Wikipedia on Pro Se

Not everyone is happy with the discussion in Wikipedia regarding pro se and why people proceed pro se. Today there has been some lively discussion on this topic on the web. Here is the question which seems to have generated much of the discussion and some responses to it. As always, I have edited out all names and other forms of identification in order to protect the confidentiality of the participants:


Wikipedia’s listing for Pro Se under “Why people proceed Pro Se”

“Many individuals choose to act pro se because they themselves are lawyers or have other legal experience, or simply because they are confident in their ability to convey their claim or defense without professional aid. Some pro ses may simply not want to pay the fees and expenses associated with hiring counsel. Others may want a lawyer, but find themselves unintentionally unrepresented due to their inability to find or pay for a lawyer willing to take their case. In civil court matters, this often occurs where the outcome is uncertain, such as in cases of alleged defamation where the plaintiff may be burdened by costly SLAPP legislation. Such people will often continue the case pro se rather than give up their quest for damages.”

“In most serious criminal prosecutions in the United States, an indigent defendant has a right to a lawyer appointed by the court, so the decision to proceed pro se is rarely based on financial considerations. However, even indigent criminal defendants in jurisdictions that guarantee legal representation may still have to represent themselves in the later stages of the case, as free representation is often only provided by the state during the initial trial and the direct appeal. This is especially true in collateral proceedings such as habeas corpus or postconviction petitions that fall outside the normal appeals process”.

Does anyone else think that this definition needs a rewrite? Most pro se’s we help are not lawyers, do not have legal experience and are not confident in their abilities.


The “Notable Pro Se Litigants” section is interesting but we see very few of those in our library.

Under the “Resources Section”, local law libraries are mentioned but with a somewhat incomplete description of possible resources and services offered.
I agree with the rest of you that the Wikipedia entry is completely inadequate. However, even a re-write from a public law librarian may be inadequate if we are not careful. The pro se litigants we see in our libraries are not exactly that same as the much larger group that appears before the courts. Also, while we in law libraries may see a lot of vexatious litigants and mentally ill litigants who are repeat visitors, their actual numbers among those who go to court are quite small, and I would be concerned that too much emphasis on them in a Wikipedia article may well do damage for the many court-based and alternative organization based efforts to obtain funding to create programs for serving self represented litigants.
Actually, at least one study rates the accuracy of articles there fairly highly.

IMHO, I find wikipedia to be fairly accurate in a number of areas, but ONLY where there is iterative feedback and editing. Britannica is not itself flawless. The longer the article exists, and the more input it has received from diverse sources, the better the article seems to be in this environment.

So if we aren’t willing – as experts and scholars – to contribute to the accuracy do we share some of the blame for the inaccuracy that exists? I’m not sure of the answer to that question, BTW, just throwing it out there for cogitation.

I do not believe everything is on the web, nor do I let Time Magazine “Help me understand.” I also don’t believe everything I hear from people with long strings of initials after their names just because they have long strings of initials after their names. 🙂

I think it’s more useful to ask those who use this sort of tool “where do they grant what Berring calls “cognitive authority”?” rather than to dismiss the tool and those who use it.
It’s not up to us to fix it. Black’s Law Dictionary is a publication authored by legal experts. Wikipedia is like an open group diary – the problem is the expertise of some of the contributors (on any topic) is suspect. I feel those who rely on Wikipedia are like those who feel that the Internet has all knowledge, in one place; is accurate and is easy to find. Who needs experts and scholars to explain things to them?

The difference is Wikipedia focuses on public perception and not actuality. I wouldn’t trust Wikipedia over PubMed, NIH or CDC. Peple just need to be aware – and made aware that Wikipedia is not the same as BRITANNICA.
Regardless of whether wikipedia is or isn’t a good source, it’s used and therefore should be corrected. Because of the nature of the source, we can always edit the entry if we don’t like it ________________________
Knowing the limitation of Wikipedia and its authorship, I wonder if we want to take on the responsibility or rewriting the article.

My Public Services Librarian commented that “To me the encyclopedia is a unique idea and experience but is not something that I would rely on for accurate information. It can be OK for just a basic touch of a definition about most anything. I avoid it.”

“The definition noted for pr se does seem inadequate and could be edited so that a better notion is out there for the general user. However, I am sure there are countless other definitions on Wikipedia that would not stand up to professional scrutiny.

Use it to look up anything to do with law libraries and see what you get. I think there is too muchattention being paid to this single article. It could well be a full time task of several law librarians to edit what is on Wikipedia. And to what purpose?”
It’s not whether to act, but how do we act? I’ve heard it said that he best answer to ignorance is information. As information specialists our aim is to provide an array of resources and our best work is being able to show the connection betwen resources – including limitations.
To Readers:

Please feel free to comment on these responses; I’m sure others would be interested in your thoughts.

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