Wikipedia as a Tool, Resource and Opportunity

This Saturday, April 18th, SILSSA is hosting a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon (sign-up!) covering the history of Pratt SILS, and notable leaders and alumni from the Pratt Libraries. I (Sarah) thought I would take a moment to talk about why I believe knowing how to edit Wikipedia is an important skill, and the value of adding information to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia touts itself as an egalitarian source of knowledge, edited by everyone, for everyone. But studies have shown that the vast majority of editors are men, and the coverage of women, LGBTQ people, and POC is sorely lacking, or missing altogether. As a profession that is traditionally female, and still more than 80% (pdf) comprised of women, as well as one that cares about equal access and representation, I feel that librarians have an obligation not only to help expand the perspectives and stories that are told on Wikipedia, but also to teach others how to edit and engage in the Wiki-community. Plus, librarians are expert researchers, and can provide the sources and context to create excellent, well-cited pages, which helps make sure the pages they create and edit remain a permanent part of Wikipedia.

Editing Wikipedia for the first time can be scary, because there are a lot of rules about form, citation and content, and there’s always the fear that something you’ve spent hours creating will be taken down. That’s where edit-a-thons come in. By coming together as a group to work on editing and creating pages, we can lean on one another, and create a supportive in-person environment to help overcome the fear of wading into the wild internet alone. There are tons of  great, friendly communities on Wikipedia, but getting your foot in the door, or knowing the social etiquette can be intimidating at first, just like with joining any group. Plus, many edit-a-thons, including the Librarians @ Pratt this Saturday, will provide sources for you to work off of and suggestions of pages to work on, which makes research that much easier!

Additionally, editing Wikipedia can be a great learning experience, not only in the topic you’re working on, but in research skills, knowledge creation, community engagement, and digital literacy. The Wiki Education Foundation is a non-profit organization that works to help incorporate Wikipedia-based projects into classrooms, and provides heaps of really helpful information, resources and encouragement for anyone looking to incorporate Wikipedia as a teaching and learning tool. I would encourage you to look through their blog and resources!

I truly believe that Wikipedia has the potential to be a force for good on the internet and in the world. But, I also believe that it requires the input of diverse voices, and the time and commitment to work at making the Wikipedia community better than it is, and more inclusive and open than the current world it attempts to document.

That’s my soapbox speech and I hope you can join us this Saturday, April 18th, for the Librarians @ Pratt: Part 2 Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. We’ll be set up in PMC Room 609 from 1-6pm, with a workshop for beginners from 1-2pm, led by SILS alum Gina Shelton. Come by for a few minutes, or stay the whole time. We’ll have snacks!


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