Simply by appearing in the Britannica, an article has credibility. But that's not true for Wikipedia because you might hit an article a moment after a loon has altered it. Yet, Wikipedia has (and deserves) credibility, in part because of its willingness to acknowledge its fallibility.
To understand the controversy surrounding Wikis, read this post by Ram Mohan on "The problem with Wikis" (I found the explanation clear and concise, and previously cited it at this Yesterday.SG post).
Some librarians feel that a resource like Wikipedia should not be cited as part of an answer to a customer (in response to their information enquiry). I'm not saying their concerns have no basis. I'm just saying that to discount a wiki entirely without first accessing the value of its content would be foolish. Unprofessional, even.
Sometimes, the wiki entry is even more comprehensive and better articulated that so-called "authorative sites". Sometimes it could be the only resource you can find on the Internet.
I think the unsaid worry among some librarians in citing a wiki entry is that the between the time you verify the content and the time the customer views it, the entry might be changed.
My view is that when librarians respond to an advisory or reference question, it is Okay to cite a Wikipedia entry -- provided we have done our due diligence in the usual verification and crosschecking of information.
We should not cite the wikipedia entry as the only information source. Our response should also be supplemented by other resources and references -- books and other published articles.
Most important, we should alert the customer to some known issues with wikis (i.e. a kind of advisory in itself), and let the user make their final informed choice with regards to the information available.
The Wikipedia today is a slightly different animal from its first incarnation. I suspect that as its popularity grows, its administrators also recognise an increased social responsiblity to maintain some form of standards. If you've read David Weinberger's post and seen the various "warning lables", you'd understand what I mean.
Also, there are these strange creatures known as "Wikipedia Administrators", to keep Wikipedia "safe", like this one (thanks to Kevin for a very interesting interview).
So to answer my own question: No, I don't see a problem with using information from Wikis as part of our response to users. It's only a problem if librarians/ users cite it without due diligence and professional judgement.
Technorati Tags: wikipedia, wikipedia administrator