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Will Virgin Killer be a Wikipedia killer?

The recent debacle over the Virgin Killer entry on Wikipedia has, unfortunately, lent further evidence to the site's detractors that Wikipedia is a repository for smut and unreferenced information, and otherwise has no educational value. The short answer to my question, though, "Will Virgin Killer be a Wikipedia killer?

The recent debacle over the Virgin Killer entry on Wikipedia has, unfortunately, lent further evidence to the site's detractors that Wikipedia is a repository for smut and unreferenced information, and otherwise has no educational value. The short answer to my question, though, "Will Virgin Killer be a Wikipedia killer?", is "I hope not."

By way of a quick recap, the Virgin Killer entry describes the fourth album by the band The Scorpions and the controversy caused by its album cover, depicting a young girl posed naked with only a key area covered by the appearance of cracked glass. I won't link to it here, but it's easy enough to find if you live outside the UK. To be fair to the detractors, including conservative groups in the States, I found the picture offensive. I read the article so I could understand the context, then closed it up and cleared my cache. I'm a parent, a serious free speech advocate, and a Wikipedia contributor and I was offended.

Then again, the point of the article on Wikipedia was largely to discuss the album cover and the problems it caused for the band, as well as their reactions to it. This image was released worldwide on the front of an LP, for better or worse, in 1976. The article treats the topic historically and objectively. I'll leave it to the lawyers to decide if the image should be removed; for now, the majority of Wikipedia contributors have agreed that the image should remain part of the post as an historical record of the album and its associated controversy. As the article itself notes,

The band's former lead guitarist Uli Jon Roth notes that the cover art of the "old Scorpion albums" were "usually done by other people."[6] He has since expressed regret over the original album cover. "Looking at that picture today makes me cringe. It was done in the worst possible taste. Back then I was too immature to see that. Shame on me — I should have done everything in my power to stop it."

What I'd rather address is the overall value of Wikipedia. Wikipedia, essentially, is an open source encyclopedia. Virtually anyone can contribute and, as a result, it attracts both well-written, well-sourced documents and some junk, including explicit content. The explicit content, though, represents a tiny fraction of the knowledge contained in Wikipedia and, quite frankly, if all my kids ever stumble across online is the Wikipedia entry on sex positions, then I've done a pretty good job with my content filter at home.

What should be noted is that many entries contain extensive works cited lists with countless primary sources. As with everything else on the Internet, our students need to learn to sort the wheat from the chaff, but we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater. I block Wikipedia at the primary grades because there are plenty of other resources written to primary reading levels with no potential for objectionable content. There is simply too much that is good in Wikipedia to block it entirely, though.

There is a reason that every library has a set or three of encyclopedia; they aren't to be used as the only source for research, but they provide a great starting point, as well as extensive reference lists. Wikipedia is not much different in that respect; we simply must be watchful and involved, as we must with all of our kids' online wanderings and teach them to use the resource appropriately.