13: Wikis

What is a wiki?

If you’ve ever been to Hawaii, you might have heard the term “wiki wiki,” meaning, “quick quick,” and a wiki is a very fast way of making a basic website that allows multiple people to collaborate on, add, remove, and edit its content.

The ease of interaction makes wikis an effective tool for organizing content and collaborating on ideas.
200px-Wikiwiki (c) wiki wiki from Wikipedia

Why do this?

  •   Anyone registered (or unregistered, if the site is unrestricted) can add, edit or delete content.
  •   Tracking tools within wikis allow you to easily identify what has been changed and by whom.
  •   There are areas for talking (eg comments, discussion, and/or news pages)
  •   Earlier versions of a page can be viewed and re-instated when needed.
  •   Users don’t need to know HTML, web design, or have experience of building web pages in order to add and edit content, or apply styles to text. Most wikis are no more difficult than editing a Microsoft Word document.

For an introduction to wikis take a look at this short video: commoncraft’s no-nonsense introduction to wikis.


The most famous wiki is Wikipedia, an online encyclopaedia that was created by and is constantly being updated by thousands and thousands of contributors. Anybody at all can add or update an article – you or I can just go in and change whatever we want. The reason it works is because so many people keep an eye on it. If somebody adds something obscene, or biased, or obviously wrong, ten people will be along shortly to change it. Although caution should be exercised, there will always be some mistakes!

Some of the ways in which libraries use wikis:

Idea Sharing

  •   The library success wiki was created to be a one-stop shop for great ideas and information for all types of librarians from all over the world. Their opening paragraph gives a flavour of why this wiki was originally set up:

  “If you’ve done something at your library that you consider a success, please write about it in the wiki or provide a link to outside coverage. If you have materials that would be helpful to other librarians, add them to the wiki. And if you know of a librarian or a library that is doing something great, feel free to include information or links to it. Basically, if you know of anything that might be useful to other librarians (including useful websites), this is the place to put it. I hope this wiki will be a venue where people can share ideas with one another and where librarians can learn to replicate the successes of other libraries.”

  • Libraries and Web2.0 is a relatively new UK based wiki, featuring various Public Library services and their response to Web2.0.
  • Wikihow is a fantastically useful wiki for librarians and lovers of learning new things. It is a how-to manual that can be edited by anyone. Things that you can learn range from “how to make your own Soduku pattern” to “how to read a chest X-ray”. Categories of articles include health, hobbies, computers, pets, home and travel.

Staff Manuals

  • ULCat is an example of how Wikis can be used in-house for staff purposes. This wiki holds the procedural manuals for acquisitions and cataloguing as well as Marc 21 crib sheets for an array of material.

Staff Training and/or long distance collaborative work

  •   This version of 23 Things has been written on a wiki. It means that all the course designers – about ten of them – have been able not only to add Things, but also to alter each other’s work. Furthermore use of wiki software has enabled people in different library authorities to get together online to write the course, or indeed to do it.

Conference Sites

  • American Library Association 2010 conference This gives locals and past attendees the chance to share information with conference participants. This is not restricted to the contents of the conference but can also include recommendations for places to eat.

Reading Groups & Book reviews

Public Interaction

  •   The Bridge of Allan Library in Stirling has started a Travel Group for members of the public. Members of the group share information about their travel experiences.

Quick word of warning

The flip side of the increased ease of collaboration, is the decrease in control of content. User contribution and the sharing of files run the risk of breaking copyright law or the posting of illegal or defamatory content. For more on this please refer to the module on legal issues.


  1. Spend some time investigating the wikis mentioned above.
  2. Take a look at one or two of the links below to find out more about wikis:
    • List of wikis – Examples of webpages made using wikis.
    • Wiki index – A wiki of wikis.
    • WikiMatrix – A tool that offers you the ability to compare side-by-side features and functionality of wikis.
  3. Write a blog post about wikis. What do you think of the ones you have seen? Can you think about how you might use a wiki for a work or personal situation? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of libraries using a wiki?

Would you like to leave feedback on this section?


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