Wikipedia, Libraries and the GLAM Project

Participants at the Wikipedia edit-a-thon held at the Indiana University Archives.

How often do you use Wikipedia? If you’re anything like me, probably a lot! I’ve been interested in exploring the relationship between libraries and what I’m pretty sure it’s the only encyclopedia I’ve ever used for a long time (giant physical copies were already on their way out by the time I was old enough to use one). Sad story, though: when I was an undergrad preparing to apply for library school, I included a link to the Wikipedia page on stereoscopes in a post on my personal blog about my university’s special collections. I was soon told by a librarian that I would be looked down on as a future library professional if I included links to Wikipedia in a post I wanted to be taken seriously. I remembering wondering right then if I would fit in in the library world–I wasn’t citing it in my dissertation, I just wanted readers to see a picture and get a brief overview of what the contraption was. From then on, I was constantly aware of this Wikipedia/library tension boiling under the surface, but I wanted no part of it.

During my time in grad school so far I haven’t done much to escape Wikipedia; I’ve taught information literacy sessions that deliberately incorporated Wikipedia and helped organize a Wikipedia edit-a-thon in our University Archives. And though Wikipedia can be a contentious issue for some librarians, particularly those from a different generation, Wikipedia’s GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) project is making new strides toward partnerships with cultural heritage institutions. The reason many disparage Wikipedia–it’s not necessarily a credible information source, they say–is exactly the reason it needs librarians! The project started as a means to tap into the wisdom of those working at cultural institutions, people who are often subject experts on countless treasures. There is growing awareness that by acknowledging Wikipedia’s existence and matching our teaching and outreach activities accordingly, we can stay relevant to our patrons and create new opportunities to share our incredible, often unique items and materials. Sure, the criticisms are there… but being real about what Wikipedia is and isn’t and doing our part to make it better is vital.

If you’re so inclined, here are some ways to get involved, from least time-intensive to most:

So, what do you think? What sort of relationship should libraries, archives and other cultural institutions have with Wikipedia?

17 replies

  1. Wow. I didn’t know about GLAM. I’m down. Personally, I think [ and would hope! ] that the stigma against Wikipedia for simply being editable (as oppose to stuck in-print and completely stagnant …) is dying out with the curmudgeons. Crowd-sourcing–just like open sourcing–has in the last many years proven to be completely valid and otherwise accurate and productive method of providing reams of information.


    • There are plenty of conversations to be had about Wikipedia, but what kills me is when educators like teachers or librarians are condescending to younger people about it instead of discussing it reasonably. I don’t know about you but I’ve never felt intellectually stimulated by being condescended to, and it would happen all the time in high school and undergrad. So again, reasonable conversations not condescension… otherwise as librarians we are just conforming to many students’ opinions that we are totally irrelevant and out of touch with how they actually access information.

      I do also want to note that I know of so many librarians and archivists who are excited about Wikipedia… so I don’t think it’s a bleak situation at all. I just think it’s a tough sell for people who aren’t accustomed to the concept of Wikipedia–it’s scary and that’s where these attitudes spring from. That’s why GLAM is a really great project for libraries to take part in.


  2. I think Wikipedia is an incredible resource, and I’ve been following the GLAM Project for a while now. For some reason though, I can’t bring myself to become a Wikipedia editor. The process seems intimidating, especially if you’re doing it on behalf of your institution — where’s the line between promoting and just educating? I’m sure I just need to get over my fears and make the leap, especially as Wikipedia is in great need of more female contributors.


    • Rose, I know exactly what you mean about being intimidated to become an editor… I’ve felt the same way. The edit-a-thon was actually the first time I edited an article; it was so so so helpful to have Wikipedians there who could walk us newbies through the process. It gave me the confidence I never had when I was just reading the “how to edit wikipedia” pages. I think a lot of being intimidated was that I had heard tales of how steep the learning curve was and how rude other editors could be to new editors. I haven’t dealt with this yet, but I think it has a lot to do with what article you’re editing–if a new person edits a controversial/popular article incorrectly they might get some editors up in arms. As for the gray area between promoting and educating, I’d definitely encourage you to read this blog post from the National Archives (also linked to in the post above): It really cleared up any concerns I had.


  3. I didn’t know about the GLAM Project, but Wikipedia is a tool librarians can easily use. Granted the text may or may not be true (it depended on the accuracy of the editors), but the photos and citations are a wealth of information.

    The citations at the bottom link out or point to resources on a topic. When at the reference desk searching for topics with hard-to-locate information, it was often useful to check Wikipedia and look at the topic’s citations. Then with most photos on Wikipedia,you can click on them to bring up the metadata and licensing information. That allows it to be a great source of Creative Commons and Public Domain images. If you use Wikipedia this way, I don’t think you would be looked down on. It’s the text of the articles that often leads to speculation of accuracy and that’s why it probably isn’t a good idea to cite them.


  4. I love the GLAM project. I have actually dipped my toes into editing Wikipedia on behalf of a cultural heritage institution and it isn’t as scary as it seems! Just start small. I started by just adding links back to our digital archive which is only a tiny bit of editing and I ended up writing a few small articles.
    Wikipedia has great resources for beginning editors including a “cheat sheet” that quickly shows you the different editing marks. I had to dive deeper into the help manuals once I started creating my own articles and adding pictures (the biggest hurdle).
    I actually gave a talk in how Wikipedia really helped our institution at the Library 2.012 conference and the slides are available on my blog if anyone is interested!


    • Oh yeah, we definitely had a lot of cheat sheets out at the edit-a-thon 🙂

      I just checked out your slides–very nice! One of the compelling reasons for cultural institutions to use Wikipedia is certainly the rise in hits for collections, so I like that you include some stats. I also think that editing Wikipedia will start to be just another marketing activity, like maintaining Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. so I think it’s great that you included it in that grouping. (Also–I enjoyed reading your blog, just in general!)


      • I am very excited for the possibilities with Wikipedia. Cultural heritage institutions by editing Wikipedia can help drive up awareness of their existence & get more hits on online collections AND we can all make Wikipedia a more reliable, reputable source.

        We can only be hurt by staying away from Wikipedia.


  5. Great blog post Brianna & great pic of editing in action! You should add one more item to you list, what you do all the time – incorporate Wikipedia into information literacy sessions!


  6. One of the problems that I have with trying to use Wikipedia in info it sessions is the attitude from other faculty members who do not want me to say its okay to use. I’ve been interrupted and contradicted by professors who don’t want me to try and explain the possible value. It’s really frustrating to me because I think we get info from different places for different types of needs. I don’t see this as a black and white issue. Anyway, I’m glad that more info professionals are getting involved. I really don’t see why there should be tension between librarians and Wikipedia.


  7. Saying that Wikipedia is completely untrustworthy is as old hat and misinformed as saying that Kindles are killing reading and books. Wikipedia has citations at the bottom of its entries and is, in my experience, really good at flagging entries and saying “Hey, this doesn’t have citations or is written in a biased tone so it’s not really reliable….will you help us out?” Given that, it’s basically just a way of looking at a nice, clean report on something if you need quick information or a refresher for personal knowledge and following citations backwards if you need more information or want to cite it in a paper. I’d also argue that Wikipedia is one of the foremost sources if you need current pop culture information.

    I love this idea of GLAM, because maybe it will help people to see Wikipedia in a new light.


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