Librarian as public knowledge leader: ways to use Wikipedia

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Wikipedia has become one of the most influential portals for internet-based research — providing readers with an initial overview of almost any topic and acting as a first stop for expert researchers. Moreover, the platform increasingly favours both scholarship and openness: a recent study showed that journals published as open access are used more frequently on Wikipedia, and Altmetrics has begun measuring Wikipedia citations to encourage public scholarly work. This research connection makes libraries an important part of Wikipedia’s ecosystem.

Expert participation

An Art+Feminism event in Madrid topically focused on African Women Artists by Carlos Delgado (CC-By-SA 4.0)

GLAM-Wiki partnerships offer a valuable tool for growing the diversity of the Wikimedia community because GLAM, humanities and arts experts are well trained in preserving a diversity of knowledge, and those expert provide a discerning and critical eye for filling in gaps on Wikipedia. Photo by Carlos Delgado, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The goal to create a “sum of all human knowledge“ necessarily requires a wide range of experts to increase quality and comprehensiveness. The Wikipedia community actively provides guidelines for experts to participate and curate the knowledge, and improve its public impact; for example, the Wikipedia Education Program provides a framework for professors to assign students to write Wikipedia articles that fill key public knowledge gaps and, in doing so, surface the best scholarly research to public audiences.
One of the most successful expert engagement strategies focuses on the cultural heritage sector and is called GLAM-Wiki. GLAM-Wiki focuses on supporting GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) in leveraging Wikipedia and its sister projects to improve public impact of collections. Typically these projects focus on embedded Wikipedians in cultural organizations called Wikipedians in Residence (WiRs), open licence donations of media, and editing events that leverage donated media and GLAM publications to improve Wikipedia articles. The relationship is simple: GLAMs bring expertise about the world’s cultural heritage, and Wikipedia brings global impact through its experienced editing community and the website’s massive audience.

GLAM-Wiki and Filling Diversity Gaps

Window stickers awarded to Catalan libraries that hold successful events that engage in the public in contributing to Wikimedia Projects. Improving Wikipedia has become part of the Catalan Public Library Network’s strategy for preserving local heritage and knowledge. By User:Davidpar (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Window stickers awarded to Catalan libraries that hold successful events that engage in the public in contributing to Wikimedia Projects. Improving Wikipedia has become part of the Catalan Public Library Network’s strategy for preserving local heritage and knowledge. Photo by Davidpar, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0.

No matter how you look at it, Wikipedia’s gender imbalance is extreme:only 10% to 20% of contributors are women. Moreover, Wikipedia has a deeply Western-focused systematic bias despite over 280 language editions of Wikipedia. These inequalities prevent Wikipedia from fully fulfilling its mission.
One of the most successful diversity-focused projects has been Art+Feminism, a collaboration between feminist art advocates and Wikipedia editors. Headquartered at MOMA, the one-day editathon, largely hosted at art galleries and libraries, involved 78 distinct global institutions, improved or created 900 articles about women artists, and engaged 1500 participants, many of them women (see more about the outcomes). Similarly, GLAM-Wiki projects can target missing diversity of knowledge around other topics, examples include Asian American focused editathons and African American editathons.
Diversifying GLAM-Wiki strategies can also improve the diversity of languages and knowledge which Wikipedia can represent. For example, the Catalan Public Libraries Network has created a program that engages over 150 libraries in strategies that range from teaching digital literacy through Wikipedia to creating new content on Wikipedia (see the case study). Imagine if every library community in the world curated Wikipedia’s knowledge about its own communities in their own language.
Going beyond GLAM-Wiki in the library: literacy and discovery
Wikipedia’s dominance in research discovery raises issues around basic literacy of how to use research and digital materials.  Many readers lack an understanding of Wikipedia as both an encyclopedia and an “anyone-can-edit” community of practice. The growing Wikipedia Library program is approaching the GLAM-Wiki strategies from a new direction: how do we educate editors and readers on the basic literacies needed for effective research? Important to libraries: the project gathers strategies for readers to learn how to critically consume and intelligently use Wikipedia (see our pilot “Research Help” portal). Moreover, The Wikipedia Library is advising cultural institutions (see our “Research libraries” portal), and cultural professionals (see our “cultural professionals guide”) on how to improve discoverability.
Wikipedia and libraries share a common mission: disseminating human knowledge and facilitating effective research. For The Wikipedia Library, the librarian offers the best hope for changing both Wikipedia and its readers for the better. There are a plethora of ways for enabling a better public understanding of Wikipedia and its potential for research alongside its weaknesses. I want to end the post by asking this: where can Wikipedia become a tool for your library? Which of the models or topics here best meet the needs of your community?
Alex Stinson, Project Manager
The Wikipedia Library
Wikimedia Foundation

This post was originally published by the International Librarians Network, a librarian peer mentoring network that provides discussion topics to further the sharing of best practices in the international libraries community. The Wikipedia Library team was approached by them to provide a discussion of libraries in Wikipedia, and we are happy to be able to repost it here in the public domain (CC-0).

Archive notice: This is an archived post from, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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