Three reasons Wikipedia needs libraries, and vice-versa

Leveraging wikipedia_cover_banner

We have a pretty good idea of what it means to be a librarian or library worker. We know what the values, talents, and goals are for many in our profession. On the other hand, what does it mean to call yourself a “Wikipedian?” Is it just an interest? Or do you need to reach certain milestones? If we’re going to examine the intersection of both institutions, it would help to know.

In the broadest sense, someone is a Wikipedian if they contribute. The more you contribute, the better, of course. But even adding a few citations or making one important correction qualifies you. And that openness, that ideal of collaborative creation and curation is what, I think, really makes these two communities natural allies.

Wikipedians and librarians share similar passions and purposes. Working together, we create a better and stronger Wikipedia with more visibility for library resources. And there are three ways that our communities reflect each other in the work we do.

Scale, people, vision

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Image credit: Monika Sengul-Jones via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.5.

I believe that Wikipedia is important for the future of libraries. I also believe that libraries are equally important to Wikipedia. In editing the recent Leveraging Wikipedia: Connecting Communities of Knowledge, it became clear to me why we’re natural allies:

  1. It’s about scale. Wikipedia is immensely popular, the sixth most visited website, getting 21% of Internet traffic every day in the US—some 200 million page views. This is popularity on a scale that cannot be ignored. Your library patrons are using Wikipedia weekly, if not daily.
  1. It’s about people. All work done on Wikipedia is carried out by passionate volunteers—what participants call a movement. 31 million registered users. 117,000 active users who make edits every month. That sounds a lot like another passionate community—librarians.
  1. It’s about vision. Since its launch in 2001, Wikipedia envisioned a resource that provides every person with free access to knowledge in his or her own language. Wikipedia represents not only an online encyclopedia, but also a set of values that support freedom of information and the open sharing of knowledge. That too sounds a lot like librarians and the purpose that unites them.

Mirrored perspectives

Since I’ve been hanging around at the intersection of Wikipedia and libraries, I have met a lot of amazing people who identify as Wikipedians—those who dedicate themselves to the project—and as librarians.

This book includes perspectives from both sides, which I think shows the natural alliance.

On the Wikipedia side:

  • Andrew Lih, author of The Wikipedia Revolution, writes about GLAM and its origins.
  • Alex Stinson and Jason Evans write about different models for engaging with Wikipedians.
  • LiAnna Davis writes about how Wikipedia is being leveraged in higher education to improve information literacy.
  • Jake Orlowitz writes about the Wikipedia Library, which serves Wikipedians who need access to excellent sources—libraries are clearly part of that picture.
  • Lydia Pintscher tells the story of Wikidata, which I think should be on the radar of all metadata librarians.

On the library side:

  • Sara Snyder reveals how to run the perfect editathon.
  • Teri Embrey and Bob Kosovsky show how they’ve used Wikipedia to connect collections and contribute specialist knowledge.
  • Lily Todorinova and Yu-Hung Lin write about how undergraduates understand Wikipedia.
  • Mairelys Lemus-Rojas and Tim Thompson share how they are “remixing” archival metadata into Wikipedia.
  • Kenning Arlitsch and Justin Shanks talk about the importance of Wikipedia and Wikidata for being found on the web.
  • Kelly Doyle unpacks the Wikipedia “gender gap” and shows how the West Virginia University Library stepped up to help address this difficult issue.
  • My OCLC colleague Monika Sengul-Jones weaves in narratives from public libraries based on her work on our WebJunction “Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together” course.

In both cases, it’s fascinating to see how much the work of both parties meets in the middle, to the benefit of information seekers.

Be bold!

This is an exciting time for librarians and Wikipedians—we have many shared challenges and opportunities. As the book shows, there are many avenues for intersections between Wikipedia and libraries. I hope the volume illuminates some of the possibilities and inspires you to follow some of the existing models we’ve outlined. Or better yet, may you choose to adopt the Wikipedia motto—and be bold in exploring your own path.