Monday, May 16, 2005

My bit role in a Wikipedia soap opera

Peter Binkley's recent post about a project page for librarians in Wikipedia made me sit up straight this morning and realize I had better do something about the digital reference services page in Wikipedia that plagiarized sections of my web site on digital reference (for details on the plagiarism, see this earlier post of mine).

When I asked readers of my blog and fellow contributors on the Dig_Ref list what I should do, I got a range of responses:
  • change the entry yourself (it is a wiki after all and we librarians especially should take responsibility for doing our share of maintaining an oft-used reference source)
  • someone else should fix it
  • notify Wikipedia, as there is a process already for dealing with plagiarism allegations
  • demand that Wikipedia credit my site as a source for the entry and ask them for an apology
  • suggest to Wikipedia that entries be run through plagiarism detection software like
  • delete the entry
Since I first wrote about this incident, I have indeed notified Wikipedia but have gotten no direct communication from them (but a "plagiarism claim" did appear a week later on the "discussion" page of the entry).

Here's where the story starts to turn into a minor soap opera. On Saturday, May 14, I got an anonymous comment on my blog in which someone claimed to have deleted the entry altogether. Even before I got this comment on my site, I had considered the option of getting rid of the entry altogether a bad idea. My biggest problem with that solution was that it assumed that all of the content was plagiarized. As I noted on my posting, only some of the material in the entry was plagiarized. There are other sections that do not include any of my content (although I have not looked to see if they contain anyone else's material).

I (or anyone else) can easily restore the "digital reference services" entry by reposting it based on the text available in the "history" tab for it. If I repost the entry in its entirety (including the portions that plagiarized my web site), does that clean up the plagiarism problem? But what if the other sections from that entry that don't use my content also contain plagiarized material? Should I delete material except for what I wrote? Should I research it to verify that it too isn't copied from somewhere else? Should I only repost my plagriarized sections and then revise it so that it doesn't merely repeat what's already on my web site?

If it weren't for a looming final exam in Russian history that I have to take next Monday, I'd go ahead now and repost the entry and then rewrite the sections that originally came from my web site. But that job will have to wait a week while I wade through all the material I have to memorize (it's not an open-book or open-notes exam). Until then, I just want to put out this plea of innocence about the deletion of the entry; I also want to commit myself to helping repost sometime next week a new improved entry on digital reference services. If anyone wants to start that task before I do, though, be my guest: it's everyone's Wikipedia.


At 10:45 AM , Anonymous PomeRantz said...

I volunteer to help out writing this entry. I'm travelling for 2 weeks, leaving in a week, so won't be able to do much while I'm away, but I'll contribute what I can before I leave.

At 11:11 AM , Blogger Stephen Francoeur said...

Great! I have to admit feeling uncomfortable with being the sole author of this entry. I really want the entry to evolve as quickly as possible from whatever I write.


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