Category Archives: Wikipedia

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.

Curiouser and Curiouser: Guiding Students through the Information Wonderland

This week I taught a research instruction session for a learning community that pairs an introductory English Composition course with a Speech course. I love teaching this class because I get to work with colleagues in our English and Humanities Departments with whom I’ve long collaborated; we have a good rapport in the classroom and the students always seem to get a lot out of the class. Because the library session runs for twice as long as usual — we use the class periods for both classes — we always have lots of time for students to practice doing research. Because the students are usually more engaged in learning communities and there are 3 instructors in the classroom, we also typically get into discussions about topics in information literacy that we often don’t have room for in the other sessions I teach.

This time around we found something very interesting. The students were researching the Brooklyn Theater Fire, an infamous late 19th-century disaster that happened just steps from our college’s campus. We’d been using the library catalog to look for books on Brooklyn and New York City history, talking about the kinds of keywords that work best for broad or narrow topics, the usual. Recently I’ve noticed that during the internet research part of my instruction sessions students sometimes find books on commercial sites like Amazon, so I’ve started to suggest that students note down the author and title of books they find on those sites and search for them in the library catalog. I recommended that to this class, too, and a student called me over to help him do the search in our library’s catalog for a book he found on Barnes & Noble.

The student was trying to search by ISBN in the keyword search field, but that wasn’t really the problem. The problem was that our library (and our university system) doesn’t own the book. And, actually, we’ll never own the book, because the book he was looking for was a book of Brooklyn historical information pulled directly from Wikipedia. It took a few minutes of poking around on the B&N website to figure that out, and then we all (as a class) found a long list of books “published” by the company LLC Books:

llcbooks

(Hey, at least they’re relatively inexpensive, right?)

This phenomenon is not new, nor is it restricted to Wikipedia content — I remember hearing a few years ago about a similar “publisher” printing up and selling dissertations without their authors’ knowledge. And it’s pretty easy for us to discard these kinds of books from our own searches online. The listing the student found actually cites Source: Wikipedia as the author, but even those that don’t are highly suspicious: they’re on a huge variety of topics with very similar covers each with an image of a flower on it which is not at all relevant to the book’s content. Red flags everywhere, right?

But first year undergraduates are not librarians, and the student I worked with was, I think, legitimately confused by this book, especially seeing it in a set of search results that included traditionally published, “real” books. We ended up having a great conversation with the entire class about who owns the content on Wikipedia (and an introduction to open access and Creative Commons-licensed content), how print-on-demand publishing technology is changing information production, and why it’s important to evaluate information in all formats, not just online.

It was a great class; I left happy that we’d been able to cover such complex topics and hopeful that the students will continue to think critically about information the way they did in the class. However, I worry about other students, the ones in all of the classes that don’t have an extra-long library session, in which we don’t have time to get to print-on-demand Wikipedia scam books as well as everything else we need to cover. While not about library sources, I think this is important content that’s well worth discussing in our classes. But it’s tricky to accommodate all of the nuances of the information landscape in our instruction, especially when it’s both/and: real books both in print and electronic (both in the library and on the internet), and fake books, and… How do you incorporate new (and evolving) information literacy issues into your instruction?

Waiting on Wikipedia

Recently while I was teaching a class the instructor asked me whether I thought that Wikipedia would ever come to be considered a generally trustworthy, credible source. I always talk about Wikipedia in my one-shot instruction sessions, especially with first year students, but this was the first time I’d ever gotten a question along those lines. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

In my classes I point out to students that most of us — students, faculty, librarians, everyone — use Wikipedia all the time. My usual strategy for talking about Wikipedia in library instruction is likely similar to many librarians: I show students how to use it for brainstorming and background information, suggest that they mine the references, and point out the View history link to show them how the entry has changed. I end by noting that Wikipedia is a great place to start but that students shouldn’t cite it in their assignments because it’s much too general, just as they wouldn’t cite a general print encyclopedia. Instead, they should use Wikipedia to point them to other resources that are more appropriate for use in college work.

But I do wonder when Wikipedia will cross the line into acceptable-for-use-as-a-cited-source territory. Will it ever? Has it already?

Full disclosure: I cited Wikipedia in a scholarly journal article I wrote last year. I had what I thought were (and still think are) good reasons. I was writing about using games in information literacy instruction, and I used Wikipedia to define several specific genres of videogames. I felt that the Wikipedia definitions for those types of games were more current and accurate than definitions I found in other published sources. In this case the fluidity and impermanence of Wikipedia were assets. Genres and micro-genres can evolve and change quickly, and I think that most Wikipedia entries on popular culture (in which I’d include videogames) are probably written and edited by fans of those topics. There’s an argument to be made that those fans are the subject experts, so it’s the information they’ve put together that I was most confident in citing. While one of the peer reviewers did note the Wikipedia citations, the journal editor and I discussed it and agreed to keep them.

Of course, Wikipedia won’t always be the best source. Right now I’m working on writing up the results of a project and needed to find the construction dates for campus buildings at one of my research sites. After scouring the college’s website with no luck, I stumbled upon the information in Wikipedia only to come up against a dilemma I’m sure our students face all the time: the information seems true, it’s not blatantly, obviously false, but there’s no citation for it. In this case I didn’t feel comfortable citing Wikipedia so I emailed the college archivist for more information, which she quickly and graciously provided. But what do our students do in a situation like this? There won’t always be a readily identifiable person or source to check with for more information.

According to this recent article in the Atlantic, Wikipedia seems to be moving into a more mature phase. The rate at which Wikipedia articles are edited is decreasing, as is the rate for adding new articles. What does this slowdown mean for Wikipedia? Is it really “nearing completion,” as the article suggests? And when Wikipedia is finished, will it then become a citable source?

Finding Footnotes and Chasing Citations

This week’s New York Times Book Review includes an essay by Alexandra Horowitz straightforwardly-titled Will the E-Book Kill the Footnote?, in which she laments that footnotes become endnotes when books move from paper to screen. Horowitz suggests that while this change means that the main text of a book may be more easily read from start to finish, something is lost when the intrusive interruption of a footnote morph into the more easily ignored endnote. After all, how many people actually read endnotes?

This article reminded me of one published last year in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about link rot and footnote flight (paywall alert), which made some of the same points for academic texts that Horowitz makes for popular books: electronic writing may suffer from both losing footnotes as well as from link rot, in which hyperlinks go dead over time as the site or page linked to is moved or abandoned.

Both the conversion of footnotes to endnotes and link rot can affect anyone reading a text, scholars and students alike. For scholars, I have to assume that if the information is valuable enough to be used in a research project, the researcher will have the tenacity to track down the necessary sources, whether that means jumping back and forth between endnotes and the main text or searching for the new home of a page at the dead end of a link. While it can sometimes be annoying to have to spend time chasing citations, I think many scholars actually enjoy this kind of work (or maybe I’m just looking at the task through my librarian-glasses?).

Students are busy, so I’d bet that they’re less invested in reading endnotes in electronic texts (and even footnotes in print books), and more likely to see them as an aside or as unnecessary. Of course students are very familiar with jumping from link to link on the web, and now that web browsers support tabbed browsing the process of moving between hyperlinks and the main text can come very close to the experience of reading a print volume with footnotes. And what about Wikipedia, where hyperlinks and endnotes abound? It’s easy to draw parallels between the Notes and References at the bottom of most Wikipedia entries and the same in scholarly texts. Maybe electronic texts can effectively be used to encourage students to chase down those citations and read those extra words in footnotes and endnotes.

Where’s The Real Discussion On Our Discussion Lists

Though they may seem a bit behind the times, e-mail discussion lists (since “listserv” is a registered name the proper generic term is “discussion list” – it’s like using “xerox” instead of “photocopy”) are still important to academic librarians. In his Chronicle article about the status of discussion lists, Jeffrey Young writes that “the time of scholarly e-mail lists has passed, meaningful posts slowing to a trickle as professors migrate to blogs, wikis, Twitter, and social networks like Facebook.”

I would agree with the academic librarians quoted in the article who express their ongoing interest in and dependence on the discussion list. On the other hand I’d agree with Young that they are no longer a forum for scholarly exchange. But were the discussion lists of academic librarianship ever about exchanging scholarly ideas? I don’t think so. Take Collib-L for example. You may disagree, but I never saw it as platform for the exchange of scholarly ideas. But I can recall, prior to the advent of blogs, more discussions about philosophical topics and more responses to postings that raised questions about what we ought to be doing as academic librarians about different issues in higher education. Think back, for example, to Chronicle articles such as Carlson’s piece on the deserted library or Wilder’s essay on information literacy. In the aftermath of those posts there were some great exchanges on Collib-L with much back and forth conversation, good debate on the issues, and folks from many different institutions joining the discussion. It was quite lively.

Most of that discussion has, I think, migrated to blogs and the comments to blog posts. Now, the real value in Collib-L is as an exchange for what works and what doesn’t work. Need to know how to get involved in Facebook? Ask on Collib-L. Need to know if you should convert that remaining Dewey Decimal collection to Library of Congress? Ask on Collib-L. Wondering how you can get your provost to look more favorably on tenure for librarians? Ask on Collib-L. What people to take your survey? Ask on Collib-L. And it seems that the more mundane the topic, the greater the number of responses to it. But these days it seems the more challenging and thoughtful questions, the ones that could lead to a debate and the exchange of many different views, are the ones that die a quick death with little response.

When Bernie Sloane recently pointed to a new Chronicle study that stated “There is very little that students cannot find on their own if they are inspired to do so” he asked Collib-L subscribers what they thought of that statement. Did they find it a “kinda scary contention from a librarian’s perspective, especially since it’s in a research report from the Chronicle of Higher Education.” There were all of two responses (and another one or two “I agree with what he said” posts) to Sloan’s post to the list, and yet this was a fairly thought provoking question that should have elicited a good many responses and perspectives. Why so little response? Are list subscribers just too busy to think about their response to a question like this one? Are they thinking “That’s an interesting question but I’ll leave it to the bloggers and Twitter crowd to deal with that one.” It certainly is easier and less time consuming to rattle off a response to a concrete “how do you do it at your library” question.

I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with the exchange of such grounded, day-to-day practice questions. Collib-L remains a thriving community of academic librarians who are there to help each other do a better job; the sharing of information is great. Well, when you get to the 20th or 30th response to a question about whether you stamp your library’s name in the front or back of the book, maybe it’s not so great. But I can’t help but feel academic librarianship suffers a loss of some sort when our discussion lists become void of real discussion and devolve into forums for the most practical types of information. If this is what the e-mail discussion list has come to perhaps Young is correct when he says they need to “change or die”.