By Meredith Farkas | August 24, 2005
When I was a child, I was always reading (surprise, surprise, right?). Often, I would read books that were perhaps a little advanced for my age range in terms of the vocabulary. I’d lay in bed with my book and my most trusty sidekick: my dictionary. When I’d read a word I didn’t know, I wouldn’t skip over it. I wouldn’t ignore it. I would go into the dictionary and find out what it meant. This was how I, and many other kids, developed an adult vocabulary. When we came to something we didn’t understand, we learned what it meant on our own. I suppose I could have asked my mother or my father about the words I didn’t know, but using my dictionary taught me to be a self-reliant information seeker, and as a librarian, I’m grateful for that ability.
This is why I am dismayed that some of my colleagues seem to have given up this practice. In response to the question posed in BlogJunction’s post Am I Supposed to Know What a ‘Wiki’ Is? I say YES!!! I can understand reading the email I wrote to WebJunction members and not knowing what a wiki is. There is nothing wrong with not knowing. But, as librarians who must know how to search the Web, how hard is it to look it up? Doing a Google search for “what is a wiki” nets 10 sites on the first page alone that have useful definitions of what a wiki is. In the time it would take someone to send an email pointing out that they don’t know what a wiki is, they could easily change that situation themselves.
I can totally understand if people aren’t interested in, don’t like, or are not ready for wikis. I don’t take that as a personal affront or anything. And I can understand that plenty of people just aren’t exposed to wikis and blogs and RSS. There is nothing wrong with not knowing. It’s just the lack of curiosity and the assumption that we need to be spoon-fed our information that surprises me. We are librarians! We’re all about fulfilling information needs in our work. It should be so easy for us to do it for ourselves. Just today, my supervisor emailed me about Web Services. He had read about Web Services in an article, had no idea what it meant, and did some research to figure it out. Once he did his research, he emailed me to show me the articles he found and to ask what I thought about Web Services. At that moment, I felt excited and proud to work at a place with such intellectually curious people.
I’m starting to think that perhaps most of the library world isn’t ready for wikis yet. And that’s fine. Perhaps something like the ALA Chicago Wiki was a success because it had a very specific, concrete, and imminent purpose. The ALA Conference was two months away and people could see the benefit of contributing and using it. Perhaps the “just in time” wiki is all that works right now. But I’m happy to keep the Library Success Wiki up until the library world is really ready to do something with it. And I will continue to add my own success stories (I urge you all to do the same). I truly believe that wikis are the best means for creating a collectively developed repository of good ideas in the profession.
And if you are still curious about what a wiki is (a collaboratively-edited website which allows all users to edit, add to, and delete anyone else’s work), I have an article coming out next month on WebJunction that explains what a wiki is, how it can be used in libraries, and what practical things one needs to consider before developing a wiki at their library. I promise that it will be informative and designed for the novices and techies alike. I’ll post the link once it’s published.