Let’s open library doors to Wikipedia

wiki-librariesWhat if Wikipedia, the sixth most popular website on the planet, and libraries joined forces? The result could be transformative. Deeper, more authoritative content embedded in this internet encyclopedia. Librarians actively helping their communities raise their profiles. And libraries connecting their unique resources with a larger web audience.

The mission of the Wikimedia Foundation is “…to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally.” If libraries had a shared mission statement, it would connect very strongly to those goals of empowerment and engagement. While Wikipedia is often a starting point on a quest for knowledge, it’s certainly not the end point. As an encyclopedia, Wikipedia is not a platform for original research, nor will it satisfy deep knowledge on a topic.

Although Wikipedia has a lot of content, much of it needs to be improved. For example, of the 5,199,985 articles on the English Wikipedia (as of this writing), only 4,799 (or around 0.1%) are “featured articles.” Featured articles are reviewed for accuracy, neutrality, completeness—and are judged by the quality of the sources used to support those articles. A real barrier for many (volunteer) Wikipedia editors is access to great content. Libraries have that content.

A match made in heaven: Wikipedians and librarians

librarian-wikipedianOn the flip side, library collections and services are relatively invisible on the open web. If you do a search for a book, you are almost always channeled to a bookseller or other commercial website. What if every active, volunteer Wikipedia editor took advantage of all that their local library had to offer? Citations in Wikipedia articles could lead readers to those materials in local libraries. Librarians, too, can inform community members that they, too, can contribute. The result would be a better and stronger Wikipedia with a larger and more diverse contributor base and more visibility for library resources.

As a Program Officer in OCLC Research, I’ve been working with the Wikipedia community for the last five years. OCLC has encouraged Wikipedia and library collaboration by holding instructional webinars, helping at edit-a-thons and hosting a Wikipedian in Residence. I have noticed that Wikipedians and librarians share a passion for expanding and preserving open, free access to knowledge, as well as a deeply held appreciation for high-quality sources. Along with colleagues, I wondered, how could we use our position as the world’s largest library cooperative to move these two important and motivated communities closer together?

Meeting the challenge

Inspired by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation 2016 News Challenge, “How might libraries serve 21st century information needs?,” I joined forces with our WebJunction colleagues to envision how we could forge human-to-human connections between Wikipedians and librarians, and expose librarians to the inner-workings of Wikipedia so that they can work hands-on with the resource and adeptly guide their patrons’ use of it. Since WebJunction helps to build library staff knowledge, skills and confidence through interactive online learning, we knew we could use WebJunction to engage a virtual cohort of hundreds of librarians. We decided to focus on public libraries in the U.S. for starters, knowing that what we create and what we learn can be adapted for other libraries in other countries. Our idea proved to be a compelling answer to that challenge question, and OCLC was announced as a winner in June.

The goal: Getting content and exposure on the web

Our training program will be very applications-based, with practical activities that participants will do in their library and in Wikipedia. Although we are still in the planning phase and a number of months away from implementation, some project goals include

  • Library staff who can confidently create and update credible content
  • Library staff who can train community members to use Wikipedia more effectively
  • Better understanding of library resources on the part of Wikipedians
  • Greater rapport between the two groups
  • Leveraging public library collections in creating better Wikipedia articles

Throughout the project, we will be talking about Wikipedia and what we learn along the way. We’ll also share training resources on WebJunction.org, which is free and open to all of you. And, we’d love to hear from those of you who are undertaking similar efforts or are interested in the project.

Question…How does your library use Wikipedia? How do your patrons use it? Share your answers with hashtag #OCLCnext