Talk:Salvation Army Headquarters (Saint Paul, Minnesota)

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Claims over reliable sources and original research[edit]

The concern stated is that letters from the letter of a government agency (National Park Service), the letter of a non-governmental organization (Minnesota Historical Society), and images taken by the Minnesota Historical Society, all viewed by the editor at the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in the Minnesota History Center —a scholarly institution. I think this boils down to an honest misunderstanding and misinterpretation of what is a reliable source under WP:RS. A reading of WP:RS makes it pretty clear that it was intended to stop people form using unreliable websites, personal blogs, etc. to support/defend extreme statements. Looking at how they guide the identification of a reliable source:

The reliability of a source depends on context. Each source must be carefully weighed to judge whether it is reliable for the statement being made and is the best such source for that context. In general, the more people engaged in checking facts, analyzing legal issues, and scrutinizing the writing, the more reliable the publication. Sources should directly support the information as it is presented in an article, and should be appropriate to the claims made.

So let's take this logic and apply it here:

  • Are these sources reliable for the statements being made? Yes. Letters by the actual organization describing a position are the most direct source possible and are a reliable statement of their position. A properly dated photo, taken by a historian, is also as direct a source as possible short of being there at the time of demolition.
  • Are these sources the best source for the context? Yes. There is nothing controvertible about the statements made by an organization in a letter, printed on their own letterhead, on a given position being used to cite opinions of an organization. Similarly, a dated photo of the demolition of a building is as good a source of when a building was demolished as any other.
  • The statement about mroe people engaging in checking facts, analyzing legal issues, and scrutinizing the writing is moot when the source being cited is the direct source, properly cited.
  • Do the sources directly support the information as presented in the article? Yes. This requirement is obviously to avoid the WP:OR concern, and there is no original research present in stating the position of an organization in a letter or official application.

Obviously, no one is challenged the veracity of offline sources or the presumption of good faith. Let's discuss the sources in question:

  • The letter of the National Park Service is by a federal government agency to let parties know their decision on a matter. This is hardly something without weight. For example: in the case of medical device law a letter by the Food and Drug Administration has the full legal weight of that organization. This source should have no problems.
  • The letter of the Minnesota Historical Society to HealthEast, on file at the SHPO office, states their offer of help to analyze reuse of the building, and is only used to support that they made such an offer. There is nothing controversial or unreliable about the source or the way it's cited.
  • The photos of the demolition available in the SHPO file were dated January 1998; the Larry Millett article warning about impending destruction was dated January 16, 1998. There is no controversy in stating that the building was demolished later that month.

I feel that this is an issue that, upon the above analysis, is an honest misunderstanding and that we can move on. If we feel that there is still a dispute, I suggest involving a third party editor or simply taking this to the Wikipedia:Reliable sources/Noticeboard for review. Cheers. —Bobak (talk) 02:09, 4 December 2010 (UTC)

I really don't think these are reliable published sources, or that this content belongs on Wikipedia without citations to other sources. I think asking for somebody else to opine would be the best action. —innotata 16:05, 4 December 2010 (UTC)
Well, these are primary sources, but I think the Wikipedia policy on primary sources is applicable here, that "A primary source may only be used on Wikipedia to make straightforward, descriptive statements that any educated person, with access to the source but without specialist knowledge, will be able to verify are supported by the source." As I made no interpretation, I feel they are acceptable. Let's first bring it up to folks in the Wikipedia:WikiProject Minnesota (I'll start a post in the talk page), and if we can't find consensus there, we can take it to either the Wikipedia:Reliable sources/Noticeboard or the Wikipedia:No original research/Noticeboard. —Bobak (talk) 19:51, 4 December 2010 (UTC)
Seems like entirely simple, straightforward, appropriate use of good sources to make factual, non-controversial statements. Primary sources can be used, with care, in Wikipedia. About where this should be discussed, i think the question would best be discussed here, with notice given elsewhere (such as at WikiProject Minnesota) directing editors' attention to here. The discussion is just relevant to this one article. I am a regular NRHP editor, not from Minnesota, but saw notice of the other discussion at another NRHP editor's page. —doncram (talk) 01:00, 5 December 2010 (UTC)
I don't think there should be any question about whether these sources are reliable. All of this material is on file at the State Historic Preservation Office, so we can trust that they're going to be accurate. Dated pictures, also on file, can be considered reliable when there's someone reliable serving as a curator of the information. The question is whether the letters from the SHPO can be considered "published" sources. The letters are there in the files, but do they really count as "published" when they aren't distributed outside the sender, recipient, and various agencies that were copied? I'm a little less sure about that, and I'm not really sure where Wikipedia policy lies when we're talking about letters between organizations. —Elkman (Elkspeak) 01:27, 5 December 2010 (UTC)
It's a strange little zone where the policies of WP:RS and WP:OR never really anticipated these kinds of letters, RS is more about keeping out obviously biased sources while OR is about keeping out editor opinion or overreaching synthesis —in that regard I'm not surprised this has created a little bit of confusion. On the letter from the National Park Service, I think it can be treated as published: letters by government agencies (my experience is heavily with FDA) are considered to be statements of official policy when printed on letterhead and sent to the parties (and in this case it makes sense as it's stating that the structure was eligible for NRHP but owner objection, which was stamped on each page of the application, made that impossible under the Federal statute guiding listings. Here is the FDA's database of warning letters, but also note it also only goes back to those published since '96, and the NPS letter in question here was published in the 1980s, and heaven knows the NPS has enough trouble handling the backlog of NRHP applications that it wants to digitalize. As for the MHS letter, that it was put in the file seems to indicate that it wasn't a private correspondence (clearly there was some PR going on in trying to shame HealthEast into adapting the building rather than tearing it down... though I stop short of writing that in the article), however I don't know if that would be considered "publishing" or whether this kind of situation was even anticipated by the drafting of the current policies. I honestly don't know how many other projects have people running around and looking at offline files like this. I'll point the discussion on the MN WikiProject here. —Bobak (talk) 07:44, 5 December 2010 (UTC)
I suppose my take after seeing this, is that as this seems to present, this is in a bit of a grey zone; I didn't exactly understand what the reliable sources page says here. However, the article looks like it has somewhat poor sources, and to be based far too much on primary or nearby sources. The MHS letter looks like a slightly questionable source, as very much a recent personal communication nonetheless, and I don't see how we can cite it or a photo. I also don't see how using some sources is necessary anyway, whether many of the details relevant and important to a Wikipedia article, the letter for example. Lastly, I don't think you very well identify the purpose of OR, RS, and suchlike; and the location of the items and the existence of collaboration are not relevant to the article space. —innotata 02:05, 7 December 2010 (UTC)
Perhaps the best way to put it, given the other points made on the page by other editors, is this: in academia they find ways to cite things that offer unbiased factual information. The rules in RS, OR, etc were made to prevent all the truly bad and disingenuous edits that occur on the Project, particularly in hot-button issues like ethnicity/nationalism, etc. As OR states about primary sources, it's about assessing the value of the item on the article, keeping within sensibly strict guidelines. The consensus seems to be that those guidelines were met here. We have documents made by a notable entities, kept by a reputable entity, being used to source uncontroversial factual statements. It's actually quite beautiful :-) --Bobak (talk) 05:56, 7 December 2010 (UTC)
RS is to identify which sources are reliable; OR is called "No original research", and imports that. This article seems to border on both, with no fully third-party sources, only some published yet; some details also seem to be excessive. —innotata 14:27, 8 December 2010 (UTC)
FYI, in New York State, some similar correspondence has been scanned and made available by New York State's office on historic preservation, hence can clearly be said to be published. For example, for Charles Scribner's Sons Building in NYC, a building deemed NRHP-eligible but not listed due to owner objection, the following footnote includes links to the correspondence:[1]
Further, FYI, since that wikipedia reference and others like it were composed by me and others, NYS changed their interface so as to make such correspondence files less easily found—i think in response to our work—as perhaps some of it really should not be paraded out, but they did not withdraw the publication. —doncram (talk) 13:32, 5 December 2010 (UTC)
To offer some useful, relevant background: the Minnesota Historical Society and the employee in charge Digital Outreach of their State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO; that employee is an active user here) hosted an official Wikipedia meet-up at their giant history center, which included showing us their files on these buildings and encouraged us to come in and use them. I've been coordinating with him to make certain slides (including the two in this article) available on the official SHPO Flickr page under the proper CC license —so there's no adverse relationship here. The MHS actually hosted the noted "Volunteer Wikipedian in Residence" at the British Museum to come in and talk to them about how their works could be shared online. So what we have here is a very nice relationship developing between a state historical society and Wikipedia. This article and the two others like it were created with the knowledge and, I'd dare say, encouragement of SHPO/MHS. —Bobak (talk) 17:27, 5 December 2010 (UTC)

The NRHP Nomination forms are generally considered to be reliable published documents - even though they are usually not published in "normal" ways, i.e. you can't get most of them in book form, or even directly on the internet in many cases. The accepted nominations are available to the public via a request to the NRHP in which case they'll send you a hard copy or an e-mail version. I don't think the fact that the state agency makes rejected nominations available via viewing the files in their building makes them any less published. I don't know if there is a formal definition of "published" that applies here, but "make available for viewing by the public" seems like a common sense definition. BTW, if this is only about this particular article, this is a slam dunk — great article with multiple sources. If this is about a more general assertion that NRHP Nomination forms are not reliable sources, the entire WP:NRHP project will fiercely oppose that assertion. As far as letters and other minor sources — they shouldn't be the only sources used, but they are used well here. Smallbones (talk) 02:08, 6 December 2010 (UTC)

I see this as a not an issue with WP:RS or WP:OR but rather a citation problem. We have citation format for published sources, but we really don't have a way to cite boxes/folders/files/folios kept in certain archival locations not as independent primary sources, but rather as a purposely collected association of documents. Even in antique collecting, you may have a piece that is significant that would only have a certain amount of value, but one can build provenance through collecting together other pertinent information that support the central object, and the person collecting the provenance to support the central object would be considered the original researcher, the provenance used may be primary sources (such as letter and newspaper clippings), but then referring to collection would not constitute original research, and if endorsed by a reputable source institution, then the collection as a whole would be considered a reliable source. Archival libraries have ways to catalogue their holdings. If we in Wikipedia could have a similar citation methodologies for these boxes/folders/files/folios, we may significantly reduce or even eliminate this WP:RS or WP:OR argument in reference to these boxes/folders/files/folios created as provenance by a reputable entity. CJLippert (talk) 17:03, 6 December 2010 (UTC)
Usually, Template:Cite journal is used for random print-only documents—Cite document is among its redirects. —innotata 14:27, 8 December 2010 (UTC)
@ Bobak - boxes/folders/files/folio numbers might be a bit extreme, but I agree with the above comment. Can you give enough information on references 1, 2, 5, and 7 so that, if somebody brought this info to the MHS a librarian/clerk could take that info and in, say, one hour come back with the sources? Smallbones (talk) 13:15, 7 December 2010 (UTC)
Sure: I made a slight change that will allow even a regular visitor to walk into the MHC and quickly locate it in the "Salvation Army Headquarters file, State Historic Preservation Office in the Minnesota History Center." These files are open to public access, only a sign-in at the desk is required. I should take a photo the next time I'm there (although there happens to be a Wikipedia Meet-up photo of a lot of us in that very office). --Bobak (talk) 16:18, 7 December 2010 (UTC)
Yeah, that's plenty good enough for me. Smallbones (talk) 00:49, 8 December 2010 (UTC)

In the interest of establishing good faith, completeness and a bit of good-natured fun, while I was at the SHPO office today I snapped a few photos to show off the diabolical means in which these sources are found:

This treasure trove is open to the public from Tuesday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. --Bobak (talk) 05:01, 8 December 2010 (UTC)

I'm not sure if this belongs in articles; certainly it does not for sources which can be found elsewhere, like the newspapers. Why did it occur to you to add that there? —innotata 14:27, 8 December 2010 (UTC)
Because it's fun, illustrative and proves a point --that SHPO isn't some mythical place where dragons roam and is as described: a repository for useful information for solid Wikipedia writing.  ;-) --Bobak (talk) 21:36, 8 December 2010 (UTC)

I would agree with what has been said by Bobak, Smallbones and doncram. To summarize briefly, I think this falls into allowed use of primary sources (simple statements of fact) so there is no problem with original research. I also believe that the sources are as reliable as possible, especially as part of a curated collection. --BenFranske (talk) 17:23, 8 December 2010 (UTC)