For love of Wikis

One of the biggest bummers about graduating and moving into the job market is losing the plenary Lexis and Westlaw access they give you in school.  (I said “one of”.  The surprise graduation/bar certification expenses and the job “market” devolution into a roadside fruit stand are pretty lame, too.)

During school, every time I was remotely curious about something, I could log onto my preferred search engine monolith and find all kinds of verifiably reliable information, almost immediately.  I got really good at it, too.  I was one of those crazies who preferred writing a paper to taking a final, so by the end of my time at Georgia State I had written six or seven major research papers with the help the subtly addictive Lexis Nexis.    I worked for other firms, but I was entirely unfettered by their budgeted limitations on the search engines.  Then, suddenly, in the midst of the internship with Fulton County, I was cut off.

First, with no access at all, I was researching with Google alone.    It was at that point that I realized how hard it is to find information that is supposed to be available to the public.  (Online, at least.  Libraries and librarians still exist, thank God.)  Now, depending on who I’m working for, I have varying levels of access for the work for that entity, but every minute spent has be evaluated for expense.  I can no longer to go tootling around looking for obscure land use controversies from 1800’s.  Unless they were in Georgia – in which case there maybe something on my state specific findlaw access.

As I do research for Livable Communities Coalition, I am re-learning what it is like to have nothing but the wide open internet to find and verify information.  It’s the kind of experience that increases my respect for grass roots movements and things like Wikipedia.  (While not really a creditable, citeable source itself, good Wikipedia articles have great source lists.) It is amazing to me how much is out there, but I am even more inspired by the people who make the effort to sort the wheat from the chaff for no personal benefit.  That’s my research lesson for the week.  Hooray for Wikis, lawyer blogs and local governments that take the time to make their activities searchable.