Why GLAM Wiki: Wikipedia and Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Siân Evans, Senior Implementation Manager at Artstor.

In the fall of 2013, I was thinking about how every year I attend the ARLiS Women and Art Special Interest Group at ARLiS NA’s annual conference. And, every year, we as a group would lament the lack of representation of cis and trans women in the arts, as well as the lack of focus on gender issues in art librarianship. So, I teamed up with some amazing friends and colleagues to co-found Art+Feminism, a rhizomatic campaign to improve coverage of cis and trans women and the arts on Wikipedia, and to encourage female editorship. The current highlight of my career is that if you Google “art and feminism” we’re the top 5 results. But, rewind to two years ago: I hadn’t edited a single article on Wikipedia. So, I’m not going to go into the details of the work we do as Art+Feminism. You can find out more about that here, here, and here. Instead, I’m going to talk about why you should care about creating a Wikipedia program on your campuses and how you can get started, without any editing experience.

For those of you who are Wiki newbies, like I was, Wikipedia is the world’s largest open-source and open-access encyclopedia. Founded in 2001 by Internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales and project developer Larry Sanger, Wikipedia is hosted by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation. But its content and policies are largely the product of a vast community of volunteers, often called “Wikipedians”. There are over twenty-four million named user accounts (not counting IP address editors), but there is a much smaller cadre of roughly 31,000 “active editors,” which the Wikimedia Foundation defines as five or more edits in any given month. As of February 2014, Wikipedia had roughly eighteen billion page views and nearly five hundred million unique visitors a month. This means that it is the seventh most-visited site in the world. Not only that, but its content is often pulled into other sites using APIs (application programming interface).

As librarians, we should care about Wikipedia because it is so often where our patrons start their research process and, because it’s open source, we have the tools to improve it. Studies show again and again that college students use Wikipedia throughout their research process. Many universities have responded to this trend by employing Wikipedian-in-Residence programs, wherein experienced editors spend time working in-house at an organization. The benefits of these programs aren’t simply fulfilling meet-your-user-where-they-are outreach but also that they provide a platform to make your digital collections more broadly available and useful to researchers. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been collaborating with local Wikipedians to train librarians to add bibliographic citations to relevant articles. Since undertaking this program, web traffic has “increased exponentially.” According to William Blueher, collections and metadata librarian at the Thomas J. Watson library, the library’s digital collections got over one million page views last year, up from around 100,000 in 2012.

Wikipedia edit-a-thons also provide a space in which you can connect your institution to local communities. A number of institutions — including Notre Dame University, Ohio State University, and the Art Gallery of Ontario — that have participated in Art+Feminism edit-a-thons, have gone on to hold local edit-a-thons in their community. These can be an excellent opportunity to connect your institution to local Wikipedians or historians interested in contributing their specific knowledge to Wikipedia.

Furthermore, Wikipedia’s only study on its community of editors suggests that its editor base is largely homogenous in terms of gender and ethnicity. While the numbers on gender are dire (estimated less than 10% of Wikipedia editors identify as cis or trans women), the numbers on race and ethnicity are murky, at best. There’s no data on the ethnicity of all Wikipedia editors except that only 7% of all surveyed editors believe their ethnicity is different from most of the editors who edit their home Wikipedia (e.g. their country’s version of Wikipedia). Projects like Art+Feminism, AfroCROWD, and Wiki Loves Pride are just a few examples of grassroots efforts to improve content via participation. By promoting new editorship on Wikipedia and by training young people while keeping intersectional politics in mind, you would be actively working to build a better, more robust encyclopedia.*

Now that I’ve talked a little bit about why you should care about GLAM-Wiki programs, I’d like to talk about how you can participate. One of the goals of Art+Feminism is to expand beyond art. As such, we’ve created organizer’s kits, training videos, and more on our Resources Page. These materials can easily be reused for a non-gender gap edit-a-thon, and we’ve aggregated lots of other great Wikipedia training materials on this page, as well. You can also get in touch with the helpful folks at The Wikipedia Education Foundation, a small nonprofit organization that “serves as the bridge between academia and Wikipedia.” They can provide excellent resources and information on teaching with Wikipedia, among other things.

Go ahead and be bold.

*If you’re interested in reading about Art+Feminism, and the relationship between librarianship and information activism on Wikipedia, you can find more of our thoughts here.

4 thoughts on “Why GLAM Wiki: Wikipedia and Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums

  1. Small correction: The non-profit organization is the “Wiki Education Foundation”, not the “Wikipedia Education Foundation”. The latter would refer to something officially sanctioned by the Wikimedia Foundation (the umbrella organization that manages Wikipedia).

    More libraries and archives especially would be welcomed by us. Plenty of historic pictures and documents stowed away in some corner that could be scanned and used as a resource by us amateurs.

    Cheers.

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