Not a good way forward?

I’m posting this because RateYourMusic has disappeared Jenny’s comment function and comments once again…for me, at least, for the moment. (I hope it’s a great comment system, because it sure does come and go.)

The Shifted Librarian has an interesting post about her thwarted attempt to show how library resources could be integrated into appropriate net media, in this case Wikipedia. You should read the whole thing and follow its links as appropriate, but here’s the key discussion:

As an example, I edited the entry for The Da Vinci Code and under External Links, I added “Find libraries near you that own The Da Vinci Code” (snapshot).

Seventeen minutes later (that’s 1–7 minutes later), Violetriga removed my link, citing the very vague reason “ ‘find a library’ link isn’t a good way forward.”

WTF? Needless to say, I was beyond irked. It’s one thing to remove the link; it’s another to say it isn’t “a good way forward.” It isn’t a good way forward for whom? To where? And why not? I needed answers.

She posed that question to Violetriga. So far, days later, there’s been no response (although Violetriga’s been responding to other questions).

I have an idea, although it may be unfair. I’m guessing some folks out there on the Bleeding Edge think of libraries in general as being Boring Old Analog Institutions with no real role in the digital future–after all, the “good way forward” is for all knowledge to be freely available to everyone, organized via Wikipedia. (That latter is a mild paraphrase of direct statements I’ve seen from some digital warriors.)

I hope I’m wrong. I hope it’s a simple misunderstanding or an issue of who can and can’t get linked to from Wikipedia.

Paragraph deleted because my idea was, in this case, wrong and probably unfair–at least for the Wikipedia honcho involved in this incident. The reality, as brought forth in comments, makes it clear that “Wikipedia honcho” is not a meaningless term; Wikipedia has Animal Farm equality. (Probably necessary, to be sure.) The bad here is that the honcho failed to provide a reason for the abrupt pulling of the link…well, and maybe that Wikipedia’s ISBN-based search page is such a monstrosity. (Sure, it’s there, but…)

11 Responses to “Not a good way forward?”

  1. tangognat says:

    It looks to me like a misunderstanding of what Wikipedia already has in place to look up books. In Jenny’s comments now there is a link to a post explaining the already existing structure that wikipedia has for looking up books.

    If you click on the ISBN for the book, you are taken to this page where you are given tons of options for looking up the book in any number of places.

    It would be far more productive for librarians to work with wikipedia on their already existing feature for looking up books instead of holding this up as an incident for how something is wrong with wikipedia.

  2. walt says:

    Looking at the special page, I’ll buy that as a better explanation for the comment–but not as an excuse for not responding.

    Here’s the thing: Jenny Levine is a librarian who was trying to work with wikipedia to make it better.

    I didn’t report it as an incident for “how something is wrong with wikipedia”–but it’s certainly a troubling incident in terms of how wikipedia’s “power structure” deals or does not deal with, for example, librarians trying to work with wikipedia to make it better.

    Deleting a link and shooting off a terse “not a good way to go forward,” then failing to explain what that means, is–to me–a good way to tell people their contributions are not wanted. Fortunately, Jenny is made of sterner stuff than me (I think); in her place, I’d just say “what the h**l” and do something else.

  3. tangognat says:

    I guess I’m not sure how it would be possible how to expect some sort of standard communication procedure from something like Wikipedia. I do think that the communication on this issue from wikipedia was bad, but it doesn’t seem like wikipedia has any way of mandating good communication from its contributors. It doesn’t appear to be structured that way, and I’m sure there are tons of incidents where people attempted to contribute to a page and got good, bad, or indifferent communication back as a result. This particular incident is magnified because Jenny chose to post about it on her blog and use it as an example in a conference presentation. But I’m not sure if it can be used to come to any conclusion about the project as a whole.

  4. walt says:

    Nor do I think either Jenny or I is coming to a conclusion about the project as a whole. The fact that the person in question was responding to other questions and failed to respond to Jenny’s question is troubling, at the level of that person.

    I’ve never been clear about the institutional hierarchy at Wikipedia, but there are clearly some people with more power/rights/whatever than others. If those people are behaving badly, it reflects on wikipedia to some extent.

    If there’s a conclusion about the project as a whole, it’s in your post–the second and third sentences.

  5. walt says:

    The explanation convinces me that my paranoia was wrong, and more-or-less supports the second paragraph of my comment on May 10. “Behaving badly” may overstate the case.

    On the other hand, I must admit that I thought the “ISBN page” was a crowded catastrophe, offering dozens of possibilities when two or three well-chosen ones would work much better.

  6. tangognat says:

    Oh, I think the ISBN page is a nightmare in terms of usability, but I did think it was nice that they’d already thought of providing some sort of searching capability for books.

  7. jessamyn says:

    I left a comment over at Tangognat’s page about this. I don’t want to turn it into a whole object lesson, but both sides probably could have behaved better in this situation. There is an existing culture at Wikipedia that is worth getting to know before taking advantage of the whole “anyone can edit it!” craze. Specifically: registering a handle, adding comments to your own edits, adding the date/time to your posts on people’s talk pages, and trying to determine if you’re reinventing the wheel with your improvements. The editor included a confusing comment, Jenny’s edits included no comment at all. Wikipedia could have admins who were clearer with their comments, more easily contactable, and a structure that was more transparent without having to do a lot of reading, certainly.

    However they are a community website — one that happens to be comprehensive in interesting and appealing ways — not a vendor of services. Expecting to be able to interact with the site without familiarizing yourself with the way the culture functions is certainly allowed, but possibly not the best way forward. WorldCat, though very thorough and useful, is still a vendor so while Jenny’s link was much more useful than, say, an Amazon link, it was also not entirely different from it. “Find a library” WorldCat links don’t function like they seem like they would if you’re outside the OCLC realm. This may be a petty squabble but if you’re trying to create an internationally useful resource, you want your links to be as broadly applicable as possible.

    I’ve been working with Wikipedia on and off for maybe a month now and I know that they try to be welcoming to newer contributors, but they also require a bit of familiarity with the culture. I liken it to someone with no experience with public libraries trying to walk out of one with a book and being stopped. “But I thought books at the library were free?”

  8. […] ly deleted by an admin with little explanation. Dire suspicions were evoked: Walt Crawford wondered whether this was evidence of an anti-library bias. Upon investigation, it turned out that Wikipedia alread […]

  9. In response to this thread I’ve just posted a modest proposal to invade Wikipedia.

  10. Noel Chiappa says:

    Another thing to remember: Wikipedia has basically no paid staff (well, there are one or two people who get paid, like the person who reboots crashed machines, and a few things like that – I haven’t checked recently so I can’t give you an exact list, but it’s an incredibly short list; basically all their limited funding goes to hardware and direct expenses such as bandwidth). In other words, *all* the “administrators” on Wikipedia (including VioletRiga) are unpaid volunteers, and they are rather overloaded, dealing with vandals, and people who have an axe to grind and want articles to have their point of view only, etc, etc, etc. So please take all that into account when evaluating their failure to respond.