The Wikipedia reference desk works like a library reference desk.
Though without the librarians, and, one presumes, using only one information source.
Members of my beloved audience (all 3 of you) know that I’m a loyal fan of Wikipedia. And I am also a believer in the power of collaboration in the service of reference work. But I have to say I’m disappointed in the fact that Wikipedia’s reference desk is staffed by volunteers. And without even the very basic level of screening / training that Google Answers implemented. From what I’ve seen, on the whole, the answers provided by question-answering services that utilize volunteers are embarrassing.
On the other hand, services that utilize librarians seem to be unsustainable. The VRD doesn’t even exist any more as such; and the IPL, which has been in dire financial straits, as far as I can tell, pretty much since it was started, has gained a new lease on life by starting a funding consortium. (What else consortium members will do or get out of it remains to be seen, but that’s a topic for a future post.)
Is there some middle ground between a service staffed by librarians & library students, and one “staffed” by the general public? And by “general public” do not read: riffraff. Would you trust an indeterminately large group of people you’d never met to do your taxes? Diagnose your medical condition? Of course you wouldn’t. Why should you trust the same group to answer your information need? Librarianship and the conduct of research are skilled professions, let’s not forget that.
Sorry, end of rant. Anyway, middle ground. Some way to incent librarians to participate in QA services? Some way to provide some level of reference training for the general public, beyond just demonstrating ability in looking stuff up? Some vetting process whereby librarians could review if not create answers? Anyone have any other suggestions? Because of the two models we have now, one is lame and the other dying. Or maybe I’m just being a curmudgeon.