Below is an extract of an article from the Sydney Morning Herald of April 2 2009.
“Microsoft plans to close its Encarta online encyclopedia, which competes in an arena dominated by communally-crafted free internet reference source Wikipedia.
The US software colossus said that on October 31 it would turn off all its Encarta websites everywhere except in Japan, with that service to be terminated on the last day of December.
“The category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed,” Microsoft said in an online message at its Encarta website on Monday.
“People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.”
Encarta was launched in 1993 as competition for traditional reference books such as those offered by Encyclopedia Britannica.
Encarta was originally available for purchase as a multimedia computer resource in DVD-ROM or CD-ROM formats and eventually became available online on a subscription basis.
Encarta’s popularity faded after the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation launched Wikipedia online in 2001.
While Wikipedia lets users continually update or refine entries, improvements suggested to Encarta must pass muster with editors before eventually being incorporated into the data base.”
This raises a number of issues that are of importance to teacher librarians. Wikipedia is a tool and can have a place in locating information but it is information that cannot be relied upon. The content is created by people of unknown authority and anyone can edit the information. This has lead to inorrect and misleading information being posted on Wikipedia and there have been famous incidents of this being reported in news media. Usually it has surrounded information on politicians being changed during election times.
So where does Wikipedia fit in the teaching process? This is something that TLs must consider carefully. Is it to be used as a site to gain some general information about a subject? Is it to be used at all? Do students and teachers understand what Wikipedia actually is or do they think it is as good and as authorative as Encyclopedia Britannica?
Now that Encarta is being closed down, where else can schools go online to find an authorative encyclopedia?
If you use another online encyclopedic source, please comment here and let us know why you use it. If you use Wikipedia, how and why do you use it? Do you think it is a resource has a place in schools or should we ‘exclude’ it as not being a useful resource?