Saturday, January 23, 2016

#1Lib1Ref, Wikipedia and Me

I love Wikipedia.  For a long time librarians were supposed to ban the online user-edited encyclopedia (maybe we still are), but man, it's just too useful.  What we have to teach our students is that, just as with all tertiary sources, researchers have to move beyond the encyclopedia's text, mine it for clues and get closer to the primary source of the information.  Just as with revenge, Wikipedia is a great place to start, but not a place to stay.

Ok, so I love Wikipedia, and here's an example of why.  At the beginning of this January short term, Catharine came in looking for books of Greek mythology.  Her class was reading Yeats' sonnet "Leda and the Swan," and Catharine wanted to find an "original" version of the myth to add to the discussion.  We headed over to the 200s "religion" area on the shelf and checked book after book in vain. The few that mentioned Leda didn't tell the story at all.  Ovid's two lines also weren't satisfactory.

As so often I do when I need context and clues for a search, I checked into good ol' Wikipedia, which has a substantial article on "Leda and the Swan," but it's all about depictions of the myth in art and poetry.  The article mentions "many versions of the story," but didn't point to any of them. I scanned the whole article, but no luck.  No links, no pointers to any actual sources for the myth. Aargh.

At the end of the second paragraph, though, the sentence "Thanks to the literary renditions of Ovid and Fulgentius it was a well-known myth through the Middle Ages . . ." held the clue I needed!  I did a web search for Fulgentius and Leda, and came up with Fulgentius the Mythographer, a 1971 translation from Latin with citations and commentary, of the five known works of Fulgentius, and on page 78 begins "The Fable of the Swan and Leda."  A couple of screenshots later (we librarians have our ways to get the info to our people), and I get to present Catharine with what she'd come for.  Yippee!!

About a week later, I heard about Wikipedia's 15th Anniversary project #1Lib1Ref, which is asking librarians around the world to add one reference, a citation to a reliable source, that backs up a statement in any Wikipedia article.  Participating was a no-brainer -- I already had the goods! So as of right now, the 3rd footnote in the article (near the end of that second paragraph) is the addition of yours truly.  And a link to another source, attributed to Latin writer Hyginus, in the External Links section.  Cool, huh?

 Are you a Wikipedia fan or a skeptic?   Have you ever edited a Wikipedia article?  What do you think of the #1Lib1Ref project?  Comments welcome!

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