The Value of Wikipedia to College Reasearch & Library Instruction

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the value and usefulness of Wikipedia as a research tool.  For instance:

A Wikipedia tool that I discovered recently has given this resource a further edge in usefulness for beginner researcers – a ‘library box’ that creates a connection directly to the institutional catalog for library materials about that subject. Now when students are beginning to look at a topic, they can see right away if the library has any books for them.

You may have noticed on some wiki pages in the ‘external links’ section a box called “Library Resources” which contains a link to “Resources in your library”.

Well, I clicked it and it wasn’t searching my library. The connection will not be automatic – you will need to register your library. The good news is that you do not have to be a representative or have any authority in order to do this.  In other words a patron can do it, so I took the liberty and registered my library with ‘Forward to Libraries’ (software hosted by the University of Pennsylvania which creates the magic). Now any user to click a link in the “Library Resources” box of a given topic and go directly to our catalog.  Each user also has to set their preferences to choose which supported library they want to search – so they would need the ability to set cookies which is not something our computer labs currently offer, but for students working on their own device this would be fine. Here is what that looks like for first time user:

    1. Click on Resources in your Library link and get presented with the option to scroll down and choose your library.

2. Set it so that it always remembers which library you want it to search. Click the link “You can also set a preferred library for future searches.” Which then lets you scroll to your library, click it and sends you to a confirmation page:

3. Success!

Here’s an example of the Library Resources in action: On the page for Elizabeth Cody Stanton (scroll down to External Links), I can choose between searching my library for books about or by ECS.

The results were pretty good:

or:

Not every Wikipedia article has this ‘Library Resources’ box (a good thing to edit into more pages, especially on those topics our community college students are searching for).

Bonus note:  I’ve also been known to edit Wikipedia in front of the students if the information we found there was lacking and we subsequently found better information somewhere else.  Digital citizenship is an information literacy skill of sorts and it’s not bad to show that anybody can edit Wikipedia (this is still new information to alot of people!).

You can learn more about it the “Library Resources” linking service here: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/aboutolbp.html .

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