This post was originally published as an assignment for INFO 200 Information Communities at the School of Information at San José State University.
Wikipedia and libraries share a mutual mission, to provide free and open access to information. Together they are shaping the internet and striving to make it more inclusive. Like it or not, Wikipedia is at the forefront of people’s everyday information seeking needs and behaviors. As one of the top ten sites visited worldwide, not only is does it rank in the top search results in a Google search, but Artificial Intelligence systems like Siri and Alexa utilize it as one of their primary sources for information retrieval (Cooke, 2020). Wikipedia has lacks diversity in its content. As an encyclopedic reference resource, this is not a new phenomenon. Academia’s role in researching, writing, and editing reference materials has contributed to the content coming from the perspective of a single demographic, that of white men. Because Wikipedia’s mission is to remain a volunteer-based open-source information site, it is reliant on its community of contributors. So, it actively seeks out opportunities to improve diversity among its participants. And thus, diversify the information within its site.
Wikipedia has come up short with their own efforts to bridge these gaps and now actively works in partnership with libraries, which are emerging as a key player in bridging this diversity gap. The Wikimedia Foundation provides grants to support events organized by groups such as Art+Feminism and AfroCrowd. These events draw new membership to the Wikipedian community by reaching outside of the Wikipedia universe to recruit new and more diverse participants. By hosting edit-a-thons, providing training, workshops, and reaching out to faculty to incorporate Wikipedia editing into their information literacy programs.
Some great examples of how libraries are working on this can be found in materials from “Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together” which was an 18-month long project sponsored by OCLC, strived to strengthen the link between English Wikipedia and US public libraries (Wikipedia + Libraries, 2019). The project’s website is an excellent resource to read first-hand accounts of projects that build community, extend librarianship, amplify stories, and teach literacies. Public and academic librarians can turn to this resource for a training curriculum to utilize in their own teaching and learning environments.
Libraries are spaces for learning that extend beyond the physical building out into the digital communities of the internet. As a creative classroom, they provide space to connect learners and teachers (Stephens, 2014). The digital ecosystem of Wikipedia makes for an ideal platform to link the physical spaces of libraries to the world wide web. Wikipedia is in many ways synonymous with the rules of librarianship. This ALA’s Library Bill of Rights resembles Wikipedia’s Five Pillars, both strive to provide a freely accessible, shared information pool that connects a community of learners.
Teaching and understanding Wikipedia plays a critical role in information literacy. Professor Kathleen de la Peña McCook of the School of Information at the University of South Florida describes this relevance through the development of two history courses for future librarians. Through the development and implementation of these classes, she discovered that students were able to make use of literacy skills to simultaneously enhance Wikipedia articles and increase the visibility of libraries on Wikipedia. As an added benefit, 60% of the student body at the School of Information are women, so this population proved to be an ideal resource to bridge the gender gap (McCook, 2014). But the experiences gained in these classes extends beyond the classroom, students claimed they found that in addition to finding the skills learned during the coursework marketable, they also expressed personal satisfaction and would continue the work as a hobby. This points to a valuable resource to Wikipedia, which needs to reach beyond its own network to recruit a more diverse community.
Libraries can build programs upon a constructivist approach to learning, where a community of learners can share and exchange ideas and build upon their knowledge (Booth, 2010). But in the context of serving a community that continues to make a shift to the digital world, information professionals should look to connectivism. George Siemens proposed the connectivist learning theory in direct response to the rise of the internet. This “model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity. How people work and function is altered when new tools are utilized. The field of education has been slow to recognize both the impact of new learning tools and the environmental changes in what it means to learn. Connectivism provides insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era” (Siemens, 2018). We can see a clear link between this shift in learning, the exponential growth of the internet, and the call upon information professionals to keep libraries relevant in this shifting landscape.
As I assemble the knowledge gained from my research into how libraries can meet the needs of the Wikipedian information community, I think the best approach in reaching new members is to tap into the information communities who are intrinsically motivated by a particular subject matter. Both public and academic libraries can create drop-in classes and host ongoing web-based training that will motivate a Wikipedian to bring a friend. This should include providing access to the technology training and tools that a Wikipedian will need, such as lending laptops, or hotspots. This will increase learning engagement.
- Public libraries can work with their Youth and Teen Advisory Groups to host Wikipedia edit-a-thons, this is a great way to teach information literacy and spark diverse content contribution.
- Collaboration is an essential element of initiating Wikipedia editing, at least in terms of bringing new and diverse groups into the community.
- Libraries can host events in support of underrepresented information communities and invite them to suggest articles or media that can be added or edited on Wikipedia.
- Libraries can invite authors, artists, and activists that can then lead to edit-a-thons targeted at their body of work or passions.
- Libraries can collaborate with museums to curate collections or exhibits that can be tied to programs and displays in the library and support edit-a-thons that take place at both institutions and continue the event virtually online. And continue the conversation by flipping the classroom, inviting Wikipedians to pass on their knowledge.
- Wikipedian groups such as Art+Feminism, use social media to promote and share their events and found it to be far more powerful an outreach tool than the traditional methods used within the Wikipedia site (Evans et al., 2015).
- Academic libraries have created LibGuides to teach future Wikipedians how to edit a page and how to find hyperlinked resources in their libraries.
Booth, C. (2010). Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators. American Library Association Editions. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Cooke, R. (2020, February 17). Wikipedia Is the Last Best Place on the Internet. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/wikipedia-online-encyclopedia-best-place-internet/
Evans, S., Mabey, J., & Mandiberg, M. (2015). Editing for Equality: The Outcomes of the Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thons. Art Documentation: Bulletin of the Art Libraries Society of North America, 34(2), 194–203. https://doi.org/10.1086/683380
McCook, K. de la P. (2014). Librarians as Wikipedians. Progressive Librarian, 42, 61–81.
Siemens, G. (2018). Connectivism. In Foundations of Learning and Instructional Design Technology. EdTech Books. https://edtechbooks.org/lidtfoundations/connectivism
Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together. (2019, December 5). WebJunction. https://www.webjunction.org/explore-topics/wikipedia-libraries.html