Why archivists and librarians should edit Wikipedia

By Stefan Schlageter [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia turns 15 today! With over 5,000,000 articles in its brain, Wikipedia is much smarter than I was at that age. But like any teenager, there’s still room for improvement. I’m an active Wikipedian, and I encourage all gallery, library, archives, and museum professionals to join me in editing this free online encyclopedia.

I expect some of you have questions (or possibly a very strong reaction) to that last statement. Why should we edit Wikipedia? What’s in it for us? Have you lost your mind? Let me answer the first two questions, and leave that last one up for interpretation.

Why should we edit Wikipedia?

I’ll give you a few reasons. First, Wikipedia is one of the most visited sites on the web. In February 2014, the site was averaging 18 billion page views a month. 18 billion. (x) That’s like saying everyone living in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and, oh, Zimbabwe looked at 36 pages this month. I can tell you my library’s website doesn’t get that kind of attention. Does yours? But Wikipedia, by nature, is a work in progress. It doesn’t have all the answers. As Josep Serra, Director of Museu Picasso, says, “Museums [libraries, and archives] have the knowledge and the documentation, and Wikipedia has a global reach and a circulation far beyond anything any museum could achieve on its own.” (x) So why not work together?

Wikipedia is the place that many people begin (and sometimes end) their research. I’ve seen Wikipedia’s reputation change during my time as a student and now a librarian, but it’s still part of the learning black market for some people. If that’s where my users are going, I want to make sure they’re finding high-quality information, as well as a map for where to go next. As librarian Natalie Binder points out, librarians can bring “a neutral point of view and strong, credible references to an article.” (x)

Wikipedia and cultural institutions have something in common – we want everyone to have equal access to knowledge. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales likes to imagine “a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” (x) Before you fall out of your chair, let me add that we are also both fond of high-quality, reliable sources. Okay, now you can fall over. Libraries and archives have those sources at our fingertips (and we librarians and archivists are pretty good at finding any information we don’t have). We can help Wikipedia and our users by adding information from those sources to the site.

Wikipedia is only as good as our sources; libraries have the best sources; Wikipedia has the most eyeballs; Connect a circle of research, dissemination; Wikipedia as a starting point for deeper learning.

This handy summary is courtesy of Jake Orlowitz, Wikipedia editor (Ocassi) and Director, Wikipedia Library. Find the rest of his slides, which are part of OCLC’s “Wikipedia and Libraries: Increasing Your Library’s Visibility” presentation, on SlideShare. [CC-BY]

But wait, what’s in it for us?

Fair question. With tight budgets and staff members doing the work of three people, it might seem like gadding about on Wikipedia is a waste of time. Not that GLAM Wikipedians are always gadding about. I just like to say gadding about. But let’s get back to the question. What’s the ROI for archivists and librarians who already have enough on their plates? Access to knowledge for everyone is all well and good, but that doesn’t help when budget time rolls around.

In brief: when we add content to Wikipedia (and sister projects like Wikimedia Commons) we increase people’s use and awareness of our collections and resources.

Michael Szajewski of Ball State University wrote about this in his article, “Using Wikipedia to Enhance the Visibility of Digitized Archival Assets.” Some of the numbers he shares are pretty fantastic: 40 assets viewed 13,000 times (an increase of 600%); 10,000 pageviews referred from Wikipedia (5x more than any other source); 300% increase in pageviews for the 149-asset collection. Not too shabby!

At the Thomas J. Watson Library (Metropolitan Museum of Art), a staff member placed links to over 1,000 digitized books in relevant Wikipedia articles, mostly in the Further Reading and External Links sections. Now more than 50% of their monthly pageviews (40,000+) are referred from Wikipedia. (x)

Want more proof that editing Wikipedia pays off? The GLAM-Wiki Initiative has a whole page of library, archives, and museum case studies.

So . . .

Still not sure? Other information professionals have written about editing Wikipedia too. Read Natalie Binder’s “7 reasons librarians should edit Wikipedia” and Phoebe Ayers’ “Why work on Wikipedia?”

Convinced you should immediately start editing Wikipedia? Good. Here are 15 ways you can contribute.

A lot of the information in this blog post comes from a presentation I like to give called “GLAMs + Wikipedia: Why we should be involved.” Find that presentation and some of my favorite Wikipedia resources here.


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