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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > September 2016

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Vol. 36 No. 7 — September 2016

Meet The Wikipedia Library at Your Library
by Nicole Askin

We believe that libraries and other cultural institutions have a unique role to play in training students and faculty members in the appropriate use of Wikipedia ...
The Wikipedia Library wants to position itself as a gateway to the world’s libraries—providing information and reference services for everyone with internet access, regardless of language or geographical location. There is a tremendous amount of work to do to achieve this goal and a tremendous number of opportunities for librarians to get involved.

For many, Wikipedia has become a ubiquitous starting point for research. The user-edited encyclopedia has more than 5 million articles in English and receives more than 500 million visits per month. Wikipedia’s mission is to provide free access to knowledge for researchers worldwide; it accomplishes this by synthesizing the scholarly and popular literature into overview articles with citations back to the sources. According to CrossRef, it is the eighth largest referrer of digital object identifier (DOI) links to published research.

As an encyclopedia, Wikipedia is the kind of reference resource that has been around for centuries. But it has the potential to go far beyond that—to help both editors and readers get access to sources, to teach both groups research literacy, to engage with libraries and other cultural institutions, and to advocate for a culture of open access (OA) to information. This is the vision of The Wikipedia Library (TWL;

About TWL

TWL is a program funded by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia and its sister sites. It began in 2013 as an initiative to solicit donations of source access from publishers. The library’s initial patrons were the experienced Wikipedia editors receiving the donated access, and the program now has 51 partners, including JSTOR, Oxford University Press, Project Muse, Gale, and Elsevier. It has expanded to encompass branches on other language Wikipedias, a nascent research literacy portal, partnerships with libraries and library organizations, a reference desk and resource exchange, and many other programs. It now serves Wikipedia editors and readers alike in 15 languages and counting.


TWL’s 51 partners include English, French, Finnish, Arabic, and Farsi-language publishers. We have distributed 5,000-plus access accounts to 2,600 Wikipedians, allowing them to add thousands of citations to Wikipedia articles.

The process of managing partnerships and distributing these 5,000 accounts to Wikipedia editors is becoming an efficiency problem that constrains library growth. To address this, we are developing an integrated “library card” platform that will allow editors to apply for access to any partnership via a one-time application form. It will let coordinators both approve editors for any partnership and perform other management tasks such as monitoring analytics from a single portal. This Django-based platform will use OAuth as its authentication protocol and will provide for the possibility of later integrating EZproxy or Shibboleth for easy user access to resources.

Our future development goals in the area of access provision include an integrated discovery tool. This tool will allow editors to easily discover research materials not indexed by Google as well as OA resources in their subject area.  


We have created a research help portal that we are currently piloting across a subset of Wikipedia articles. The concept behind it is to provide research-literacy support for Wikipedia readers and editors at the point of need—the References section of Wikipedia articles. This portal gives readers an understanding of Wikipedia’s policies around referencing, as well as how to use Wikipedia as a starting point for research—in particular, how to get access to cited sources through libraries and web discovery tools. To that end, the page includes a “find your library” link that instructs readers on how to locate and get access to their closest public or research library and a “find your source” link that discusses the principles of known-item searching. The portal explains how to assess the accuracy of Wikipedia articles and when they are or are not appropriate for use (including a reminder not to cite Wikipedia for research papers).

Another key, but underused, component of TWL’s research strategy is the Wikipedia reference desk. This forum was established and is staffed by Wikipedia volunteers on English Wikipedia, but in some other languages, professional librarians provide service. For example, Hebrew Wikipedia has a reference desk staffed by the National Library of Israel. Since the demise of the Internet Public Library left a gap in training venues for digital librarians, TWL is developing a pilot program to host library and information science (LIS) reference classes on Wikipedia’s reference desk, promoting it as a public research forum where both Wikipedia readers and editors can get help. We are discussing the possibility of supplementing this asynchronous forum with a real-time chat reference implementation via QuestionPoint.

TWL is also promoting the Resource Exchange project. This forum provides a venue for the exchange of resources among community members for research purposes. Editors can request a source and receive an electronic copy via email from a colleague. The program is akin to #ICanHazPDF, in that it allows for the private sharing of paywalled resources (when permissible).


We believe that libraries and other cultural institutions have a unique role to play in training students and faculty members in the appropriate use of Wikipedia , as well as in integrating their own research collections and knowledge into the site. To that end, TWL has been heavily involved in outreach efforts to research libraries, inviting them to participate in our programs. One in particular that has been very successful is #1Lib1Ref, a campaign that ran as part of the celebrations of Wikipedia’s 15th anniversary. This campaign asked librarians to each add a single reference to a Wikipedia article, taking a {{citation needed}} tag as a reference question waiting to be answered. This campaign saw extensive promotion on global social media, particularly in Catalan Wikipedia (which has a great history of engaging with public librarians) and in French Wikipedia.

TWL has also developed programs that allow Wikipedians to get access to libraries and give libraries opportunities to learn more about Wikipedia. The Library Interns program trains students or staffers to edit Wikipedia articles related to the institution’s holdings. The Wikipedia Visiting Scholars program invites libraries to host a remote Wikipedian as an affiliate researcher, providing him or her with online access to library resources, so that he or she may develop articles of interest to the library. For example, George Mason University invited a Wikipedian to develop articles related to historical topics using its resources; this led to the development of 17 high-quality articles.

Other outreach efforts have included guides to help libraries—particularly special collections—upload digital media to the free multimedia repository Wikimedia Commons, promoting public edit-a-thons and training events and giving presentations at conferences, such as the American Library Association and DPLAfest.


The final component of TWL’s mission is to advocate for open access to information. One of the ways we have approached this is by developing bibliographies of free and OA resources across a variety of subject areas, so even readers who may not have easy access to libraries in their local area might have an opportunity to discover the research literature. Helping readers (and editors) discover their library and the resources it offers is also key to helping provide them with information, and we are proud to work with libraries to accomplish this goal.

We are experimenting with some of our publisher partners to allow for toll-free linking—allowing readers to click on a citation on Wikipedia and access the associated source, even if it would normally be behind a paywall. TWL wants to support the use of Wikipedia as a starting point for research by ensuring that readers can identify the sources and can follow the citations back to the full text of the original source. Our partnerships with and have been great examples of the success of this approach: Each includes a clippings feature—which allows users to share articles with an open URL in the citation—and each has seen great uptake of that feature in Wikipedia citations. For example, as can be seen in the graph above, both raw links and the OA Clippings links for increased to more than 10,000 each—an increase of more than 2,700% for the toll-free links.

How Your Library Can Get Involved

  • Add citations to reliable sources in Wikipedia articles—help the public move from Wikipedia into the scholarly literature. An easy way to get started is at
  • Teach students and researchers to use Wikipedia responsibly—as a starting point, not an ultimate source.
  • Run an editing event at your library—help fill in gaps in Wikipedia’s knowledgebase, while teaching others about how Wikipedia really works.
  • Host a Visiting Scholar, Library Intern, or Wikipedian in Residence at your institution. Using your collections, he or she can help build a public knowledge source read by thousands worldwide—well beyond the scope of traditional outreach efforts.
  • Upload media from your special collections to Wikimedia Commons. Free media can be added to Wikipedia articles in every language.

Join us:!


Wass, Joe. “Real-Time Stream of DOIs Being Cited in Wikipedia.” Retrieved 1 Jan. 2015 from

Nicole Askin is the head of volunteer coordination for The Wikipedia Library. She is also a librarian and a Wikipedia editor.