This morning I got to thinking about the Irish potato famine. I’m from Ireland, and sometimes people ask me why the starving people didn’t just eat something else, as though they watched their children dying but couldn’t be bothered to go fishing. Well, those people were behaving as we all do; they went for the best choice within their means, and given that other foods were being shipped out of the country, that meant potatoes.
Now, the Wikipedia blackout is nothing like a famine. Only a famine is like that. But some of the same forces are at play: the public has put all its eggs in one basket, choosing Wikipedia as the best, cheapest tool within reach, and now that it’s down, we’re feeling a bit unmoored. Bewildered, even.
Of course, some of the alternatives that are not dark today are of very high quality (see our Best Databases article from LJ‘s November 2011 reference supplement). These databases are wonderful, and browsing them can be a delight. But the fact remains that they’re just not as attractive to patrons as a free resource that covers all subjects and that doesn’t require jumping through hoops to access. Let’s not even get into the problems librarians have with finding out database-pricing structures.
Librarians Step Up
Yesterday I asked librarians on Twitter how today’s blackout would affect them. I heard from Shannon McNeice, Library Media Specialist at Sedgwick Middle School, CT, that this will make no difference for the students in my school, which echoes the sentiment of many librarians out there who teach their patrons to use the library’s valuable subscription resources. Others, such as Karl G. Siewert of Tulsa, OK, will be using the blackout as a teachable moment, showcasing on Facebook and elsewhere what the library has to offer.
Until we offer something that’s similarly easy to access, though, we’ll be back to the same situation starting tomorrow. So I hope the Wikipedia blackout is a wake-up call to all involved. Let’s find a way to make library resources as accessible and attractive as Wikipedia. In the meantime, continue to remind patrons that Wikipedia isn’t the only resource out there. As Mita Williams, UX Librarian at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, told me, Wikipedia loves libraries‚Ä¶we should love them back. I completely agree, and I DO love Wikipedia and use it all the time. But I’m going to make a conscious effort to spread the love a little more.
Follow me on Twitter; today I’ll be tweeting alternatives for your research pleasure.