Wikis in public libraries are one of the rapidly changing structures on the Internet. One definition of a wiki is a Web site that lets users “easily edit and add content”( Casey M.E. and Savastinuk, L.C., 2007, p. 86). Wikis allow people in communities to share information (p. 86). “Wikis also provide for a clear revision history. This means that every time a wiki entry is changed, that change is recorded and the previous version is archived, creating an electronic paper trail”(p. 86).
Wikis are a great resource for collecting local information, says Meridith Farkas. (2008 p. 50). She describes several wikis that public libraries created in 2008. They include The Stevens County Rural Library District wiki, in Washington state, the Loudoun County wiki in Loudoun County, Virginia, and SkokieNet, in the Skokie Public Library in Skokie, Illinois. I researched these wikis using the Wayback Machine, a web site that archives the history of Internet sites. The wiki for the Stevens County Rural District no longer exists and is not archived by the Wayback Machine. This web site disappeared due to technical problems. “The wiki was being hosted by a local web hosting company on their servers — one day it was there and the next it was gone,…it could have been a virus or hardware failure,” says Krista Ohrtman, Library Manager for the Libraries of Stevens County/Coville Public Library in an email. Five years later, the wiki for the Loudoun County Public Library is also gone. The reason that LoundounPedia is no longer active is that the Loudoun County Information Technology Department wanted it removed and the library director asked him to dismantle it, says Brett Mason, the librarian who created it, in an email. However, he says “I have the entire Wiki saved and ready to be resurrected at a later date.” The Wayback Machine archived this wiki. But of these three wikis, the only one that is active is SkokieNet.
Librarians organized Skokie Net, by subject and format. A menu bar at the top of the site has links to add content, including text, audios, videos, and images. People can create audio or video files then upload them to a site like You Tube and use the “embed” code on You Tube for that particular video and add them to SkokieNet, says Frances Roehm, the SkokieNet Librarian/Community Liaison, in an email. A vertical column on the right side of this site also has links to “topics,” “communities,” and “Skokie Blogs.” Under topics are links to subjects like “consumer information.”
When I accessed this site for the first time I added a story to the text link, titled “add your story” because during the 1960’s I lived in Evanston, a neighboring suburb of Chicago. By looking at SkokieNet, I noticed that the ethnic makeup of Skokie had greatly changed since the time I lived there. During the middle of the 1960’s, “40% of the population was Jewish, the largest percent of any Chicago suburb,” according to Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia. During the 1980″s, people from other parts of the world emigrated to Skokie, she says.
The history of Skokie includes an events that newspapers across the country covered. In 1977, the leader of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party of America declared that the Nazis planned to march in Skokie. During that time, about one out of six people in Skokie were Holacaust survivors. An Illinois circuit court issued an order stopping the Nazis from wearing their uniforms or carrying swastikas. The Illinois Court of Appeals and Supreme Courts refused to overturn this injunction. With the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) the Nazis appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decisions. However, the Nazis never held their march. SkokieNet covers this controversy and an array of other historical events about Skokie.
The Skokie Public Library started this wiki in 2006, says Roehm. Several Staff members maintain the wiki, including herself, their career librarian, a SkokieNet assistant, and several staff members who contribute stories, says Roehm. The librarians used Drupal, a software program, to create the site. They also work with a Drupal consultant. The staff talks about features of the site that are working and what needs to be eliminated or upgraded. Currently, they are working with a Drupal consultant to upgrade the site and are trying to improve its features for displaying search results.
The SkokieNet librarians have rules about how people add information to the site. “People can use as much space as they want to add information,” says Roehm. However, the librarians in charge moderate most of these posts, she says.”Anyone who adds information anonymously, or is a registered user, or is not an adult will have his or her information moderated,” she says. One exception are trusted community partners. They are adults from organizations or businesses who the librarians are familiar with.
Some features of SkokieNet differ from the model of wikis that Casey and Savastinuk describe in Library 2.0. (2007, p. 86). In this book they say that wikis allow each user to edit, add content, and see a revision history. However, users who add information to SkokieNet cannot edit information that other users have posted or see a revision history, says Roehm.
Both Roehm and Mason agree that wikis are useful for public libraries to provide access to local information. “The wiki makes it possible for anyone, including members of the seventy plus different ethnic communities to share information,” says Roehm. Mason adds that LoudounPeida was “geographically based.” However, other librarians say that researchers using wikis should use some caution (Ginsberg, 2006 p.8). Sources like Wikipedia or other wikis do not withstand the kind of scrutiny which librarians use to evaluate other reference sources (p. 8).
Another issue to consider in evaluating how useful wikis are in public libraries is whether they create a more participatory environment. LoudounPedia was one of the top 10 databases people used at the Loudoun County Library, says Mason. This statistic seems to illustrate that many library users found searching the wiki to be useful. “SkokieNet has created….good will and made great friends out in the community,” says Roehm. From the standpoint of these librarians, wikis in public libraries are a way to attract patrons to the library.
Casey, M.E. & Savastinuk, L.C. (2007). Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Library Service. Medford, New Jersey. Information Today, Inc.
Farkas, M. (2008). Technology Goes Local. American Libraries, 39 (8), 50
Ginsberg, D. (2006). A Wiki Wiki (Quick) Introduction. AALL Spectrum, July, p. 8-10.