Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Libraries and the Internet

Earlier this week, the "Wikipedia Signpost" had an article about the encounter of one college class with Wikipedia. Reading the course blog, I found two items of special interest:
  1. A number of students mentioned that they had trouble finding topics that did not already have articles. This appears to support my observation that there is a limit to the articles in Wikipedia.
  2. Many students appeared to think that their research began and ended with what they could find on the Internet.

The last point troubles me. I have used content from the Internet -- as well as contributed to it -- for almost fifteen years, so I know its strengths and weaknesses. However, I also know libraries -- those collections of books and other print materials, those rich deposits of information -- yet still contain more information than the entire Internet. One of the goals of a college education is learning how to profitably mine those deposits. It is a skill that does not come easy and needs to be learned, especially in this post-modern and electronic age.

One of Wikipedia's undeniable contributions is translating at least some of this printed wealth into an electronic form, making it potentially accessible to further generations. This is nothing new or all that revolutionary: the printing press did much the same thing beginning in the fifteenth century. However, to turn our backs upon libraries when one does research means that the result is impoverished; and risks the loss of the contents of these collections to future generations.


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