Why are there so few libraries that allow their patrons to edit library wikis?

I had to answer this question for my Web 2.0 class forum posting this week. This class is starting to make me sad. I’ve never been part of a library community that has embraced many emerging technologies outside of LibGuides, so I have to rely on examples from far-away libraries. It’s just not the same when you can’t say you’ve used innovative technology as a patron to find resources. I’m having trouble empathizing!

One reason why few libraries allow their patrons to add to library wikis might simply be lack of trust. In order to get the most out of user-generated content, libraries must trust their patrons to contribute useful information. But trust is a hard thing to gain. Letting users freely contribute information to a wiki is a process that probably won’t happen overnight for these libraries.

A related reason might be lack of willingness or time to moderate the user-generated content on a wiki. Any library that opens their wiki to patrons will put themselves at risk for abuse no matter how ironclad their policy. Farrelly (2008), however, thinks vandalism is much more innocuous than librarians perceive it to be, based on observations of Wikipedia. He writes “[…] usually it’s something silly like claiming some celebrity is dead when they are very much alive or someone typing ‘RYAN SEACREST SUX’…” Perhaps libraries think that having to watch for abuse at all and weed out bad content is much more trouble than it’s worth.

The flip side of this issue is whether the patrons would be willing to contribute to a library wiki even if their libraries let them do so. In his study of why users tag items on LibraryThing more often than tagging them on Amazon, Tim Spalding (2007) brought up a very interesting point: “Amazon is a store, not a personal library or even a club. Organizing its data is as fun as straightening items at the supermarket. It’s not your stuff and it’s not your job.” Even though he was discussing a different type of user-generated content in a different setting, I think his argument should be considered in the case of library wikis. However unrealistic the expectation, perhaps patrons expect librarians to be the providers of wisdom. It’s their job. And maybe this perspective isn’t coming from a place of sloth or selfishness. Maybe patrons think, “what do I know?” In other words, some patrons might be afraid to mess with the information in a wiki. No matter what the reason for patrons’ unwillingness to contribute, there is a gap in expectations and communication where there could be great collaboration between patrons and librarians (idealistically speaking).

For a few examples of library wikis that patrons can edit, see LibraryWikis’ list, in particular, Loudonpedia and Series Binder. Some of the wikis in this list are not what we in this class might envision as true collaborations between librarians and patrons. Maybe they were at some point, or maybe this is testament to how contributors’ subjectivity can sometimes get in the way (LibraryWikis allows anybody in the library community to edit).

Farrelly, M.G. (2008). Wiki-what? Public Libraries, 47(4), 30-31.
Spalding, T. (2007). When tags work and when they don’t: Amazon and LibraryThing. Thing-ology Blog.

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