That pesky Wikipedia

I was recently asked to “describe a recent reference question and the source(s) I used to answer it”. Since the question came up early in the interview, and I was still a little bit nervous and trying to get my interview groove on I retold the first thing that had come to mind.  The day before the interview a woman had come to the desk asking for a list of books in an Elizabeth Peters series that was not the popular Amelia Peabody series (The Vicky Bliss series), and she wanted them in the order of publication.  Simple enough question. However, as I started to recount the story I realized that I was going to have to admit to that thing librarians are not supposed to admit, especially in a job interview. “To answer this question I used Wikipedia”. Now that isn’t all I said.  I qualified it by stating that it may seem like an odd choice and that as I gave the information to the patron I let her know the positives and negatives of Wikipedia, but a little voice inside my head was saying “You should NOT have said that.” 

But then I started thinking about it, and here is the thing: For that particular question Wikipedia was genuinely the best source.  I couldn’t count on our catalog or OPAC because it would only give her the items that we have available in our system. We might have all of them, but we might not. I guess I could have used Novelist, but I just tried to search using that and was not able to easily access a list of Elizabeth Peter’s work divided by series.  Another source might have been the author’s website, which I also just checked.  Hidden away in barrage of Amelia Peabody information was a broken down list of other works including the Vicky Bliss series, but it did not include publication dates or information on the upcoming august installment of the series. 

Now I am going to quote from the Wikipedia entry:

The Vicky Bliss novels follow the adventures of an American professor of art history who keeps getting involved in international crime and her love interest, a charming art thief known as Sir John Smythe. Another Peters novel, The Camelot Caper (1969), while not technically a Vicky Bliss story, features Smythe. The novels can be enjoyed in any order, but the stories are highly sequential in nature and are probably better appreciated if read in order of publication.

This information was followed by a list of the Vicky Bliss novels with year of publication including the latest installment set to be released in August.  It was exactly what the patron was looking for and as I printed it off for her, she told me so.

So why should I feel bad about admitting that I used Wikipedia? My goal is to give the patron what they are looking for. The Wikipedia entry had exactly what the patron was looking for, including a reference to a book that features a character from the novels, but is not in the series. This is a piece of information that wasn’t in any of the other resources I checked.  I wonder, exactly how taboo is Wikipedia in the library world ? I know plenty of librarians who use it, and I think that there are many benefits to such a wide ranging resources. But how long will it be before I can freely admit that I am skilled in determining the best resource to answer reference questions and sometimes the best resource is Wikipedia?

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One response to “That pesky Wikipedia

  1. goofball

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