From Katie, in Reference:
Ah, Wikipedia. Such a mixed blessing. Sure, it’s great when you can’t remember the name of the band that sang “Summer in the City” (it was The Lovin’ Spoonful). But as I pointed out in an entry last year it can be unreliable when the accuracy of the information really counts. That’s because Wikipedia can be edited by anybody. Anybody! Here, I’ll prove it.
This is a screenshot of the beginning of the Wikipedia article on parsnips
And this is a screenshot of the exact same article after I edited it:
Yes, that’s the actual article. Anyone who looked up parsnips on Wikipedia at that exact moment would have read my edited text. (Don’t worry, I changed it back right away.) Now, I don’t have magical “librarian” privileges to edit Wikipedia. I didn’t even have to create an account. Anyone can edit an article - including people who don’t know what they’re talking about, and people who make inaccurate or biased edits on purpose.
Consider, for instance, last year’s “edit war” on the article for Paul Revere. It all started when Sarah Palin gave her own interpretation of Paul Revere’s famous ride. Following Palin’s remarks, the Wikipedia article was edited and re-edited by Palin supporters and opponents in a frenzy to back up or refute her statement. This went on for several days until the Wikipedia higher-ups locked the article.
Elsewhere in the world, following the March 2009 death of Oscar-winning French composer Maurice Jarre, numerous newspapers and blogs around the world quoted him as having once said that, “When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head.” The problem? The quote was completely fake, as it had been invented by an Irish student who added it to the Wikipedia article about the composer. Oops, journalists.
OK, so if Wikipedia isn’t a good source when accuracy counts, where can you turn for reliable, easy-to-access online encyclopedia articles? Try Britannica Online, which is now available from the Nashua Public Library’s “Databases” section. It has some great features:
- Simple and advanced searches of both the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus
- Video and image collections organized by category of study
- Digitized primary source documents
- A wealth of statistical data on countries around the world
- Timelines organized by various fields of study
- An atlas
- A database of quotations
- A large full-text selection of works of classic literature
- A “Britannica Daily” to see events that occured on a specific date
- Lots more!
You can rest assured that the information available through Britannica Online is reviewed with the same professional standards as the now-exinct print edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Take a look today!
To access Britannica Online:
- Go to the library’s home page: www.nashualibrary.org.
- Mouse over “Database” in the top menu and click on “Complete Listing.”
- Scroll down to Britannica Online Public Library Edition.
- Click on one of the two links provided, depending on whether you are located in or away from the library.
- If you’re not at the library, enter your library card when prompted.