I agree with much of what Rochelle says about Wikipedia, but I’m troubled by the way that she mischaracterizes the “old way” for rhetorical effect. She says the “basic principle” she’s gleaned is that “for a source to be creditable, we want it to pass through the hands of a third-party, for-profit company.” She throws a bone or two to objectivity – “Not to say there isn’t some validity to the old rules…” But it’s no more than a gloss. The “old rules” are run by the “Old Boys” and pretty soon she’s mixed it all down to “theirs” (Encyclopedia Brittanica) and “ours” (Wikipedia). “In the traditional world… we want to know if the University of Smart Folks has endorsed this… we want to see the Mensa membership cards…” Nice dripping sarcasm there, but not much substance. The rhetoric is useful only if you’re eager to divide things up neatly into “us” and “them”.
The reality is far muddier. In the “old world” reputable companies (many of them not-for-profit – think “university presses”) go to elaborate lengths to try to assure accuracy. Armies of fact-checkers and legions of editors review textbooks and reference works. To suggest that reference works are just thrown together by an editor and accepted because they’re written by “the Old Boys” is a caricature that bears little useful resemblance to the work that actually goes into preparing traditional reference works. Are some publishers better than others? Of course. Do errors creep through? Of course. Is there fraud, deceit, sloppiness and venality at play, right alongside excellence, dedication and sheer brilliance? Of course -- we're dealing with human beings, aren’t we?
Nonetheless, I do not think she is mistaken when she suggests that too many of our colleagues are like “the 19th century matrons who tell people what’s good for them and keep the stuff that will rot their brains out of the library…” But this isn’t about the "old way” and the “new way”. It shouldn’t be “us” and “them,” “theirs” and “ours” – it’s the ever-evolving, messy struggle towards better tools and better ways of developing knowledge. The great librarians of the past century have approached their work with exactly the kind of critical passion that Rochelle exemplifies, but they've had to work right alongside those who are just looking for their comfort zone. Wikipedia isn't going to change that fact of human nature.