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Magazines > Information Today > November/December 2018

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Information Today
Vol. 35 No. 9 — Nov/Dec 2018
TOP STORY
What Itís Like to Be a Wikipedian in Residence
by Kelly Doyle


Wikipedian in Residence positions can be structured several ways, but the most popular are a content-generating position, a community-based position, or a hybrid of these two.
As the Wikipedian in Residence for Gender Equity at West Virginia University (WVU) Libraries, I was fortunate enough to gain experience in and be part of helping to widen academia’s understanding of Wikipedia within the academic library setting while also tackling the site’s considerable gender gap and working toward establishing sustainable models for change.

Many may think that Wikipedia is merely an unreliable resource and a generic encyclopedia because anyone can edit it—or some may have no strong opinions about it at all. However, the information on Wikipedia is largely accurate, precisely because of the diligent work of our longstanding volunteer editor base. The general process by which information is uploaded to Wikipedia is that volunteer editors add content using citations, which are then subject to moderation by the whole Wikipedia editor community. Vandalism to articles or deliberate addition of misinformation has occasionally occurred, but in these rare instances, articles are generally reverted to their original content within minutes by this same editor cohort. Any information that is added to Wikipe dia needs to have a citation to a reputable source accompanying it—which makes it all the more simple to remove incorrect edits. Wikipedia is also a free resource—accessible to anyone with internet access—that provides neutral tertiary information that is difficult, if not impossible, to find elsewhere online. Students use it because it helps them understand the specifics of a topic in a straightforward manner, and it is something we should embrace. Instructing students and patrons on Wikipedia opens them up to be able to use the site the way we do as information professionals and will make them better consumers of knowledge.

Meeting students and patrons where they are in their information literacy journey through an embrace of Wikipedia builds trusting relationships and opportunities for larger conversations about source reliability and library resources that are available. Our students and patrons are using Wikipedia daily to access basic information. We all have a stake in the success of Wikipedia and can participate by teaching proper usage and by adding quality sourced information. Wikipedia is the fifth- most-visited website globally, with more than 5 million articles on the English version. However, the site is still incomplete. Many existing articles need additional information and resources, and notable topics are sometimes missing, leaving space for new articles. Librarians can join the Wikimedia community while creating and strengthening Wikipedia articles in multitudinous topic areas. With access to quality resources and databases, librarians can add quality information to Wikipedia, and in some instances, add archival images to Wikimedia Commons for wider public access. Similarly, adding sources to Wikipedia articles from paywalled journals opens up the expertise available in the articles and allows a level of use by those without privileged access to these databases.

Wikipedia and Gender

My role as a Wikipedian in Residence was to help librarians become Wikipedians and to get guidance from librarians in the Wikimedia community who were already doing this work. The gender equity aspect of my role required me to learn about the gender-based issues facing Wikipedia—both in terms of content and editorship—and to find creative solutions within academia that could be replicated within the wider community. I came to this role with no previous Wikipedia editing experience, nor as a librarian. What I did have was a community-organizing background that was focused on academia and student groups. I worked within WVU Libraries’ Office of Curriculum and Instructional Support to build instructionally guided training materials that would help students become Wikipedia-literate in their understanding of Wikipedia and its construction and in how to contribute. I transferred this learning and expertise to my work with student groups on campus around Wikipedia’s gender gap.

On Wikipedia English, about one in 10 editors identifies as female, and 17.82% of biographies are about women (as of Oct. 1, 2018). This means that 279,171 biographies out of 1,567,029 are about women (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Wom en_in_Red). However, we’re collectively making progress on this front. The percentage of new biographies about women on Wikipedia English increases each month, and several programs and projects are in place to help combat these issues, including Whose Knowledge? (meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Whose_ Knowledge%3F), Art+Feminism (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art %2BFeminism), and WikiProject Women in Red (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Women_in_Red). We need more diverse voices on Wikipedia, which will lend itself to a more diverse and complete resource for all.

While at WVU, I created a service learning model for students to learn about Wikipedia, how to edit it, and why their voice is needed on the site. The program allowed students to edit based on their interests, and they were able to join a global community of dedicated volunteers while earning required service learning credit to graduate. In general, students became more confident in their writing, more discerning of information online, and better researchers. I especially focused my outreach on Women’s and Gender Studies programs and students as well as sorority students; their involvement helped to close the editor-based gender gap, and their content was largely related to women or women’s issues.

How to Get Involved

Wikipedian in Residence positions can be structured several ways, but the most popular are a content-generating position, a community-based position, or a hybrid of these two. My role was a community-based one in which I didn’t edit Wikipedia directly, but rather hosted instructional events and found ways to build capacity around Wikipedia at WVU.

For librarians who want to get involved, there are many resources for you get started. Several have been created by the Wikipedia Library (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:The_Wikipedia_Library). There is a Wikimedia and Libraries User Group (meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_and_Libraries_User_Group) in which you can introduce yourself, ask questions, share your knowledge, and become part of our global community. If you’re interested in hiring a Wikipedian in Residence at your institution, there is a searchable list of past and present Wikipedians (outreach.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikipedian_in_Residence), and you can connect with them through their user talk pages. Instructional resources for hosting your own Wikipedia editing event or edit-a-thon exist on Wikimedia Commons and on Wikipedia itself (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:How_to_run_an_edit-a-thon). You can always check the Wiki meetup page (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup) for events in your region. In addition, there is an ALA Editions book, Leveraging Wikipedia: Connecting Communities of Knowledge, edited by Merrilee Proffitt of OCLC, with chapters from Wikipedians and librarians that include further details, case studies, and information about innovative work happening in this space. [For more, see the Book Review “Are You a Wikipedian?” on page 18. —Ed.]


Kelly Doyle is currently a community manager at mySociety, a London-based nonprofit focusing on civic technology. She was previously the Wikipedian in Residence for Gender Equity at West Virginia University Libraries. Doyle received an M.A. in English from the College of Charleston and a B.A. in English from the University of Delaware. Additional information about her work appears in the WMC (Women’s Media Center) Speech Project and in Leveraging Wikipedia: Connecting Communities of Knowledge (ALA Editions, 2018). Send your comments about this article to itletters@infotoday.com.