Ask the Jolly Librarian: What’s Up with Wikipedia?

Dear Jolly Librarian,

My professor keeps ranting on about how we can’t use Wikipedia in our research assignments. I’m beginning to think he was scared by the site when he was a baby or something, he’s so manic about it. It’s like he’s never even heard of the 21st century. Can you help me talk him into a more reasonable position?

Signed,

Give me Wikipedia or Give me Death

Dear Give me,

The Jolly Librarian indeed does use Wikipedia on a regular basis. I find it a quick, easy to use, and accurate source in most cases. In fact, I have more than once defended Wikipedia on this very blog. Even 60 Minutes couldn’t find a scandal.

Still, I have to agree with your professor, although it has nothing to do with Wikipedia itself and everything to do with its being an encyclopedia. I’ve also written on that subject. The encyclopedia’s very purpose is to provide an overview of a subject. However, for college papers, students need to be able to analyze and evaluate sources, and scholarly journals are what you need.

Still, although you can’t list Wikipedia as a source in your paper, it can still help you in your research:

  • Read the entry to get an overview of the subject, especially if it’s something you don’t know much about.
  • Look at the sources at the end of the entry. They can provide you with a good starting place for your own research.

You are welcome to show this blog to your instructor. (But the whole blog, not just the first paragraph.)

JL

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