Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Web Censorship: Find It, Name It, Shame It, End It

HerdictWeb is a new project of the The Berkman Center for Internet & Society that uses the distributed power of many users to determine whether a site is simply down, or whether it has been censored. When users encounter some kind of "Access Denied" message, they can enter the URL, and Herdict will track which sites are inaccessible from which countries for how long. There's a even handy browser plug-in and a super-cute sheep mascot.

hat tip to Eszter Hargittai at Crooked Timber

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wikipedia, you win.

Project Information Literacy, at the Information School of the University of Washington, has released a new progress report on its qualitative study of the research and writing habits of undergraduates. There's a lot of food for thought in there, but I want to highlight the role of Wikipedia.

What's amazing here is how well undergraduates use Wikipedia. As Joan, a commenter over at ACRLog, noted, they're using Wikipedia exactly how one should use any encyclopedia - to get background information and find some initial citations. The students interviewed even called it "presearch."

I have had a quite negative attitude about Wikipedia - I come from a social science background, and social science is not Wikipedia's strong suit. There's something about the Wikipedia community understanding of "neutrality" and "authority" that makes inaccurate claims about the Higgs boson particle or the Batman villian Clayface unsustainable, but that allows an entry like war to become a misguided amalgamation of ideological hobbyhorses.

But if students are going to be as responsible as this new report indicates, then I'm going to have to be responsible too - and that means not giving up on Wikipedia. Instead, I'm going to have to get my hands dirty and edit those entries myself. Good research practice deserves high quality free information, so I'll do my best to contribute.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Highs and Lows... the reference desk this evening.

The low: The Interlibrary Loan request for a book cited (accurately) as "in press." Does this guy really not know what that means? Or does she think we have magical genie powers, or some kind of in with the publisher?

The high: A young doctor phoned to ask how to phone a list of articles that cited the out-of-date article in front of him. I walked her through Web of Science, and she hung up, pleased. But ten minutes later, he turned up at the desk in person, puzzled - he couldn't find any citations. I couldn't either, but I did find an authoritative statement that no articles in WoS cited her article. So I showed the good doctor Google Scholar - another new tool for him. There we found only 1 book citing the article - which our library had both electronically and available in print.

An exhaustive search with a clear answer and learning along the way. I do like being thorough.
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Libri & Libertas: Books & Freedom in a Web 2.0 World by Laura H. Wimberley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 3.0 United States License.