Library to sponsor essay contest on Scholarly Research in Higher Education and the role of Wikipedia as part of National Library Week 2010

Written by Harold Henkel, Associate Librarian

From April 11th to the 17th, the University and Law Libraries will join libraries across America in celebrating National Library Week, an annual observance sponsored by the American Library Association since 1958. The purpose of National Library Week is to draw attention to the contribution libraries make in the cultural and civic life of our country. This year the national theme for the celebration is “Communities Thrive @ Your Library.” In keeping with this theme, the Library will sponsor a series of events focused on the educational and spiritual aspects of the Regent University community.

As part of our celebration of Regent’s academic community, the Library is sponsoring an essay contest on a topic that continues to provoke debate in the academic world:

Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” has always been controversial as a reliable source. A 2005 study by the journal Nature found Wikipedia’s accuracy across scientific disciplines comparable to Britannica, but the lack of verifiable credentials and peer review continues to make Wikipedia’s reliability suspect by many scholars.

Beyond the question of factual reliability there is considerable controversy about the larger implications of Wikipedia, as the following quotes illustrate:

Frankly, and let me be blunt, Wikipedia as a readable product is not for us. It’s for them. It’s for that girl in Africa who can save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around her, but only if she’s empowered with the knowledge to do so.

-Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder, Wikipedia-l mailing list (23 October 2005)

To control the reference sources that people use is to control the way people comprehend the world. Wikipedia may have a benign, even trivial face, but underneath may lie a more sinister and subtle threat to freedom of thought.

-Martin Cohen, philosopher, The Times Higher Educational Supplement (28 August 2008)

Is Wikipedia a revolutionary tool for empowerment through knowledge, as its founder claims, or is philosopher Martin Cohen on to something when he calls Wikipedia an unauthoritative work displaying “all the prejudices and ignorance of its creators”?

The Library invites all interested Regent students, staff, and faculty to submit essays of 500 words or less on the question:

Scholarly Research in Higher Education:
What should be the role of Wikipedia?

The following rules will apply: