Three things librarians wanting to engage with Wikipedia should think about first

wikipedia

Wikipedia is big. Maybe not googol big, but 5.4+ million articles in English is up there. The platform is the fifth-most accessed website globally, and billions of edits have been saved since the online encyclopedia launched in 2001.

Though most librarians have read Wikipedia articles and work with patrons who use it regularly, few librarians actually edit Wikipedia. There are good reasons libraries need Wikipedia, and vice versa. So how could you get started with Wikipedia at your library?

One way to get a handle on something big is to start small. That’s what I’ve been learning from public library staff in my role as the OCLC Wikipedian-in-Residence for the past 16 months, which included interviewing public library staff and teaching a nine-week online training program.

Here are three surprisingly simple things about Wikipedia that public library staff involved with the Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together project say their peers and colleagues should know.

There’s a volunteer community behind Wikipedia

Prepare to be wowed getting to know Wikipedia’s volunteer community.

While millions of information seekers read Wikipedia articles, few realize the editors making these contributions are a vibrant community of volunteers passionate about free access to information.

When you engage with the community, you learn how editors have policies and guidelines to ensure verifiability, including assessing articles for quality. Librarians are involved in a range of activities, from adding citations, writing articles, and helping surface reference materials for other editors.

One librarian in our training program reported, “I was blown away by all this. I just had no idea there was a community behind Wikipedia.”

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia

The second thing to know sounds almost too simple. Wikipedia is a “free” encyclopedia—a tertiary, open-access reference that’s always under construction.

Talking through what this means with patrons and colleagues can be the beginning of a valuable conversation about information organization.

Public librarian Karen Kast, of Eagle Mountain City Public Library in Utah, puts it this way, “You have to help people understand it’s an encyclopedia. It’s not just anyone writing their opinions about a topic, and I think that misconception still exists.”

Know where to go to get involved

A public librarian who participated in our course said that people need librarians to help them gain skills to navigate the digital environments they’re going to every day.

Knowing where to go to get started with Wikipedia is important. Library staff can head over to the newly refreshed OCLC Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together project pages, which feature interviews from dozens of ‘Librarians who Wikipedia’ and the recently published, curated curriculum and materials from the Wikipedia + Libraries course delivered by OCLC’s WebJunction program, which is now available to review, adapt, and share under CC-BY-SA 4.0.

It’s never a bad time for librarians new to Wikipedia to learn more about Wikipedia’s inner workings and share these learnings with their colleagues and communities.


The Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together project was an 18-month project funded by the Knight Foundation and the Wikimedia Foundation.