Wikipedia, according to Wikipedia, is "a free, Web-based, collaborative, multilingual encyclopedia project." But the reference librarians we checked with would want a second source on that.
"Personally, I don't rely on Wikipedia, because of people's ability to go in and edit anybody's text and change the history," says Karen Sharp, senior librarian and webmaster at the Wayne Public Library.
Wikipedia, which comes (according to Wikipedia) from the Hawaiian word "wiki" — "quick" — joined to the "pedia" from "encyclopedia," was launched 10 years ago this Saturday by founders Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.
Since that time, reportedly 365 million readers have pored over 17 million articles – all written by volunteer contributors – on subjects ranging from Aachen ("spa town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany") to zymology ("scientific term for fermentation").
Wikipedia has profoundly changed the way most of us gather information. It may have had less effect on the people whose job it is to look things up: reference librarians. Yes, they'll use it sometimes, they told us. But with misgivings, and never as a sole source.
"We use it as a backup," says Sharon Castanteen, director of the Johnson Free Public Library in Hackensack, who has a background in reference. "We'll start with that, get some ideas from it, but we won't trust it 100 percent."
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