib1Ref campaign (One Librarian, One Reference), which seeks to get every librarian to add at least one reliable reference source to a Wikipedia article that needs it. Jessamyn:

This helps make Wikipedia better in the process. I added my cite today to the Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow article. I’m not even trying to be sassy, that is just the page that was handed to me by this great tool that lets you know which articles need citations. I did some Googling, found a Google Book that had some supporting detail for the fact in question, used a book citation tool to turn it into Wikistyle and there you go. I might do two, just in case someone doesn’t have time to add a citation to Wikipedia this week.

Wikipedia is 15 years old today. About a month ago I donated to the Wikimedia Foundation for the first time during one of their fundraisers, because I’ve been a cheapskate freeloader for long enough. I’ve been using it since high school, when it started getting big and quickly became anathema to cite in any academic or “serious” setting, given its unreliability as an authoritative source. (As an editor at my college paper I once received a story from a staff writer that began “According to Wikipedia…” Headdesk.)

But for a trivia-brain like me, Wikipedia was and remains a delectable time-suck of arcana, and a handy resource I consult more frequently than I realize. For looking up films, for instance, I much prefer its spartan UI and rigid structure to the once-helpful but now-bloated and gaudy IMDb. And though Goodreads is usually my first stop for book ratings and reviews, the sidebar for a well-enough-known book has all the metadata I’d usually need. In good articles the References and Further Reading sections also make great portals to related topics and sources you didn’t realize you were interested in.

I once read somewhere that Wikipedia is like the opposite of communism: it doesn’t work in theory but somehow works in practice. That it hasn’t fizzled out already is a minor miracle, a credit largely due to the many volunteer editors who keep it running (and probably to enough of those annoying fundraising banners that show up in increasingly creative and strident ways). I’ve made edits very sporadically over the years—mostly cosmetic ones like italicizing titles and correcting links—but once while in a Wiki-rabbit-hole I excised a vicious ad hominem comment someone had written on Taylor Momsen’s page, which was pretty sparse at the time and therefore more liable to vandalism.

Speaking of: the site has issues, clearly. Who knows how much longer it’ll be around in its current form. Like the rest of the open web, I hope it lasts and evolves into a sustainable and dependent force for good. This #1Lib1Ref challenge is a good opportunity for librarians like me to be more proactive in this weird and wonderful experiment, if only as a professional obligation.

So thanks Jimmy for 15 years and counting. In celebration I will click the Random Article button (the site’s best feature) 15 times and only 15 times. I’ve got stuff to do after all.