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“Wikipedia works because those who know the truth, or something close to it, are usually more numerous and more committed than those who believe in a falsehood.” – Cass R. Sunstein

Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, delivered the keynote address at the 65th Canadian Library Association (CLA) Annual Conference and Trade Show on June 3. In her remarks, sponsored by CUPE, she explained the mission of Wikipedia, the immensely popular and free online encyclopedia “that anyone can edit”.

A radical project and tool

Gardner described Wikipedia as a radical project and tool. It allows poor, oppressed or marginalized persons to access and edit an immense wealth of objective, factual knowledge for free – a mission comparable and complementary to that of public libraries.

Its radicalism also lies in the fact that information is not safe: it is powerful, it matters, it can disturb. This is probably why Wikipedia is blocked or heavily censored in countries such as China, Syria and Pakistan.

Wikipedia is the fifth most popular website in the world, way ahead of comparable educational or informational sites such as those of the New York Times, CNN, BBC, and Merriam-Webster. Over 371 million people read it every month.

It’s people all over the world, in every country, of every age. There are lots of political differences among them, lots of ideological differences, lots of diversity and cultures. Basically, if you’re on the Internet, the odds are very good that you’re using Wikipedia”, said Ms. Gardner.

Canadians are highest users of Wikipedia

There are distinct versions of Wikipedia in 256 languages. The English edition contains over 3,300,000 articles. The country with the highest percentage of Wikipedia users is… Canada.

Wikipedia works as a virtuous circle of participation. It generates content, which results in reach, fosters participation, and generates even more content. For its editors, sharing is good - people have a right not only to access information, but also to correct and make improvements.

An open community

An open community of 100,000 editors is enriching Wikipedia for the pleasure of sharing knowledge. It is a non-commercial, not-for-profit collective project. The amount spent on advertizing and promotion by Wikipedia is zero dollars. Funding of its modest budget comes from individual donations - mostly around thirty dollars.

Wikipedia represents a belief in the supremacy of reason and the goodness of others. In the Wikipedia ideal, people of goodwill sometimes disagree. But from the respectful clash of opposing viewpoints and the combined wisdom of the many, something resembling the truth will emerge.” – Daniel H. Pink

For more information:

  • Read this FAQ on Wikipedia for librarians
  • Watch a 4-minute video explaining what is Wikipedia
  • Watch a video tutorial on how to edit Wikipedia articles
  • Watch a video tutorial on the reliability of Wikipedia