Magazine article American Libraries

Bringing Wikipedia into the LIBRARY: Creating a Community around Open Access

Magazine article American Libraries

Bringing Wikipedia into the LIBRARY: Creating a Community around Open Access

Article excerpt

Wikipedia might seem like a librarian's nemesis, but the online encyclopedia, its community, and libraries are increasingly working together to provide free and open information to all.

Wikipedia contributors and librarians share similar skills: an understanding of quality research materials, an interest in effective citation and attribution, and clear public communication. Wikipedia's "sum of all human knowledge" mission also aligns with the service-focused goals of librarianship, where patron access to public knowledge drives both activities.

A difference between the two communities is their degree of formal responsibility. Librarians are trained professionals working in institutions with public charges to create information access, while Wikipedians are (for the most part) volunteers whose interests align with their hobbies and values. The closeness of their goals, skills, and interests means that finding common ground for collaboration is not only possible but easy. But finding the right people to collaborate with on this broad, and frankly never-ending, mission is an important first step to effective collaboration.

Finding allies in the Wikipedia movement

Wikipedia's barriers for participation are fairly low. Almost anyone can contribute to its content pages. Nearly 20,000 new accounts register on Wikipedia projects every month, and English-language Wikipedia alone has 130,000140,000 accounts that make at least one edit per month. In this context, even the formal organizations that support the Wikipedia community--such as the Wikimedia Foundation that administers the trademarks and servers that keep the websites operating--have almost no control over governance, editorial practices, or decision making that creates the content on Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, Wikidata, and other Wikipedia projects, except for defining terms of use for participation and the privacy policy.

If power rests with the community, who is that volunteer community? Every month, 75,000-80,000 individual Wikipedia accounts contribute five or more edits to 280 foreign-language Wikipedias or Wikimedia projects. English-language Wikipedia receives about 30,000 of these contributions each month. That may seem like a large number, but in practice five contributions to Wikipedia is casual participation in the project.

Historically, communities of Wikipedia editors have developed organically and independently, with little intentional cohesion. However, efforts are increasing around the world to grow local editing communities around specific interest groups, volunteers, and educational initiatives into more formal organizations, called affiliates. Wikipedia affiliates principally come in two major types: user groups and chapters. Both function as conduits for building relationships between local volunteers and potential partners and collaborators, including libraries.

Libraries and organizations that want to participate in Wikipedia beyond simply contributing content may find its network and culture complicated to navigate. Working with affiliates and finding an individual Wikipedia contributor to help interface with other experienced volunteers lowers the participation barrier, allowing a Wikipedia-experienced partner to provide community expertise while an organizational partner such as a library contributes its knowledge and network.

Creating Wikipedians in your community

Once you define the Wikipedia activity you want to pursue, whether it's an edit-a-thon, uploading open access content, or creating an editing group to focus on a particular topic, it's important to bring volunteers to the projects.

Wikipedia volunteers often have a range of motivations, capacities, and organizational skills that may or may not meet the needs of formal institutions. They may invest energy only in projects in which they are most passionate. You might find that local Wikipedians don't want to focus on topics you are interested in. …

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